As my kids age, one question that I have started to think about is “When is my child old enough to stay home alone?” The overprotective dad in me says “Never!” Of course, as soon as I write that, my mind immediately thinks of the times I started staying home alone when I was a kid and it was certainly well before I left for college or even entered high school.
I grew up in the age of ‘latchkey kids’ and that meant a lot of my friends got off the bus, let themselves in the house every day after school, had a snack, did their homework and watched TV (He-Man Thundercats, MTV) until one of their parents got home from work. People magazine had a widely discussed article in 1982 that started a national dialogue about kids being home alone after school. The article is good background about the recent history (1950-1982) of kids being home alone. Here is one of my favorite passages from the article:
How do latchkey parents feel?
Lynette: Some prefer to have their kids at home so they can put dinner in the oven, answer the phone or clean house. The child can be an asset, and it saves day-care expenses.
Did you notice that the child was viewed as an asset and not a time/resource-sucking parasite? My how times have changed.
Fast forward thirty one years and the number of after-school programs has grown dramatically along with structured activities for kids to be involved in. Bloomberg had an excellent article in 2013 about the more recent history of kids being home after school. Things have changed quite a bit since I was a kid, so what are the current laws and recommendations about kids being home alone? There are a few distinctions that need to be made here between when kids are legally allowed to stay home alone and when they are mature enough to stay home alone. First off, there is no federal law that regulates when children can stay home alone. Each state has its own guidelines. In North Carolina, kids under the age of 8 are not allowed to be home alone according to the NC fire code. Most of the parenting articles I have found (see links below) recommend waiting until around age 12 to leave a child home alone for extended periods of time (more than a half hour or so)
Here is a brief summary of things to consider from the various articles
Home Alone (no siblings)
– Is your child physically and mentally able to care for him- or herself?
– Does your child obey rules and make good decisions?
– Does your child feel comfortable or fearful about being home alone?
– Is there a trusted neighbor nearby they can go to or call if they become uncomfortable?
– Is there a phone your child can use to make an emergency call? Lots of families no longer have landlines, so this can be an issue.
– How does your child respond to unfamiliar or stressful situations?
American Academy of Pediatrics-Parent Plus article-Determining When Your Child is Ready to Stay Home Alone
The Nemours Center for Children’s Health Media (part of The Nemours Foundation) article-Leaving Your Child Home Alone
Home Alone with younger sibling(s)
All of the above plus:
– Will the younger sibling(s) follow the directions of the older one?
– How many younger siblings will be at home?
– How well do the younger siblings get along?
– Will they need to eat a meal? If so, do you trust the child in charge to use kitchen appliances?
Ok, Smarties, what are some memories of the first time you were allowed to stay home alone? And do you have any advice to share for parents thinking of letting their kids stay home alone?
Interesting Historical Articles
(Highly recommended reading!)
Working Parents and Latchkey Children. Henry L. Zucker. Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science Vol. 236, Adolescents in Wartime (Nov., 1944), pp. 43-50 Published by: Sage Publications, Inc. (Requires free JSTOR account)