Staying home alone is almost a rite of passage for most teens. Even if it’s just for a short amount of time (for example an hour or two after school), it can still leave many parents feeling anxious. There is no one size fits all as for when it’s the right time for you to allow to leave your child home alone. As parents, we tend to know our kids best. However, there is a combination of factors that you must consider before making this life changing decision for your family.
Are they comfortable being home alone?
As much as you may want your child to stay home alone (if you don’t have any options for after-school care, etc;), the first thing you should do is check to see if they want or are comfortable staying home alone. If they aren’t, don’t harp on them or try and force it. Some kids need more time than others in order to feel comfortable. Staying home alone can be frightening for some kids. I have a store on the corner that I will walk to every now and then. My son doesn’t feel comfortable waiting at home for me to come back, even though I am gone less than 5 minutes. So he always walks with me. You don’t want to frighten your child unnecessarily, so if it means putting Friday night date plans on hold for a couple of months, then just wait it out.
Have they shown that they can act and are responsible?
We know whether or not our children are responsible. There are some kids who just naturally do everything they are supposed to when they are supposed to.Then there are others who may need to be reminded every so often. Which ever category your child falls into, it’s important for you to take this into account when deciding whether or not it’s a good idea for them to stay home.
Are they able to follow directions?
Can they handle following simple rules such as no guests or don’t use the stove? Following house rules are important not just because we want to make them, but for their safety as well. Staying home alone takes a lot of responsibility, and it’s important that they know they have to follow all directions in order to stay safe.
Do they know and understand emergency procedures?
Do they understand what to do in case of an emergency? Whether it’s memorizing phone numbers, knowing where to go (which neighbor’s house)or how to use the fire extinguisher, it’s important they are comfortable performing all of these actions. Does your child know where the fire extinguisher is located? How about a first aid kit? Make sure your child knows how and when to make use of these items by giving them a house tour and testing them on their knowledge. Put your cell phone number on an emergency contact list and also consider including phone numbers of nearby friends and neighbors. Laminate the list and keep the list on the refrigerator.
Will they follow the rules?
Are they allowed to answer the door if the bell rings? Can they answer the home phone? What are the expectations for watching TV/playing video games? Until they can consistently follow the rules, it’s a good idea to hold off letting them stay home alone. Be sure to make all rules known up front before you plan on letting stay home alone this way they know what to expect.
Is it legal in your state?
This is the elephant in the room. It doesn’t matter how well we think our kids can handle it, one phone call from a nosey neighbor or one wrong move and the lives of your family will forever be changed. We have all seen how there have been instances of outsiders overreacting to seeing children even playing alone in the front yard. While those are extreme circumstances and many of us probably do not have to deal with neighbors of this caliber, it’s important to check with your state to see if it’s even legal for them to be at home alone. Check out Latch-Key Kids to determine if your state has a legal minimum age limit. If they don’t (South Carolina does not), I would check with the local police departments to see if they have a recommended age. There are some states where the legal age is as low as eight years old. Please remember not to only take their age into account, but their maturity level as well.
Love of impromptu dance parties, 80’s cartoons, and horizontal life pauses (aka naps); Natasha Brown is a stay at home mom of 4 kids, and wife to one lucky guy! In her spare time, she is co-editor of Grits & Grace, as well as editor for The Mother Hustler Blog and Creative Director for the Mother Hustler podcast.