The kids’ home alone debate: What’s the right age?

Kim Grundy

By Kim Grundy

Parenting | Jul 29, 2010 8:39 AM

What is the right age for kids to be home alone? We spoke with experts and moms to get the scoop on how they determine when kids can handle unsupervised time home alone. Find out what they say – and tell us what you think!

Kid home alone

Many parents very wisely take into account the age of their child, their maturity and proximity to friends, neighbors or relatives. However, there is also the legal aspect to consider before leaving your child home alone.

Legal age for kids home alone

Some states have laws governing what age you can legally leave them home, ranging from age 8 all the way to age 14. Check out the list here to see the specific laws in your state.

Most states, however, do not have laws, leaving the decision up to the parent. The National SAFEKIDS Campaign recommends that no child under the age of 12 be left at home alone, but not all parents think it is that black and white.

Home alone at age 8 or 9

After taking into account their child's maturity, many parents think you can leave kids home alone for short periods of time starting at age eight or nine.

"Of course it depends on the maturity of your child, but I think around the age of nine you can start asking this question - does your child have good judgment?"says Michelle Nicholasen, mom of five. "Only do it if your child is comfortable with it. She will seem very anxious about the idea if she is not ready. A half hour is a good first trial."

Dr. Richard Horowitz, parenting coach and author of Family Centered Parenting said he let his kids, aged nine and eleven, stay home alone after school – but only after they agreed on a contract that included safety rules.

"My kids did a great job, never broke any of the rules and they felt empowered and responsible,"he said. "The conclusion, consider all relevant safety factors and get buy in from the kids so that they own the plan and leaving them alone could work."

Home alone at age 10-12

Dr. Bertie Bregman, Chief of Family Medicine at NY Presbyterian Hospital and father of four, says to take into account both the safety issue and the emotional issue. "Children can get into dangerous situations when they're home by themselves, but they can also feel lonely and abandoned," he says.

"Kids under the age of ten shouldn't be left alone at all. Children ages ten to twelve can stay by themselves for up to an hour, as long as there is ready back-up, such as a neighbor next door. Tweens can stay home for about two hours, but there should be someone checking in with them either by phone or in person, a friend popping in."

Clinical psychologist Angela Bowers says that children ten and over generally have the ability to stay alone for two hours or so, but make sure they know how to handle emergency situations. "Ask your child key questions on potential situations that might arise, and if you are pleased with their ability to handle them, then you have your answer,"she says.

"I would not recommend leaving a child home alone in the eve or at night, but start with short times during the day, and let them build up their confidence. If you trust your neighbor, let them know that your child is alone, and tell your child to call their neighbor if they need help with anything," suggests Bowers.

Don't overdo it

Finally, even when your child is ready to be home alone, most experts agree that you shouldn't overdo it. "Even a mature, responsible child shouldn't be home alone too much,"says Chris Jamieson from the Council for Children and Families. "Consider other options, such as programs offered by schools, community centers, youth organizations, or churches, to help keep your child busy and involved."

Tell us: What do you think is the right age for kids to be home alone? Comment below!

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