How soon are children able to remain home unsupervised? Parents with the best of intentions frequently deliberate over whether their children are ready to stay home without a grownup in charge. The readiness of each youngster may certainly vary, but certain basic questions may prove helpful.
1. How old is the child?
Some states (such as Florida, Georgia, Minnesota, and Virginia) have specific guidelines about how old children must be to stay home without adult supervision. Generally, state rules do not allow children under age seven or eight to remain unsupervised. Teenagers might be permitted to stay home alone or even to supervise younger children, particularly if they have completed babysitting training programs. The key area for debate pertains to youngsters between these two age groups. It’s a good idea to check parental supervision rules in one’s own state, especially as failure to comply can lead to investigation.
2. What is the child’s level of personal maturity?
This is a matter of parental evaluation. The ability to make smart decisions when needed, the willingness to tell parents the truth when asked, the aptitude for telling time, and the wherewithal to complete homework or other required tasks independently are musts. A key part of the necessary personal maturity is trustworthiness with the home, siblings, and guests (if allowed).
3. Is the child responsible?
If a child is ready to stay home unsupervised, he or she will likely have demonstrated the ability to understand and follow parental instructions and basic guidelines for safety. Rules may be outlined for bathing, cooking, laundry, locking up, pet care, answering the telephone and doorbell (or not), television and internet usage, going outdoors, and other potential questions. In addition, if the child has special needs, including physical, mental, or emotional challenges, the question of remaining home unsupervised may become extra complex.
4. Is the child capable of recognizing emergencies and dealing with them?
Crises can occur. From power outages to fires, from illnesses to injuries, and from bursting pipes to severe storm warnings, all sorts of things can happen at any given time. It’s important to discuss such possibilities and basic first steps (such as evacuation and the use of a flashlight and fire extinguisher) before leaving kids home without grownups. If needed, a child must be able to contact assistance and to state his or her name, address, phone number, and directions to the home. Can the youngster do this without panicking?
5. How safe is the neighborhood?
The question of allowing children to remain home without adult oversight can be easier to make in a quiet and reasonably safe area. Having trusted neighbors nearby can be a big help. Parents will surely wish to provide a clear list of emergency contact numbers, including nearby friends, just in case.
6. How long will the child be left unsupervised?
This issue depends largely on the age and personal maturity of the child being left at home. An hour or two might be a simple achievement for an old-enough kid to manage. A five- or six-hour stretch could be tougher. Also, it can be a taller order, if the child must stay home alone after bedtime.
7. How far away will you be?
Joining the next-door neighbors for an early supper is one thing. Dinner and theater an hour’s drive away is another. Ideally, parents begin leaving their old-enough kids alone at home for small stretches, testing the waters as it were, and gradually increase both time and distance.
8. How inaccessible will you be?
If a parent carries a cell phone or pager, which remains on for his or her entire absence, and is within range of a fairly prompt return (if needed), this can be a good start. On the other hand, going without the phone or shutting it down (as for a movie or live performance) might be risky, especially on one of the first outings when a child is left home alone.
9. Will the child have to supervise or care for other youngsters?
Sibling rivalry may be fairly normal, but children who stay home without adult coverage need to be able to coexist in a reasonably conflict-free manner.
10. Is the child comfortable with the idea of remaining home without supervision?
At any age, a child may simply feel uneasy or ill equipped to self-supervise. In such cases, parents may do well to make another plan for those times when they must leave for a while.
Common sense is king, when it comes to deciding if a child is ready to stay home without grownup oversight. Providing each child with a healthy, safe, age-appropriate environment is the primary concern.