Staying home alone for the first time is a rite of passage for youth.
It communicates to a child that they have reached an age of maturation. But how old is old enough to be home without an adult? There are legal requirements in some states and in others, it is up to the parent to decide.
Legally ready or not, leaving a youngster home without you is a tough decision to make. Done without care and thoughtful consideration, a lot of bad things can happen.
Most of the time, a parent makes this choice because it’s the only option for their family at the time. For example, the first time my parents left me home alone I was 6 years old. My mom, a registered nurse, worked the morning shift with a start time of 7 am.
School didn’t open until 8:30 am, and we could not find a sitter. I knew my area well, and on the first day of school, I became a responsible kindergartener who got myself up, ready for school, and walked a half a mile to get there.
I’ll be honest. I wasn’t scared at all. In fact, it was exhilarating and exciting all at the same time. I was ready. But some children are not able to handle an incident when things don’t go as planned.
My brother was 8 years old when he was first left on his own, again, out of necessity. Dropped off by the bus driver one stop away from our house, he became confused. We lived in Miami, and the walk was less than a block away. An icecream truck driver found him, but not without a police search launched shortly after dark. It was traumatic for him, and for everyone else. He wasn’t familiar with the area. He didn’t have a means to communicate.
Three states, Illinois, Maryland, and Oregon have legal requirements for parents who want to leave their home alone. But in all others, the parents decide. The right questions to ask is whether or not a child is mentally and emotionally prepared, in both positive and negative situations?
Can they get help if they have a problem, and how do they feel about the level of trust and care being given to them? The complete breakdown of child readiness can be found on the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services site.