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When Is A Child Old Enough To Be Home Alone

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.

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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.

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About Aria Gmitter

Aria Gmitter writes about parenting and political matters affecting the family.

2 comments

  1. I still wasn’t ready at 10 years old. I was left alone at my insistence and it ended in catastrophe.
    Some kids pushed their way in to my home and set fire to a piece of furniture.

  2. Leaving a child home alone isn’t so bad since everyone has cell phones. If they are locked inside the house and have access to the phone, they’ll be okay. Having a child take responsibility to get himself somewhere is entirely different. I don’t know many mothers who would let their kindergartener get himself up, dressed and off to school alone. But bottom line is, every kid is different, and the parents should know which ones would be capable of staying at home alone. I was 9 when my parents left me alone till they got home from work, about 2 hours later. I was instructed to stay at home with doors locked. That was in the 50s, a lot different from today’s world.

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