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Leaving 8-year-old at home alone

Nov 2011

Wondering about when I can start to leave my self-sufficient, smart, 8-year-old daughter at home alone for about 15 minutes on a rare occasion. I would have our next door neighbor on alert and available for her to call or go to in case of emergency or being scared. I would also be available by cell phone which she knows how to call, and I'd be within 5 minutes of home. When did others start to do this type of thing? What about 2 siblings -- my other one is 3 years younger -- at what age do people leave one in charge for just a very short time like 15 mins? Thanks for any input.


I left my 8-year-old son alone for 15 minutes or so, to run to the store etc. I usually left him watching TV (that would keep him out of any trouble as he was thoroughly occupied). He was instructed not to answer the door, or to say I was not home when he answered the phone. However, I don't think I'd have left him in charge of other, smaller kids at that age. He's now 10. I readily leave him home alone, during the daytime, for an hour or so. He behaves himself very well. However -- still no leaving alone at bedtime, and I still don't know about leaving him in charge of a sibling if he had one (he's an only, so I don't know). He's a good kid, and very responsible. I just don't know how he would react in a true emergency (i.e. if something happened to the younger child). He still doesn't always have the best judgment. When I was a child, I was left alone to babysit my younger brother starting at about 12. Just some thoughts. Karen
Since you are asking, I would NOT leave your 8 year old home alone unless it was an ABSOLUTE EMERGENCY. Something VERY important. As for 15 minutes, what can a parent actually do in 15 minutes that they can't bring their child along? If there is a neighbor next door, I would serously consider asking your neighbor if your child can COME OVER for 15 minutes. Buy her a bottle of wine to thank her. But make sure she is supervised. Mom
No answer, but here is an SFGate article about this subject: http://articles.sfgate.com/2006-01-05/news/17277408_1_child-endangerment-children-s-hospital-oakland-parents
I'm curious to see what people write in. I don't think I left my son home alone at all until 6th grade when he was 11. He would walk home and be home alone for up to an hour. My daughter is 6 years younger and I don't remember when he was left to watch her...probably for a very short time in the day when he was 11 and she was 5 but had him babysit her for hours when he got older, maybe 13. Now my daughter is 9 and I don't leave her home alone yet even though maybe it would be fine for a short trip to the store...I'll probably wait until she's in 5th grade. Especially with the earthquake risks I worry about leaving kids home alone! anonamom
Hmmm, good question. You know your child best, so you're the best one to decide. I would want my child to (1) know how to dial 911, (2) know not to answer the door while I'm gone, (3) have the common sense to tend themselves under normal conditions for the time period I expect to be gone, (4) be comfortable with the idea of being left alone for the given time period. I've left my 5- and 3-year-olds home alone for 5 minutes while I walked to the corner store to buy something. Since I'm within sight of home, though, it might be different from your situation. I wouldn't drive out of sight of my home with them home alone yet. Hard to predict where we'll be will the process when they're eight and six. --
I bet you'll get a bunch of responses that vary quite a bit on this one. I definitely had people who thought I was way too permissive to do what you are suggesting - but my kids were around that age when I started doing that. I couldn't leave them together (they would fight with each other) but they were safe on their own. Little steps like these are the best way to get independence. You'll find lots of internet resources on how to prepare your child while you're out. Good luck! wanted independent kids
Check out Free Range Kids, a great book with relevant advice! Your responsible 8 year old will be just fine alone, and congrats on having such a great kid. http://www.amazon.com/Free-Range-Kids-Children-Freedom-Without/dp/0470471948 Fellow Free Ranger
Legally, you can't leave her home alone until she's 12. I Think our oldest was probably at least 9 going on 10 before we did it. 8 feels really young no matter how awesome they are. mother of 4
I think it has less to do with age and more to do with responsibility. You probably don't stand over your child all day long so being five minutes away for 15 minutes seems reasonable given that your child plays unsupervised... Can bad things happen? Yes, but they can when you are home too. This gives your child a growing sense of independence and responsibility.

I did not leave my two alone until the younger was at a point where he could be independently responsible for himself - I did not want his older sister to be the ''boss'' which never goes well, so the rule was you are each in charge of yourselves and there as back-up if someone gets hurt. okay to let them grow...


I do leave my 8 year old alone for 15-20 minutes. There is a phone for an emergency if he needs to call me. I know I sound like an ancient person saying this, but I remember walking a mile to school at that age and babysitting and working odd jobs at eleven years of age. I think it's a good thing for kids (if they are mature enough) to give them a little room (within reason). It's smart to let a neighbor know your child will be alone and maybe test the waters at first- starting leaving him/her alone for five minutes and working your way up to 15. anon
I don't think that California has a law regarding this...My eight-year-old stays home along quite frequently as does my six-year-old. The elder stays alone up to an about an hour and the younger for about 30 minutes...though, there have been a few situations where it has been longer that that. Generally, I am just running a quick errand. But, sometimes I want to hit the gym or have a short meeting. I am always within 15 minutes drive. They know exactly who to call if there is a problem and they can call me.

I was a latchkey kid at six and spend an hour at home in the afternoon waiting for my schoolteacher mother to return home. I loved the freedom that I was given. There were certain rules (no cooking and no using knives were the primary ones) that my children also follow. I also leave the children together. loves her independent girls


It totally depends on the kid. Sounds like yours might be mature enough to stay alone for short periods. My oldest son was able to be left alone for short periods at about 8 ish. We were always close by with phones and neighbors were always nearby. We didn't leave the 2 boys alone together till way later (brother 4 years younger) and also not with friends over. anon
I leave my seven year-old at home for up to 15 min when I go to pick up my daughter at her daycare. He has the phone and our phone numbers and knows the neighbors. Some people will freak out and say ''what if something happens!!!?!?!??!?!'' but seriously, our kids need to learn gradually how to be on their own for periods of time, and realistically nothing is going to happen. (Chances of a serious emergency happening are so incredibly low.) We can't keep our kid in a bubble their whole lives. My mother used to let me be alone for up to 30 min or so when I was five. This is fine. (If people give you a hard time, go to this blog for encouragement that this is OK: http://freerangekids.wordpress.com/) Andi
Personally, if your 8 year old feels comfortable with it and knows the safety rules (no opening door, playing with fire, etc.) and can be trusted to keep them, I think it's OK, especially if you are reachable by cell phone and have a neighbor on call. Free range mama
There are two parts to this-what is legal, and what is appropriate for your child? Although we don't live in CA anymore, I recently attended a training for work and learned that in our state, you can leave 8-10 year olds (when mature enough) alone up to 2 hours. 7 and under may NOT be left alone, and that includes with an older sibling. In the past month, I've left my 9 year old alone for the first time twice for 15 minutes-once to pick up her brother when she was sick, and once to take a brief walk. Although she may be just ''fine'' longer than this (our neighbor stays alone after school at 8), I'm not comfortable with anything longer at this point, although theoretically she's well-versed in what to do if this, that or the other happens. I would not have an 8 or 9 year old be responsible for a younger sib with a parent out of the house, but that's just me. on the safe side
8 is way too young to be home alone if you are farther away shouting distance. You plan on just fifteen minutes, but things happen. And definitely WAY too young to be supervising younger siblings. what's the rush
I sleep during the day and on days I have to sleep just a few hours, rather than all day, I have left my kids (6 and 8 yrs) ''alone'' for up to 4 hours. they each have tasks to do and a movie set up to watch. they also know how to make themselves snacks and rules about answering the door or phone while I'm sleeping (they don't). However, they are not really alone, if there is an emergency, they can come get me and we talk about what types of things are emergencies. I don't think my 8 year old is really mature enough to be in charge of his little sister for an extended period though they do get along well most of the time.

That being said, one time when I was 12 I came home for an afternoon alone as usual and found the house filled with smoke. I looked around for the source and found a lamp was on and knocked over onto my dad's bed and had burned through all the blankets and down to the mattress. I quickly got the dogs leashes and led them out then after a couple minutes of clearer thinking. I went back in, lifted the lamp off the bed and doused the bed with water and opened the windows.

I think the answer to your question is, can your child handle a unexpected, possibly dangerous situation on his own? former latch-key kid


I think in 99% of cases, all will be fine. But for me, that is not the issue. The issue is that an 8 year old will not be able to process and effectively deal with a real emergency b/c they likely don't have the experience to back up decision making. Have they been alone in an earthquake before? Have they been alone in a fire before? Have they been alone if someone knocks on the door and says, ''Hurry, your mom was in an accident and asked me to get you.'' So if nothing happens, they will be fine, but if something happens will you, really and truly, be able to live the rest of your life saying you are fine with it and it wasn't your fault? Is what you have to do so important? Also, every time you leave the home there is the possibility something will happen to you that will delay return; then what? I can say that a woman all my friends know once admitted leaving her sleeping toddler at home to pick up her other child from school and every single person I know literally viewed her as a social pariah from that day forward.

Last summer an 8 yr old child at a school I work in died trying to use the stove when left for under an hour. Somehow he set himself on fire. How? Who knows? But I would feel I did something questionable in leaving my child and then I would forever blame myself if my child was harmed or died. If you think you wouldn't think the same, go ahead. I wouldn't do it


A few people suggested one rule should be that the child not answer the door. I'd like to suggest re-thinking this. If it really is someone ''bad,'' they may be checking to see if the house is empty before trying to break in. Instead, I had my kids answer ''who is it'' through the closed door. Then shout ''mom, so-&-so is at the door'' followed by ''she can't come to the door right now - come back later.''

Also - there is no law in California about the age of legally leaving kids at home, but there is a law that kids under 7 can't be left unattended in a car, and only those 12 or older can be considered to be ''attending'' the child, so that may offer some guidance. On the other hand, lots of states do have age cut-offs (most older than eight), or older limits for being left alone in a car. anon


i just read some of the responses. There is a law... it is 12 years old. then again, do you make a full complete stop at every stop sign?

do what you think is right. reflecting on this as a parent of 20 somethings, i certainly did some things that were fun but dangerous. i like the ''Free Range Kids'' philosophy... i also believe in SAFETY FIRST!

one parent stated she leaves kids alone and is only a 15 minute drive away... really? if an earthquake happened... that might become a 60 minute walk.

i let my kids ride in the ''way back'' of a volvo station wagon for 2 blocks when they were 2 and 4 (like i did when i was 4)... their mom still thinks it was reckless (we are divorced)... i am far from reckless, but do enjoy testing limits. safe and smart dad


Responding to this post belatedly, because we've away for the Thanksgiving holiday. This involved my husband and me getting on a plane and leaving our two kids, ages 18 and 16, on their own, for about 8 days, from Friday until they left for the airport on Tuesday with a relative, flew together to the East Coast, then flew home together at the end of the five days, hopped in a cab, and returned safely to Berkeley. (The younger child was actually at an all- weekend retreat and was returned home by friends on Sunday afternoon, so it was the 18-year-old home alone for that first weekend). Why is this relevant? Because this level of independence didn't happen overnight, but slowly, over years of small steps and increased responsibility. I think we need to ask ourselves: what do we want for our children. Then we need to make a list. Then we need to ask: how do I support this? And just as importantly, how do I sabotage it? Clearly, I want kids that are independent, highly functional in an urban setting. Don't get me wrong, my kids are loved, cared for, cherished. I am there for them 100%. I also trust them and know their capabilities. My kids had lots of back-up, knew how to reach us at all times, and have demonstrated tremendous integrity in being able to stay alone for short overnights, allowing us to think this would work as my husband and I celebrated an important milestone together. I think the real message here: trust your instincts. Start small. Be clear in your communications, be reachable. If you think your kid can handle 15 minutes alone at age 8, it's probably true and that makes it ok. I think you are being reasonable and building responsible future independence. Raising smart independent young adults

When can a pre-teen be at home alone?

August 2010

I have been wondering if California has a legal age for children to be left alone. My child is 11 1/2 and I know the general idea is that 12 is a good age (or older depending on the child). I was a ''latch key kid'' much earlier than 12. My kid fights with me all of the time to leave her home if I want to go the store or step out briefly for errands. I know she is capable but have not been comfortable since I don't know the laws around it. Any answers? Former Latch-Key-Kid


There is no legal minimum age in California. Latchkey-kid.com is a good resource for guidance on the issue. I would not have left my bright 12 y.o. son at home alone, as he is a little short on common sense and is too focused on what he is doing to notice that the house is on fire. However, I feel comfortable now leaving my 11.5 y.o. daughter alone for up to a few hours during the day. She is responsible, competent, level-headed, and safety conscious. We also have certain rules like ''no baking'' when alone at home. It's very individual.
You can safely leave most 11 to 13 yr olds home during the day, eg after school, and also when you run to the store at night. (We had limits on who they could bring home after school if the house was empty.)

However, for teens older than 13 you have to think about protecting the house from the teen! We stopped going out at night if it would leave an older teen at home, because we know of local teens who will text 20 of their friends for an impromptu party.

Worse, this summer in Albany some teens going on vacation left their house keys with friends, to hold parties in the empty houses. Ay yi yi! Hang in there


10-y-o at home alone after school

Nov 2007

At what age can you leave your child home alone? I thought there was a law in CA that said no one under 12 years old, but a co-worker has been letting his 10 y.o. go home the first hour after school alone & he doesn't think he's breaking the law. Before I tell him he's wrong, I want to make sure I'm right. Thanks Concerned Mom


I don't know the legal age, but our laws can't address maturity or situation. Put yourself in the working parents shoes. A babysitter for 1 hour?? Maybe a mature 10 year old?? Maybe a neighbor is around that is keeping an eye out?? I know many 10 year olds that are more mature than 15 year olds. You obviously are feeling their is an endangerment situation and concerned for the child, but think of it from the parents vantage before you get involved.

A 10 year old who lets themselves in safely, locks the door, calls the parent to let them know they are there and spends an hour getting a snack and starting homework doesn't sound bad to me. I've never done it with my kids, but it happens all the time. Anon


If you google it looks like there is no law in CA about when to leave kids home alone. My 11 yo son walks home alone 2 days per week and stays home for an hour or two. He knows the rules and we check in by phone. Also I work very close by. He has friends in middle school who are allowed to go over to other kids houses afterschool when there are no parents there. I'm not comfortable with that though I have allowed my son to have one other kid, who I consider to be very responsible, over.

I wish there were other options with more supervision but none of the other middle school kids stay in aftercare and I don't know of any place else for him to go. Also he likes the independence....I'm curious to hear what others are doing! middle school mom


As far as I know, it's not illegal to have your 10-year-old walk home from school and stay by themselves until you get home. From the way your question is phrased, it's pretty clear that you think this is a bad idea but I disagree.

My mother lived on a farm in the Central Valley and cared for all her younger siblings while her mother worked. She was probably younger than 10 when this started. She grew up to be an incredibly self-sufficient person who works hard and is very successful.

My 10-year-old son walks home nearly every day with a friend. Occasionally, I am at a doctor's appointment or picking his sister up from an activity so he stays by himself in the house. He knows I am just a phone call away. He is one of those hyper-responsible kids who is very capable and we live in a safe neighborhood. He is also able to cook breakfast for the entire family, change the oil in the cars, and program most of the small electronics in the household.

When it comes to matters of parental judgement, I hope you will live and let live and mind your own business. proud mom of great kid


I don't know what the law is but somewhere between 10 and 11 most parents start letting their child be home alone for an hour or two. We started leaving our child alone at 11, which was later than most families we knew. I was very reluctant because of my child's personality, but realized I could cause my child as many problems by overprotectiveness, as by excessive freedom. That was six months ago, and we haven't gotten past the 1.5 hour mark.

It depends on the child, and how responsible they are. Also, an hour or two is very different than the whole evening. Remember, when we were kids, it was usual for elementary school children to walk home alone, and then play outside until nightfall with no supervision, as far as I can recall (unless they damaged someone's window... :) mom of a sixth grader


Not to beat around the bush- mind your own business. Even if you have some reason to think that he's a somewhat neglectful parent overall (which you didn't say), you are a co-worker of his and not a personal friend. You don't know the whole story. Let his friends tell him if he's asking too much of his kid.

BTW, I was home alone not infrequently as a 10 year old girl, enjoyed having a bit of completely private time, and knew very well what wasn't safe to do by myself. anon


It is my understanding that California law does not specify a specific age at which a child may be legally left unsupervised. THere are, however, laws about child neglect and negligence, typically judged on a case-by-case basis when/if something actually happens. There is a pretty good discussion of this (with links to California Code) at http://answers.google.com/answers/threadview?id=134504.

Practically speaking, you will find a wide range of ages at which parents feel it's o.k. to leave their child/children home alone (or with each other). Of course, it depends a lot on the particular child, how far away and accessible the parent (or other responsible adult) is, the time of day, etc. My two kids were quite different ages before they felt comfortable staying alone, and it was even longer before I would leave them alone together. At the very least, the child should have the cognitive capacity/maturity to recognize an emergency, take basic self-protection steps, and contact an adult. R.K.


I'm pretty sure he's not breaking the law. I found the following discussion on ''google answers'' to be very informative : http://www.answers.google.com/answers/threadview?id=134504 hope this helps. anon
It completely depends on the child (and to some degree the neighborhood in which they live). I'm not sure what the CA law is, but many years ago, I stayed home alone after school for a few hours. I was eight and very mature. Other than watch tv and eat too many Oreos, I was perfectly fine. anon
I'm not sure if there is a law on the books regarding this issue. However, I think it depends on the child. I have an 11 year old who I leave at home alone for short periods of time. He is an extremely responsible and mature kid -- he knows the rules (don't answer the door, don't let strangers know you're alone, he has the neighbor's phone number handy) and I feel pretty comfortable when he is at home alone. I would feel it was OK for him to be alone for 1 hour between school and my arrival home. But it really depends on the kid. My son has a number of friends the same age who I would never dream of leaving alone for that length of time. I think you need to trust your friend's judgement on this one. Kim
Hi, I don't think there any laws (none that I have heard of). I have heard 10 years old is about the age when people start being able to leave their kids alone for a short amounts of time. An hour ect... Obviously, it's going to depend on the child. I think a 10 year old spending 1 hour alone after school is reasonable. Not that long ago most of us were probably babysitting by the time we were 12. anon
There is no law in California about age. The Child Abuse Prevention Council of Sacramento has a pretty good handout on this issue: ''How Old is Old Enough to Leave a Child Home Alone?'' at http://www.sierrasaccoalition.org/homealone.pdf

I leave my 5th grader home for up to 30 minutes if I have a quick errand. He is a responsible kid. I quiz him on phone numbers (cell etc), ask him what would he do if (fire/phone call/doorbell rings/hurts himself accidentally) and I feel comfortable leaving him for that period of time. anon


I can't answer your question about the law, but it seems staying home alone is more a matter of maturity than age. I can recommend a *great* resource for anyone trying to decide if a child is ready to be left home alone. When my daughter insisted she was old enough (I think she was 11 or 12 I don't remember) I found a book called ''Staying Home Alone'' by Dottie Raymer and Lauren Scheuer. It's geared toward girls but the information applies to boys as well. It starts with a quiz to help assess readiness. Then it goes over *everything* you'd need to think about if your child will be home alone or has to come home before an adult gets there. It includes emergency reference cards, things to do if you get bored, what to do in case of scary situations or emergencies (including how to Heimlich yourself if you're choking and there's no one there to help.) Thinking through all the issues in the book helped both of us feel more comfortable with her being here by herself. I got my copy at Cody's but you can also find it on Amazon or the American Girl website. I appreciate your concern for your co-worker's child, but more than the law, you might turn the focus to whether the child is safe and comfortable in the situation - and whether the father actually has any choice here. Another Mom
There is no legal age limit for a child being home alone. Your coworker's ten year old is probably fine alone for an hour if he has the maturity/wherewithal to go a neighbor for help, call 911, contact dad, not do anything dangerous (e.g. start a fire, climb on the roof, open the door for a stranger), etc. If you're still concerned, call law enforcement and/or Child Protective Services for more information. Child welfare professional
I found an article in SF Gate from 2006 that says there is no minimum age, but presents a good argument for not leaving kids home alone before 12. http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?f=/c/a/2006/01/05/MNGL8GHMCQ1.DTL I have a friend whose 8 year old regularly is home alone after school and it has always given me pause, but what can you do? I don't get it either
Thank you to those who posted links to resources. They were most informative. I was recently searching for this info myself and noticed a lot of confusion between several very different circumstances in ''leaving a child home alone.'' Each of these will have a different definition of ''reasonable age'':

1) for a short time (an hour or so) in the afternoon (with or without a younger sibling to watch over). We may be living in more dangerous times, but more likely we are just more protective. In the 70's in Berkeley my sister and I came home alone after school starting from when I was about 9 or so and my sister was 7. We were not the only kids who did this, although it was before the term ''latchkey kid'' was coined (yes we wore our keys on a string around our necks). I don't remember this raising any eyebrows at the time.

2) in the evening/after dark: for this I think the key would be whether the child was afraid to be home alone after dark, as well as if they were responsible enough. I would not presume to judge the maturity of another child or the judgement of another parent in this matter, but for myself I don't think I would do it until my older child was over 10, probably closer to 12. But my oldest is now 8, so I don't know.

3) to babysit (i.e. take responsibility for) younger children. I would think 12 would be the lower limit of this (I remember babysitting at 11 or 12), but then there may be a difference between a younger sibling in your own home and babysitting another child for money.

4) home alone overnight. I have no idea how old my own child will be when I feel comfortable with this, but I imagine it will be at least 14.

5) home alone for more than 24 hours (i.e. Friday night to Sunday afternoon)

As you can see there are a lot of factors and variables and it would be difficult to write a law that addressed each situation appropriately. The short answer to your question though is that your coworker is not wrong. It is certainly not illegal and most likely not any problem whatsoever to leave a 10 year old to spend an hour home alone after school. --trying to find that middle ground between between careless and overprotective


Kids 11, 8, 7 home alone for quick errands?

Nov 2006

My partner and I have been talking about when to begin letting the kids stay at home alone. They are almost 11, 8 1/2, and almost 7, and we would not leave the youngest alone at this time, ever. Ironically it's the middle child that shows the most ability to handle this responsibility. That said, we're curious about when and under what circumstances parents start giving their children a little rope to foster independence and experience making good judgement calls. Just to forestall calls about calling CPS, what we're talking about are things like a 10 minute store run during daylight. One of us is comfortable with this, one of us has all sorts of alarms going off. How have you handled this situation with your growing children? Gotta let go some day, but not now!


I've been discussing this with friends since it seems like none of the 5th grade children at my son's school stay in aftercare and I'm trying to figure out how long I can leave my son home alone. So far I have only left him home for less than an hour( he is 10). Every time I go over what I expect him to do, quiz him on my cell number and write it down, and remind him what not to do (don't turn on the stove, open the door etc). So far it's gone fine. On a related note what are parents who both work having their middle school kids do after school? Especially on Wed when there is a minimum day I just can't imagine having him walk home and stay alone for 3 hours but it seems like none of the older kids stay in aftercare at his school wondering too
It totally depends on the kids. When my 15 yo was 7 or 8 I was leaving him home for quick visits to the store. He was very independant, sensible and self sufficient. My little one(now 11) could be left alone with my older son when they were about 8 and 11 but not by himself. As long as we could be reached via cell phone or a neighbor was close by I felt pretty comfy...we also have 3 dogs and live in a pretty safe neighborhood. Now, at 11 and 15 we can go out for an evening and leave them together. If the 11 yo is home alone all evening we check in frequently. They watch TV, play computer or read.

So, far (maybe we're lucky) there have been no problems. They know safety things....who to call, what to do if there's a fire, injury, etc. We know all our neighbors and someone is always around. Good luck. It's nice to finaly have a bit more freedom when they get older. anon


The fire department recommends children be at least 12 years old and mature before being left at home alone Listening to the Firefighters
In this day of cell phones? And for short store runs? I see no problem. My parents occasionally left me for 30 minutes at age 7 (but then, I was pretty responsible).

Yes, things can go wrong, but you could be in the other roon when the kids do something awful too. I think there's a limit to how crazy-safe we should be. People are far too uptight about things these days.

For 10-30 minutes away and with a cell phone? I would definitely risk it if I felt the kids in question were reasonably responsible and would follow enough rules to stay safe in that time anon


4th grade--one afternoon a week, 2-3 hrs. At his request. It was fine! Similar age with my younger daughter who is 11 now but she is not as comfortable staying alone and we do it more occasionally. lots of setting of ground rules: phone/door/cooking I'm sometimes less comfortable leaving the two siblings alone bc of squabbling/power trips... Usually I say the older one is babysitting and will be paid but only if it is peaceful! Deborah
i bet you are getting hordes of mail saying never do it, ever...however depnding on your home I'd leave them for a quick(15 minute) store run-I'd carry my cell-write it down by the phone, lock the door and set the alarm for staying in-go thru your rules. Really nervous? Leave one parent at home on the sidewalk(out of eyesight) just in case. anon

Worried about 14, 12, & 9yrs old home alone

Jan 2005

When is it ok to leave kids home alone? My daughters are 14, 12, & 9yrs old. They are responsible and obedient. I have never left them home alone. My friends leave their kids home alone all the time and think I am being overly protective. The stories on the news about fires breaking out and killing the kids scare me. What should I do? Worried Mom


If your kids are 14, 12 and 9, your job as parent is rapidly changing from watching over them constantly to teaching them to take care of themselves. When and how to leave older kids alone at home depends a lot on the kids. Do they get along well, or is one terrified of being left alone or with bullying sibs? Are you afraid of particular misbehaviors (drinking alcohol, leaving the house) while you're gone? Are they generally responsible and reliable, or totally scattered? Does the 14 year old lead the others well, or does she resent being the babysitter? Have you instructed them in emergency responses?

I never leave my 10 year old alone in the house for more than an hour in the day, and never at night. I always lock the doors and turn off appliances like dryer and stove. I remind her to stay inside, not to answer the phone unless it's my special ring, not to answer the door, and call 911 if someone outside is trying to get inside or frightening her. I remind her to go to the neighbors next door if there is a fire. The idea is not to alarm her, but to review constructive responses to unlikely emergencies. Staying home successfully by herself is a step towards growing up and handling her life with confidence. She is also relieved to get out of being dragged along on my boring errands. So far we have left our 14 year old boy home alone for an evening, but only by himself, never with a friend (or his sister to look after), and always reminding him of his grandmother's phone number-- she lives just a few blocks away and could always advise him or give him shelter in an emergency. However, when offered the choice, he much prefers to spend the evening at a friend's house than alone. I have friends who will occasionally leave two daughters, 14 and 11, home in the early evening while they go out to dinner nearby-- they are comfortable with this because they have cell phones and confidence in their children. Knowing these kids, this seems pretty reasonable to me. While teen judgment is sometimes lacking, a 14-year-old is an adult in training and should be given appropriate responsibilities. concerned parent


If you're not comfortable leaving your kids home alone, then you probably should not do it yet. My two boys (now, 14 and 9 1/2) have been staying home alone together for several years. My older son is very independant and responsible. When he was 9 or 10 I would leave him home alone for short periods (15 minutes while I went to pick up his brother, etc). I never left him alone with ''the baby''. But as they've gotten older, it works for us.

Truthfully, the TV is the babysitter, so I pretty much know they are not going anywhere or getting into trouble. If I'm nearby, me and my husband are reachable by cell phone. We have neighbors all around that they can call. If we are going away for an evening, or are unreachable (theatre, etc) there is usually one or two neighbors who know we are gone who will be home and the boys can call them for anything urgent.

We have a dog and an alarm. They know what to do in case of fire or if someone is hurt, never to answer the door, cook on the stove, use sharp knives, etc. I think one of the reasons they are so well behaved when we're gone is that the idea of having a sitter come to stay with them is mortifying (esp. for the older one). More likely they'd go to friend's houses if we were going to be gone all day or for a really long evening. Anyway, this works for us.

You might try a short shopping trip, or quick evening out to dinner or something where you are reachable and can get home quickly. Do the girls get along? If there is a chance of a sibling fight and everyone falling apart, it may not be a good idea. Good luck. You'll know when the time is right. mom with some freedom


Worried Mom asked..When is it ok to leave kids home alone? Besides letting the stories on the news about fires breaking out and killing the kids scaring you, shift your attention to how you can make your home safer and your kids stronger. Make sure you have and follow fire protocols. Show your kids how to replace batteries in smoke detectors. Practice using a fire extinguisher with them. Negative thinking can attract negative events. Since you've identified valid concerns, work through them so you know your kids are safe when you leave them. You'll make them more confident, too. Another mom
After reviewing family rules and safety tips, start slowly. When our daughter was about 10, we started leaving her home for short periods during the day after first confirming with close neighbors that they would be home and available if needed. This graduated into staying home alone during parts of weekend days while we parents ran our errands, and now that she's 13 into staying home alone on the occasional parents night out. One rule that we adhere to strictly: we do not leave our daughter home alone unless at least one parent is in the east bay (we don't want the worry of trying to get across the bay in the event of a major earthquake or other disaster). Unless your children are irresponsible, it seems that they are old enough for you to begin giving them this experience. anon

Let 5-y-o stay home for 10-minute trip to daycare?

Nov 2004

Hi. I couldn't find anything in the archives about this. What age/maturity level do kids need to have to be able to stay home alone? What is the law? what do other people do? does it depend on how long you're gone, if they can dial your cell phone number if they need you, or what? For example: my 3yr old's daycare is a mile down the street (about a 10 minute trip) and my 5 yr old boy hates to have to get in the car to go get her. At what age can I let him stay home for something like this (I don't let him stay home now)? thanks in advance, Karlyn


Depends on the kid. When I was 11, I stayed home alone with 3 younger sibs. My kids are 11 now and while I trust my daughter to stay home alone, I worry my son would get into matches, etc. With so much at stake, better to err on the side of caution. Admitted Worrier
It totally depends on the child, I think. I don't know what the legal age is (there is one!). My now 13 year old was staying alone for 10-15 minutes while I went and got the baby from the sitter when he was about 7. I would have NEVER left my younger boy alone at that age. My older son is and has always been very independant and responsible.

Now, at almost 14 and 9 1/2 I leave the 2 boys home alone together while my husband and I have an evening out. We are always reachable by cell phone and if we are not (like in a concert or theatre) there is always a neighbor available they can call, and neighbors who know they are home alone. My 9 year old son can be left alone for maybe an hour if I am out doing an errand and fairly close by....the TV is the babysitter in that case. He's just not as level headed or mature as my older son was at that age.

You have to be the judge, and of course teach your child what to do in certain situations....ie: don't open the door for anyone, who to call for help, etc. slightly freer mom


I let my almost 8-year-old daughter stay home by herself for up to half an hour when I go pick up my son at pre-school or run off to the store. I've been letting her do this from time to time for about a year, but then she's proven herself capable. She knows ''The Drill,'' which is this: Don't answer the front door, don't answer the phone. If she gets spooked she can call me on my cell or go next door to either neighbor women, who work from home. She's sensible and reliable, knows not to touch the stove, etc. I've noticed she she uses the time to steal and hoard cookies...

I'm going to admit having left my slumbering 4-year-old tucked in his bed while driving my daughter to school - literally a five minute round trip - after compulsively checking the stove, turning off the heat, etc. Once, however, he woke up, and was crying for me in the front room. Bad Mommy guilt for a week! So I don't do that anymore.

On the general topic, I'm as protective as the next parent, but I also think we've gone too far as a culture sometimes in the name of protecting our offspring. I want my kids to be capable of handling themselves and not crippled with fear that something, God Forbid, will happen to them if I leave them alone for a while. (I'm talking about kids 7 and up here, now). Does this keep me from worrying the entire time I'm at the store? Of course not. But I think it's a good exercise for her and for me. real life momma


While the precise age to be home alone depends on a lot of factors, five is WAY TOO YOUNG to be alone at home, even if you are ''just ten minutes away''. A five-year-old can't possibly have the maturity, life experience, and knowledge to deal with any kind of emergency. What if you were in a car accident while out? While California law is vague on a ''legal'' age to be home alone (you could be found negligent leaving anyone home under the age of 18 if the situation would pose a danger - but of course most kids can be alone well before that), but very clear that you cannot leave a chld under the age of nine in a car unattended. I would use this as a very rough guideline, but would probably wait until 10 or 11 in most cases depending on how far away you are, whether there are reliable neighbors home, what time of day it is, whether you are reachable by phone, how prepared and comfortable your child feels about emergency situations of all kinds, etc. Please don't risk his safety just for the sake of convenience.

If he hates to get into the car every time, how about taking a walk together? A mile should be very do-able, and would be good exercise for both of you. Maybe sometimes make it an extra-fun outing (not just a sibling pick-up). Play his favorite music in the car, have a special ''pick-up-time-only'' toy, or something else to make it more bearable. The fact is, with two kids, one or the other is going to often have to do something just because the other one is there. I still drag my reluctant 11-year-old with me if I have to go out for an hour to pick up his dad and sister after dark (it takes almost an hour). You can make it work. RK


I asked my husband a Child Protective Services Social Worker what you should do and he said by NO MEANS do you leave a 5 year old home alone. You will be crimminally charged if something were to happen to him while you are gone. Social Workers Wife

Safety of 7-y-o daughter at home alone?

I'd like to know when it is safe to leave a school-aged child alone in the house for an hour or two during the daytime. My daughter is 7 and mature for her age and is out of school now that it is summer. My partner thinks it is fine to leave her but I have my doubts. If alone, she would spend the time reading or watching tv and cannot invite friends over. We told her to not answer the door or the phone. She can call us on our cell phone, and she knows how to get out of the house if there was a fire, but I worry about an earthquake. What else should I consider, besides how far away we would be if she had a problem? protective mom


I am the mother of a fairly mature 6.5 year old girl, and I wouldn't leave her alone even for an hour. I think there are a lot of potential risks here, but the biggest one is that this age group just doesn't have great judgement all the time, doesn't always follow directions, and might not always remember what to do if an emergency occurred. There are many, many things that could go wrong--from falling and hitting her head, to being seduced into opening the door for a stranger, from trying to cook and starting a fire to getting herself locked out of the house or scaring herself silly by watching the wrong channel on the television set.

The other big issue for me is that although these kids seem mature, they can still get very lonely and very frightened (or very frustrated) without a parent around. If it's just for an hour or two couldn't you bring her with you? Or arrange a playdate or a babysitter? davis


Please don't leave her alone at home - I used to stay at home alot as a child, and although I hear she would have the proper instructions and a cell phone to keep her safe, a child is still not mature enough (and shouldn't have to) to take complete care of herself - I had a few scary experiences as a child at home by myself, and although this may not/hopefully would never happen, you have to ask yourself if this is a chance you want to take. (Is there a friend's place you can drop her instead until she can be picked up by a parent?). Good luck, sorry to sound so grim, but it just is not the safest situation for a young child. Anon
When I was growing up in Berkeley in the 70s, I was a latch-key kid and I stayed home alone for longer than an hour or two and my parents did not tell me how to deal with an emergency, what I could/could not do when alone, etc and I turned out fine.

While it isn't illegal to leave a 7 year old home alone, there are quite a few safety considerations to think about:
* can she call 911 in an emergency?
* can you trust her not to leave the house, use the stove, open the door, etc.?
* is there a nearby neighbor/friend that she can go to if need be? Will that person be checking in on her?
* does she know how to determine whether someone is a real police officer or not?
* will she be scared staying alone? (I was when I was 7) AP


I think 7 is much, much too young to be left home alone. Rebecca
When I was 10 and home alone for a few hours during the day, my house was broken into by a neighbor's visiting son. Because no one answed the door after he pounded on it for a while, he assumed the house was empty. He broke down the front door, got past our large barking dog, and litterally began tearing our house apart. My parents were 4 blocks away and had instructed me just as you would instruct your daughter. Fortunately I escaped the house unharmed- but it was terrifying. heather
Another thing to consider: the law, which I believe says that it's neglectful to leave children under the age of nine alone. Personally, unless I thought my child could handle any possible circumstance, including break-ins, earthquakes, fires, she's not ready to be home alone no matter her age. Anonymous
I have left my 7/8 year old home alone but not for 2 hours. She is mature enough and knows how to follow directions but anything can happen in 2 hours. If I'm running a quick errand and she's watching a movie, I will let her stay if she insists, but if I don't know how long I'll be gone, she comes with me. Anonymous
7 years old is absolutely too young to stay at home alone - even if you have a cell phone. Even if she is mature for her age, she cannot have the maturity needed to make good judgements in an emergency situation. Knowing what to do and actually doing it are not the same - especially when she is scared. In my opinion (and I know others may disagree), 10 is the youngest I'd leave a child alone, and then I'd start with very short times when I was pretty close-by (say 1/2 hour at the local grocery store). Also, while it may be o.k. to let the answering machine answer calls (which she would then pick up if it is you calling), I believe that kids should NOT be instructed not to answer the door. Of course, they shouldn't open it, but pretending nobody is at home could be more dangerous. A burglar may just be checking, and if s/he believes no one is at home, may break in - a potentially very dangerous situation. I believe my kids learned at KidPower to ask who it is, and what they want, and then say that the parent ''can't come to the door right now - please come back a little later''.

Whatever you decide, be sure that in addition to your cell phone number, you leave her all emergency numbers and the phone number of a few nearby neighbors who are generally at home during the day. R.K.


7 is too young. Maybe 10 or 11 if she's pretty mature. Too many unpredictable things can happen. anon

8th grader at home alone after school

I am looking for advice experience on the following. What are other parents, who are working full-time, doing or arranging for their teens who at home afterschool without a parent around. Both my spouse and I work full-time. My eighth grader is home alone after school doing a combination of homework, skateboarding and watching TV/decompressing. He's a responsible kid (good grades and friends) and we've had no problems so far. But I am concerned about this un-supervised time. What are others doing or thinking about this? Has this topic been addressed previously? Can you post it for discussion? I'd like to remain anonymous in any posting because I don't want it to get back to my son who would be mortified.


I would say that if your son is in 8th grade, is spending his time doing his homework, and has no problems, you're in pretty good shape!! Our 12-year-old seventh grade daughter has been walking home from school and hanging out by herself since the 5th grade. (We live in a pretty safe neighborhood, with neighbors who are home all day and watch out for her, and the walk is easy and short.) For the first two years, I demanded that she call me each afternoon when she got home, just to check in. I have gotten looser with that requirement because she has been extremely responsible. My feeling is that teenagers NEED time alone. They probably spend a fraction of that time doing things we wouldn't entirely approve of (e.g., watching stupid TV), but as long as they are not hurting themselves or others, a bit of that is OK. I expect my daughter to do her homework, to keep her room neat, and to do occasional chores (pick up her brother if I'm going to be late, water the yard when it's extraordinarily hot, etc.). But I also let her have (girl)friends over or to go to their houses. The key for me is the homework: if it's getting done, she's OK. If it's not, then I rein her in in terms of how much TV she's watching, how much time she's spending with her friends, etc.
My kids through about age 14 have to page me at work when they get home from school. I give a quick call back to check on homework and mental health status and their plans for the afternoon. They have to page me again if they decide to go somewhere, so I know where to look if they're not home when I get home at 6 or 7. They cook and eat a late lunch, read the paper or their current novels, then do homework alone or with a friend over the phone. Also they have afterschool activities -- music lessons, religious school, sometimes sports -- so there isn't really that much time involved. I have always been clear in my own mind that if I couldn't account for where those afternoon hours were going, including for the 12th graders who don't have to page me but do have to leave me a note as to their whereabouts and estimated time of return, I would insist on their having a regular afterschool job to fill in any boring or tempting hours. My first 4 kids are in or through high school (2 at BHS now) and one is in middle school with no problems to date. I want my kids to learn to make independent decisions so basically they can do what they want after school as long as they check it out with me first and as long as they have a good track record of completing homework and being where they say they'll be when they say they'll be there. (post anon so my kids aren't embarrassed -- they think no other kid has to tell their parent who they're hanging out with)
As a mother of a teen, this problem has surfaced time and again. Ways we have dealt with it - enroll your teen in an after-school program, have him go to the library after school at least 3 times a week and call you when he gets there and when he gets home, find another teen to hang out with and switch homes, enlist the help of other working moms/dads, enlist the help of an adult in the neighborhood whom your son can go to if he needs an adult, get a dog for company and protection, but mostly I would heartily suggest that you find something nurturing and educational for your son to do. It's tough, I know, but we have to be firm about not letting our kids be alone for so much of the time. Homework help is available at most schools after school, as are extracurricular activities. And libraries are free, quiet, and conducive to getting homework done. Good luck!
Amy
I am a parent of a 15 year old and also am doing research on parent/teen issues. My research and other studies indicate that middle-schoolers need to participate in some kind of structured after-school activities. During the middle-school years, teens are dealing with maturity, peer and academic pressures and beginning to test the world around them,they need a great deal of guidance, especially during the after-school hours. According to my research, teens do best when they do not have a lot of free time but are busy (but not overscheduled with activities)and involved in sports or arts activities. These activities help kids learn a skill, keep them focused,and give them an identity in relation to other kids. They are beginning to see themselves as a basketball player or like my son, a flautist. This identity can help them excell in school, gain friends, become healthy, or just feel good about themselves. According to the research, kids want to know that they are being supervised but not too closely. So, parents may not need to be at home during after school, but some kind of structured after-school activity with adult supervision 2 or 3 times a week may make them feel that their parents are still guiding them. But I must say that not all kids are alike, and some do not need much supervision. But the research is indicting that it's often difficult to tell when kids need it because they may like being alone doing their "own thing" even if they're encountering some difficulty doing it. They may not let their parents know what's going on in their lives for fear that they'll lose their time alone.

I hope this information is helpful in some way. I wanted to address this issue since some of you took part in my research project and asked me to give you any interesting findings.

Elaine


My daughter spent the first half of last year wandering Berkeley from 3 to 5:30pm many days with a bunch of kids whose parents didn't want, or weren't able, to supervise them. In that situation now, I would have insisted she have something more concrete to do, but last year I was swayed by the idea that the "other" parents weren't concerned. When I found out the other kids were into graffiti, vandalism and lacked respect for property and boundaries -- I pulled the plug. She is now in a different school, with less free time and more to do after school. She still likes the old friends, but is too busy to hang out with them on a regular basis. I think she's actually happier. She got back a bit of her childhood in the move. The transition to middle school caught me by surprise -- suddenly there was no supervision or expectation of supervision for kids who'd previously been cared for after school -- but the kids were still 11 years-old... Their needs hadn't changed, just their circumstances. Heather

Leaving Teens Alone Overnight

May 2002

I'd like some advice about leaving my teen daughters at home overnight. They are 17 and 13 years old and we'd like to consider a short overnight trip. At what age did you feel comfortable leaving the kids overnight?


I allowed my 15 and 1/2 year old daughter to stay home alone one of two evenings that I was away. The other evening was spent with adult friends. She wanted to me to trust her and allow her to be independent. Before I left, I made sure neighbors knew I was going to be away and that she was on her own. I also asked my mother to call. When I came home, I got the biggest hug. She was lonely without me and every noise made her nervous. I would feel comfortable leaving her alone again, but I do not think she would want me to. Angela
When is it OK to leave a teen alone for 1-2 nights? I realize they are all different, maturity, With/without boyfriend/girlfriends etc. My daughter is 16.5, an only child, fairly mature and responsible. She is very aware that her actions bring reactions, both good and bad, so the chance of a party is remote. She has good friends, whose parents are my friends. Of course she could stay with a friend, but I don't want to over do a good thing. Also I think a teen should begin to have independence, we don't want college to be the first time alone! My Dad age 76 is a mile away, so there is a safe place. Any thoughts are appreciated. Carol
I took my 15-year-old daughter to the movie Pleasantville (in which the parents leave the two teens alone over nite and the girl has her boyfriend over for sex). I swear to god that the next weekend my daughter told me she was staying over with a girlfriend and that the mom was home (she wouldn't let me talk to the mom, saying she had come home sick and gone to bed early, which sounded plausible -- I knew the mom fairly well and consider the friend a good kid). On Sunday I learned that the mom was not home and you guessed it.... I hold my daughter 100% responsible, but I was surprised that some parents do feel comfortable leaving their teens alone overnite. I'd never let my kid stay overnite anywhere again without person-to-person communication with the parents beforehand. Some teens are really devious! Janine
About leaving teens alone -- I've got a son two weeks shy of being 17, and we have left him alone for one night a couple of times without any problems. He too is not one to take advantage, and really welcomes the opportunity to have the house to himself. Obviously, were he a different kind of kid (in fact, if he was more like I was at 17!), I might be reluctant to leave him alone, but our experience has been positive. The event was liberating for him, and made it clear to him that we trust him, which seems to go a very long way with teenagers. Mira
Leaving teens overnight: We first left our son alone in May of 10th grade (he was nearly 16) when we were all scheduled to take a trip to Oregon for Memorial Day Weekend. He was working on a huge paper for Ms. Groves' American History class. He had reams of periodical research and library books and web pages and we did not own a laptop. After exploring borrowing or renting a computer we decided to leave him home. We did have a dog sitter who was going to come by each day and could even stay overnight if necessary. We spoke several times a day and it proved to be a great experience for him. He wrote a terriffic paper and even made dinner one night for himself and the dog sitter. It really depends how mature your child is- some kids get afraid being alone in the house overnight or they don't know how to say no to kids who want to come over. A year later he did volunteer work in South America with Amigos de las Americas where he was minimally supervised in a rural town, with a great deal of responsibility resting on his shoulders. We were glad he'd been given some practice early on. I think it's good to give kids as much responsibility as they can handle. It also makes them confident to know that you trust them and expect them to honor that trust. So I say go for it if she's ready. In a year or two she's likley to be off on her own to school.- WR
My mother allowed me, her third child, to spend time alone at our summer beach cottage, on and off season, for short intervals, from the time I was about 15 years old. I loved this time. I read books, gatherd driftwood for fires in the fireplace, cooked and enjoyed the solitude. I was otherwise a very social child. There were family friends whom I could call, but I never did. One of our neighbors "kept an eye" on me, but I never knew.

Now my husband and I put in a call to our friends' teenage children when the parents are away. Do they need anything? Perhaps a ride? Would they like to come to dinner? Could they babysit for our youngest?

Our oldest is not old enough to want to have the house to herself for the weekend. Yet. She's twelve, but very independant, and I'm sure the day will come soon enough. As a parent, it's a nice thought to know that someone (else, perhaps a neighbor, or a friend) is checking in a little bit.

Mimi


Leaving 11 and 14 yo at Home during the Day

From: Barbara

My kids, ages 11 and 14 are at home this summer.  My husband goes to work
most days at 3:00 pm and I get home at 6:30 or so.  My 14 yr old son wants
to have friends over to play basketball etc., and I trust him for the most
part and like his friends but I feel a "little" ill at ease having several
kids at the house when no adults are home.  Rather than make it an issue, I
just have limited the number of kids and I call home to check on everyone
every so often.  I would rather have them at home than out at the mall or
on the street but I wonder if anyone else has input on this situation.  I
remember a friend of mine who thought her kids were perfectly OK until her
neighbor told her her son was growing pot on the roof of the apartment
house and her daughter was picked up for shoplifting.  I don't want to
allow so much freedom they hang themselves.

--------------------

From: Lisa

There is a free publication called Bay Area Parent of Teens that has some
good articles dealing with teenagers.  You can find them at the Berkeley
main public library or call 1-800-666-1514 to get bundles delivered to
somewhere near you.  I have only read one issue but thought the articles
hit the spot in terms of dealing with this difficult age group.


--------------------

I think that teens still need a lot of supervision whether they are at
home, on the streets, or at their friends.  Our children by themselves may
not do anything wrong, but when they are with their friends, the social
pressure can muddle their judgement.  The trick is how to
supervise/monitor/guide without them feeling their independence is
infringed upon and they are not being trusted.  This is such a challenge. 
Keeping them not bored during the summer is important.  I am dealing with
the same issues year round. I have discovered some situations to turn out
to be very experimental.  Teenagers can be very creative in getting over on
us.  This is something all of us need to really talk about.

---------------------

From: Aleta

Fortunately, I'll never have a problem in the summer.  My concern is
during the academic year.  We live about 5 blocks from Pinole Middle
School.  My daughter will get home about 3:15+ and I will get home
about 6:00+. This is what I plan to do with my 12 yr. daughter: 1)
Check every possible after school program, or 2)She must have all
homework done 3) She will have chores to do, 4)No phone calling, 5)
Must stay inside with doors locked 6)I've approved only two of her
many friends are allowed to come home with her- on occasions (I will
go over these rules with them also), 7) #6 will be voided if anything
goes wrong.  If I feel this isn't going to work then she will have to
take the bus to Richmond and stay at her Grandfathers home until I
pick her up.  I trust my daughter, however I don't trust the neighbor
kids or the world for that matter. (add: She must leave a message at
my work the moment she gets home and I will call her once every day).

------------------------

From: Linnea

I share your concern about teens being home and having friends over when no
adult is there.  Perhaps you can manage to get home earlier if you get into
work earlier, thus reducing their time alone.  If your husband is involved
with them during the early part of the day providing variety and interest
(i.e., does he take them places?) maybe they can keep occupied with a mix
of activities when no adult is there.  When there is group of teens they
can think up things to do that your kids wouldn't consider when they're
alone, but when they're all together, group synergy takes over.....I would
try to structure their afternoon time in some way and I would also limit
the number of days that a group can come over, and the size of the group as
I think you may have mentioned.  If a group is at your house every day,
they're likely to become bored eventually and that's when problems can
develop.  Good luck.

----------------------------

     This is in response to the mom who is concerned about leaving her 
     children home in the afternoon. (#5 Teens at Home)
     
     During high school there was always one friend whose parents weren't 
     home and believe me, we made the most of it.
     
     As far as issues of trust are concerned, I think that it's pretty much 
     impossible to "trust" most teenagers no matter how wonderful they are. 
     Developmentally it's just so much a time of experimentation and 
     feelings of immortality.  
     
     Maybe your children have to know that they are being checked in on in 
     some way (can you or your husband do surprise drop-in visits?). That 
     they just don't have that 3 1/2 hour period to run amuck.  But on the 
     other hand, you don't want them to feel like they're in jail so 
     they'll go somewhere else to run amuck!
     
     On the other hand, I just spoke to a mom of a now 27 year old son who 
     was a latchkey kid for years and years and she said that she could 
     trust him completely.
     
     It's a tough call!

-------------------------------

[submitted anonymously]

I have been thinking about this subject a lot, because this summer for the
first time I've left my two kids at home for varying amounts of time while
I work full time. My sons are 12 (let's call him "Jake") and 14 ("Joe"). 
I was given a lot of freedom when I was 12 and older and I think it's
important to give this to my kids as much as I can. I also think it's good
for kids to have down time where they don't have planned activities. So I'm
comfortable with the idea of leaving them at home, but some things have 
worked, and some haven't. Here are my results:

Some background:
1. The neighborhood is safe and there are neighbors at home during the
day who can step in if there's an emergency
2. I'm reachable by phone & I can get home quickly if I need to
3. Public transportation is nearby and both kids know how to take the
bus (to their friends', to the movies, etc.) Joe can take BART to his 
buddy's house in Moraga.
4. Both kids know how to make sandwiches, use the stove and microwave.

The 2 most important factors I've found, regardless of age, are:
1. how trustable is the kid?
2. how trustable are the kid's friends?

In the case of 14-yr-old Joe, he is completely trustworthy, and nearly all 
his friends are honor-roll types whom I trust just as much as I trust Joe.
It really does pay off to get to know their friends and their friends'
parents. Joe is allowed to have any of his friends over (with one exception,
and I trust him not to have this kid in when I'm not there). The only rule
is that he calls me before he leaves the house to tell me where he is going
and when he'll be back. His friends have similar rules at their homes. They 
mainly play ball together, play video games, go to the movies, things like 
that. While Joe is capable of being a complete vegetable, spending hours in 
front of the TV, he works hard during the school year so I don't really mind 
that much what he does over the summer.

In the case of 12-year-old Jake, things are totally different. Jake is
a sweet kid but he cannot resist his wild impulses; he really isn't
trustable.  Of his 3 best friends, 2 of them I occasionally have
allowed to come over when I'm not there; if anything they are a good
influence. But his best friend, who lives on our block, is completely
unpredictable and prone to the same wild impulses as my son. Together
they are lethal.  I can't trust Jake not to hang out with this kid
when I'm not home - on one of the days when I did, (the friend's
parent was home but I wasn't), they got into trouble for spraying
silly foam into the car of the neighborhood grouch. More recently,
Jake has befriended an older kid who's in town just for the summer who
reportedly does Very Bad Things and has been hanging around my house
when I'm not there. So for all these reasons, it hasn't worked to
leave Jake at home alone.

For the first half of the summer, Jake was in camp, riding the bus by
himself to north Berkeley, and then coming to my office by bus when it
was over. This worked out well and gave Jake some degree of freedom
while still allowing me some control. Since then, I've been mostly
bringing him in to work, or trying to work from home. For the next 2
weeks, I'm trying something new. I'd considered using all the rest of
my vacation to stay home, and I also considered hiring a teenager to
stay with Jake. But then it occurred to me to try hiring my own teenager -
Joe.  My two boys don't get along all that well, so in the past it
hasn't worked out to leave Joe in charge of Jake. But I remembered
the power of heavy bribes. I told Joe I'd pay him $10 a day to babysit
Jake (less than his fee for other people of $3/hour but a sizeable
amount for 2 weeks). If there is a fight, and I have to come home, 
Joe doesn't get paid for that day. Jake gets $1 a day if all goes well. 
Each day they have to plan some activity (rent a video, go swimming, 
go to the movies) and I call every couple hours to check in. Jake can
have friends over, but only the 2 that I trust, and only if Joe agrees. 
I can trust Joe to enforce this. Joe can have a friend over or go to a 
friend's house but he must include Jake. They both like the arrangement 
and so far it seems to be working, with some phone mediation on my part 
when squabbles arise.
With any luck, it will carry me thru the rest of the summer!

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this page was last updated: Jul 17, 2012


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