When is it OK to leave a child home alone?April 20, 2021
By AMBER RUSSELL
Youth First Inc.
As a parent, I have recently been thinking about at what age it is appropriate and acceptable to leave your child home alone. I’ve often considered it when I need to run errands for a couple hours.
My son is 9 years old. I have asked other parents and family members when they first let their children stay home alone. I found the answer varied a lot based on who I asked.
Some people had very strong opinions on the subject and were certain that kids needed to be much older to be left alone. Others made me feel like I was crazy to even be worried about leaving my 9-year-old home alone for 10 minutes while I ran to the store to buy the one item I had forgotten on my list.
So who is right? I did some research and found that the answer varies. Only a few states have laws that specify a legal age to leave a child home alone, and they range from age 8-14.
Indiana, from what I can tell, falls into the “no specific law” category. There is no law or magic number specifying the right time or right age, but according to Prevent Child Abuse Indiana, there are some questions you should consider while making this decision.
• Is there a responsible adult available? Does an adult friend or family member live nearby? Or is there possibly a nice neighbor that your child is comfortable with in case they need help? Who can your child go to or call in case of emergency? Do they know how to call a family member for help?
• Does your child know emergency procedures? Does your child know what to do and where to go if there is a fire in the home? Do they know where the first aid kit is and how to use it? What about what to do in the event of bad weather such as a tornado?
• Does your child regularly problem-solve without assistance? For instance, what are the rules if someone rings the doorbell or a friend calls and wants to come over? What do they do if they come home after school and the door is open or they notice a window is busted out? If they are outside playing and a stranger tries to talk to them, what would they do?
• Can your child perform everyday tasks such as making a snack or making a phone call? These are necessary skills. Do they know their address and phone number? Is there a phone available for them to make an emergency call?
• Is your child comfortable staying at home alone? Ask them, and if the answer is “no,” then now is not the right time. A child should feel confident and self-sufficient before being left home alone.
The appropriate age for being left home alone depends somewhat on the child, their maturity level and the length of time they will be alone. I know some 9-year-olds that could handle being home alone for an hour or two, but I also know some 12- and 13-year-olds that I would not trust.
Make sure both you and your child are comfortable with your absence. Ensure they know the rules, what to do in case of an emergency, and who they can contact for help. Start with a small length of time as a trial (like while you run to the grocery store). If they will be home for more than an hour alone, make sure to call and check in.
Amber Russell, LCSW, is the Youth First social worker at Pike Central High School and Pike Central Middle School in Pike County. Youth First Inc., a nonprofit dedicated to strengthening youth and families, provides 64 Master's level social workers to 92 schools in 11 Indiana counties. Over 60,000 youth and families per year are served by Youth First's school social work and after school programs that prevent substance abuse, promote healthy behaviors and maximize student success. To learn more about Youth First, visit youthfirstinc.org or call 812-421-8336.
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