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At What Age Should Your Kids Be Allowed to Stay Home Alone?

Parents often ask at what age it’s ok to leave their kids home alone (without adult supervision).  The National Safe Kids Campaign recommends that, generally, kids should be at least 12 years old before they are allowed to stay home alone . . . but there are variables that must be considered.  There’s no one set age at which it is always appropriate to leave kids home alone.  Each situation is unique and should be evaluated on a case-by-case basis.  Below are the factors to consider.

*According to the National Child Care Information and Technical Assistance Center (NCCIC), Illinois and Maryland are the only states in the U.S.A. that have state laws governing this issue.  Parents living in Illinois or Maryland should contact their states to learn the laws that govern them.  In the other 48 states, Child Protective Services (by whatever term is used in each state) may have their own rules on this matter.  Parents living in one of these 48 states should contact Child Protective Services to determine at what age it’s believe to be appropriate for kids to begin staying home alone.

*Parents should ask themselves the following questions.  How long would my child be home without adult supervision?  How often would s/he be home alone?  Would s/he be home alone during the day or night?  Are there known hazards in my home that should be considered?  Do we live in a high risk/high crime neighborhood?  How close is the nearest neighbor (in case a difficulty arises)?  Are our neighbors our friends or are they barely acquaintances?  How mature is my child for his/her age?  Is my child a risk-taker?  Does s/he exhibit impulsivity?  Does s/he exhibit responsibility?  Is s/he able to follow rules and handle small crises well?  Does s/he feel comfortable with the concept of being home without adult supervision?  Would one of my children be responsible for supervising his/her siblings?  How many siblings . . . and what ages?  Are there behavioral or medical concerns among any of the children?  How well do the siblings relate to one another? 

*After learning state laws and regulations and asking the above questions, if parents think that their kids may be able to be home without adult supervision, parents should give their kids a brief (approximately one to two hours) test run at being home alone.  Begin by writing everything down:  where the parents will be, when they will be home, whom to contact in case of emergency, what can/should be eaten (and what should not), what activities are permitted (and what are not), where the kids may go (and where they should not), etc.  This information sheet should be discussed between parents and their kids, and it should be posted in a prominent location for easy reference.  Once the test run has begun, parents are advised to check in regularly with their kids.  Alternately, some parents designate specific times at which the kids should check in with their parents.  If a call is not received at the designated time, parents should then call home to determine if any problems have developed. 

*A careful review of completed test runs should indicate whether the kids are able to stay home alone.

In sum, there is no set age at which kids can universally be left home without adult supervision.  The generally accepted minimum age is 12 years, but an individualized assessment, as described above, needs to be performed in each family.

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