WHEN Are Your Children Old Enough to Be Left Home Alone?
I was reading the news today and stumbled into the Dear Abby section. I read a few and found one that I really felt she dropped the ball on. She was asked for advice on how to know when children are old enough to be left home alone. Abby's response was that they are never old enough.
OOPS!!! At 17 years old, you are going to be hiring a babysitter because you don't trust your baby to be able to take care of themselves. I don't think so. The lady wanted some good ground rules for knowing. They are capable of staying home at some point in time, most of them anyway. I have decided that I will answer the lady's question and help us all out.
Starting off, most states have a legal age where they do not want children home alone. Find out what it is. In TN, it is 12. That is also the legal age for most states. Do not leave your child home before the legal age or you could be in trouble. But do not believe that all children are capable at this point. Some are born ready and responsible and some are not. Talk to them about different situations. Give them a scenario and ask them what they would do.
If they hesitate don't give up, but they aren't quite ready. Drill them. If the house catches fire, what are you going to do? If someone breaks in, what do you do? If you get scared, what do you do? If you need advice, who do you go to? Do you answer the phone and tell a stranger that you are home alone? Are your friends allowed over when an adult is not home? They should be able to come up with an answer fairly quickly.
I have a close, older neighbor (across a patio), that my daughter goes to if she gets scared or nervous. She has a vivid imagination and ideas turn into a certainty that there is a problem. She is welcome over there any time. Check with a neighbor to make sure they have a person to go to if they need help or get nervous.
They should have phone numbers to contact for emergencies. They should have numbers to contact you at any time. Cell phone, work number, whatever. They should know where you are and when you will be home. They should have their list of rules memorized. Friends allowed? Outside allowed? Whatever rules you think are necessary.
Make a list that they can refer to. It helps to jog their memories. We got our daughter a cell phone so that if she had to take the dog out for his walk we would know where she was. She doesn't need to call us for that but she needs to have her phone with her any time she leaves the house. I like to know where my kids are at all times. The more you know, the less likely they are to get into trouble.
Finally, you decide they might be ready. Leave them alone for a short time at first. Give it a few dry runs. Go to the grocery store without them. Half an hour to an hour should be enough to start. Then, you are free to try more time. They are still not ready for the entire day while you are at work. Go out to dinner with your spouse or a friend. Get them some McDonald's food before you go and they will love you. Go to the flea market for a couple of hours. Do some Christmas shopping and enjoy buying something without having to hide it from them in the shopping cart.
Okay, you have decided that they are old enough, when they come home from school they will not go to a babysitter. They invite all their friends home and have a party while you are at work. Ground them and make sure they know this is a privilege that they have to earn. Otherwise, you will be forced to treat them like the irresponsible child that they just showed you they can be. If they do it again, send them back to the babysitter. You are responsible for making sure that they earn this privilege.
If you have no problems, or minor ones, your child has proven that they are responsible enough to be left alone. You did your best to find out if they are and made sure that they knew what it entailed. You have succeeded in another step of parenting. Congratulations, they have turned out well and you won another small step.
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