HKQ Kids

Home Alone

When is a child old enough to be left home alone? In reality, there’s no easy answer, and there are a few factors that should affect your decision. It’s a choice all parents have to make eventually, but each case is unique. Consider the tips below to determine whether or not your child is capable of being left home alone.

First off, you may have heard that there is a minimum age requirement for a child to be left home alone. This is only a law in 3 states, while a few more have set recommendations. In Kansas, the recommended age is as low as 6, while in Illinois, the age mandated by the law is 14. However, in Pennsylvania, there is no state law or recommendation for a minimum age. Of course, this doesn’t mean that anything goes. Most organizations recommend an age range of 10 to 12 as an appropriate starting point for children being left on their own, but this still varies from case to case.

A child’s maturity is the most important variable here; your 10-year-old may be wise beyond her years, but another person’s 12 or 13-year-old might require supervision at all times. If your child has a history of having trouble following rules, or if you think they’re prone to panic in an unfamiliar situation, they’re likely not old enough to be home alone. Of course, you should also consider how comfortable your child is when presented with the idea of being home alone. If this causes a considerable amount of distress or discomfort, it’s probably best to hold off a little while longer if possible.

When you do decide your child is capable of being home by themselves, you should always start out with a short absence, and one that doesn’t take you too far away: a trip to the store or a doctor’s appointment.

Don’t start out with an overnight or multi-day absence. Use these brief trips away to test the waters and gauge whether or not your child can handle a longer amount of time unsupervised. Once you return, check in and talk about their experience: how they felt, and if any complications or unexpected events occurred.

But before any absence of a parent, extended or otherwise, you should establish rules and guidelines for your child to follow while you’re gone. Your kids should know what is and is not allowed while you’re gone, and this especially applies to restrictions on computers, TV, video games, and all kinds of devices. Check out our article on parental controls for more information.

Have a plan in place for emergencies, and make sure your child has a way to contact you. As landlines are becoming increasingly rare, there might not be a way for your child to call you or 911 in the event of an emergency, unless they have their own cell phone. That’s another complicated and difficult decision to make, but in the meantime, consider giving your child a limited, inexpensive phone that can be used for emergencies only. Give your kids a call while you’re away and ask how they’re doing. Your child should also know important information like their home address, their full name, and whatever phone number they may be using before being left home alone. Run through different scenarios with your child and make sure they know what to do. This includes:

  • Knowing how to lock/unlock doors
  • Having a plan if an unexpected visitor is knocking at the door
  • Making preparations to make food if the parent is gone for a while: focus on meals or snacks that minimize the risk of starting fires via a stove
  • What to do in the event of a minor injury like cuts or scrapes

Once again, everyone’s circumstance is going to look different, and it’s up to the parent to decide if their child is ready for this degree of responsibility. You should also consider how safe of a neighborhood you live in, if there are any trustworthy neighbors or family members nearby, and if you have multiple children, whether or not they tend to get along while you are around. If you can help it, avoid making a habit out of keeping your child home alone; look into any programs offered by schools, daycares, or youth organizations as an alternative.

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