By Charlotte Bowman
Is nine OK to run a quick errand? Maybe 10? Does a 14-year old need a babysitter? Can a 12-year old be trusted to look after younger siblings? This summer my husband and I faced the dilemma of whether our preteen boys were ready to stay home alone. They are no longer babies but not yet full-fledged teenagers.
According to a new report from the C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital Poll on Children’s Health, we’re not the only family struggling with this decision. Only 43 percent of parents say they are comfortable leaving their tween home alone for an hour or more.
Only three states currently have laws that specify what age a child can be home alone, and 10 states (including Georgia) offer “guidelines.” For the most part, the decision is left to the parent’s judgement. So, how do you decide?
Questions for Parents:
The preteen years are tricky. Every child reaches maturity at a different age and may not be equipped with enough knowledge to stay home safely. Your child needs to know what to do (and not to do) in an emergency situation.
Here are several questions that can help you make the decision:
- Does your child know what to do during severe weather or a fire?
- Does your child know if and when to call 9-1-1?
- Does your child know not to play with guns?
- Does your child know to stay away from toxic substances?
- Does your child know who to call if something goes wrong?
If you answered “yes” to most or all of the previous questions, your tween may be ready to stay home alone. Before you leave her at home for the first time, establish some basic house rules. Make sure she knows the following:
- What to do if the doorbell rings
- What to do if the phone rings
- Whether it’s OK to have friends over, and if so, how many friends can come over
- What kinds of snacks they can eat
- Time limits on watching TV or playing computer or video games, and a list of approved programs and games
Home Alone Safety Tips:
Before you trust your tween with your home and all its contents, make sure he knows what to do in case of an emergency. Here are some safety tips from the American Red Cross.
- Post an emergency phone list that includes 9-1-1, parent cell numbers, numbers for family members who live near by, trusted neighbors, your pediatrician, and poison control.
- Discuss what to do in case of a emergency, such as a fire, power outage, severe weather or injury.
- Stock the fridge with enough healthy foods and snacks to hold your tween until you get back.
- Keep a well stocked first-aid kit, and teach your kids how to use it.
- Leave flashlights and fire extinguishers in easy-to-fine places
- Remove or safely store dangerous items like guns, knives, hand tools, and power tools.
- Make sure potential poisons like detergents, polishes, pesticides, lighter fluid and lamp oils are stored in locked cabinets or out of the reach.
- Make sure medicine is kept in a locked storage area.
- See more safety tips and resources from the American Red Cross, KidsHealth and the National Crime Prevention Council.
Gun Safety Guidelines:
Regardless of whether you keep a firearm in your home, it is absolutely imperative to discuss gun safety with your children. Here are some firearm safety tips:
- Always keep guns unloaded and locked up.
- Lock and store bullets in a separate place.
- Hide the keys to the locked boxes.
- Talk to your child about guns and gun safety.
- Find out if there are guns in the homes where your children play. If so, talk to the adults in the house about how and where guns are stored.
- For talking points, visit the American Academy of Pediatrics site (healthychildren.org) and the National Rifle Association (NRA) site (eddieeagle.nra.org/parents).
Ultimately, the decision to leave your preteen home alone depends on her maturity and your family situation. Remember that every child is different and so is every parent. So use your best judgement. Also, when you decide the time is right, make sure you’re easily accessible on your cell phone and check in frequently.
(Guideline) From Georgia’s DHS Website: Children under 8 years old should never be left alone, even for short periods of time. Children between the ages of 9 and 12, based on level of maturity, can be left home alone for brief periods of time.”