With more and more households becoming two income households, the number of latchkey kids, or kids who are left home alone for a part of each day, is also steadily growing. According to NBC’s Today Show there are over 3 million children who are latch key kids today. But before you decide to let your own child be a latch key kid, it’s important to evaluate if your child is ready for that responsibility. How do you know if your kids are old enough or responsible enough to stay home alone? Here are some rules and guidelines that can help you make your decision:
Surprisingly, there are few laws or regulations on the books regarding what age a child can be legally left alone. Check out latchkey-kids.com to see if the state you live in has any age restrictions in place. According to CARE (Call Reassurance), law makers are considering adding regulations to the law books due to the increase in latchkey kids.
You can also contact CPS (Child Protective Services) in your area to find out what they recommend.
According to Safe Kids USA, children should be developmentally mature enough to stay alone around age 12 or 13. Since children develop at different rates, however, your child may be different. If your child is a dare devil, has impulse control issues, or doesn’t like following the rules, you may want to hold off leaving him alone until he’s older. On the other hand, if your 11 year old is very responsible and follows the rules well, he may be ready and capable of being a latch key kid. As a parent you will need to evaluate your child to determine if he is ready.
Lynn Yaney, a child welfare professional in California, has said that children under the age of 7 do not possess the ability to logically consider cause and effect, so they should not be left alone. Kids ages 7 to 10 are not considered ready to stay alone for an extended period of time because they need supervision to structure their day. However, if there is a structured routine in place, these kids could stay alone for a short time, like after school. Kids 11 and older should be considered on a case by case basis, but should not be left alone overnight, per Yaney.
According to WebMD, tweens ages 11 to 12 may be ready to watch their younger siblings for short periods of time. To determine if your tween is ready consider the following questions:
- Is your tween scared about staying alone?
- Do you live in a safe area?
- Does your home have an alarm system?
- Would your tween know what to do in case of an emergency?
- Do you have friends or family close by who could get there quickly?
- Has your tween shown responsible behavior in the past, such as doing chores without being asked or completing homework assignments on time without being nagged?
- After considering the answers to the above questions, you might feel ready to make a trial run on leaving your tween home alone. The next thing you should do is set some ground rules.
- Are friends allowed to come over? How many?
- Is it okay to answer the phone?
- Should he answer the door?
- What is okay to eat? Can he use the microwave?
- How long is it okay to watch TV or play on the computer? Guidelines about what can and cannot be watched or played should be covered.
Once you have established some ground rules, make sure that everyone understands what is expected of them. Create a list of phone numbers for your tween just like you would for any babysitter. Here is a suggestion of some numbers to consider:
- 9-1-1 (he may forget in an emergency)
- You and your spouses’ cell phone numbers
- Number for a neighbor or friends
- Poison control
- Police department
- Your family doctor or pediatrician
After you have prepared your tween for what might happen you should do some practicing or role playing. Have a neighbor come over and pretend to be insistent on getting him to open the door. Go over what to do if the fire alarm goes off. Make sure your tween knows where the first aid kit is kept and how to use it. Ask him what he would do if the electricity goes out. You may even wish to enroll your child in a local babysitting course or a course designed for latchkey kids. These courses help develop and hone self-care skills.