How old is old enough to stay home alone?

A right of tween passage is being left home alone.  Another right of tween passage is often the first babysitting job.

But at what age should those happen, and do parents get to decide? Or does the state law determine when your tween is ready to be left without parental supervision, or when they become the supervision themselves?

In New Canaan, CT, a mom was recently arrested for leaving her 13 year-old child to babysit three younger siblings, including a baby, after a 4 year-old sibling was found wandering unattended, reported the NewCanaan.Patch.com. Connecticut law does not specify an age at which children may be left alone, but their DCFS states, “Experts believe a child should be at least 12 before he is left alone, and at least 15 before he can care for a younger brother or sister. These are the minimum ages. Not every child is ready then.”

In Illinois, the law on the issue is less than clear.

Illinois law defines a neglected minor, in part, as “any minor under the age of 14 years whose parent or other person responsible for the minor’ s welfare leaves the minor without supervision for an unreasonable period of time without regard for the mental or physical health, safety or welfare of that minor.” Juvenile Court Act, 705 ILCS 405/2-3(1)(d)  There are 15 factors considered under the law when determining what constitutes neglect of a minor, including:

  • the age of the child
  • the number of minors left at the location
  • special needs of the minor, including whether the minor is physically or mentally handicapped, or otherwise in need of ongoing prescribed medical treatment such as periodic dosages of insulin or other medications
  • the duration of time in which the minor was left without supervision
  • the condition and location of the place where the child was left without supervision
  • the time of day or night when the minor was left without supervision

The Illinois DCFS publishes a booklet entitled "Preparing Children to Stay Alone."  It has some tips on preparing children to stay home alone but also warns "Parents are legally responsible for their children’s welfare until they reach adulthood. Part of caring for children is providing adequate supervision. Under some circumstances a parent can be charged with neglect for leaving children unattended."  It discusses the law, but fails to give any concrete guidelines.

According to safekids.org, “even if a state does not have a specific law prohibiting adults from leaving children unattended, state and local prosecutors have the discretion to criminally charge adults under existing child endangerment laws.”

Do you feel your tween is old enough to stay home alone?

Click here for a post on when is a tween old enough to babysit.

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  • As a mother of a 14 year old daughter, 11 year old son and 8 year old son, I've struggled with this issue for a couple of years. I, too, tried to research Illinois law, which is incredibly confusing and oftentimes contradictory. I, also, noticed that our park district offers babysitting classes for kids as young as 10, which seems awfully young to me.

    I think that it depends more of the maturity and personality of the child, then it does on an age. For instance, my 14 & 11 are hard-core, sometimes militant rule followers. They are better babysitters for my youngest than they are siblings to him. I have no problem leaving either of them "in charge" while I run a quick errand. However, my 8 year old has been trouble on two smelly sneakers since the day he was born. I love him, but I don't know if I'll ever trust him alone ... even when he is 30!

  • Totally agree that it's a case by case basis, Crystal. I wish the law here was clearer, too. It's so convoluted. Similar to your park district, the police department in our town spoke with 4th graders in the public school about how to handle being home alone and offer tips such as "don't open the door."

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    It really isn't possible to pinpoint an age when it is OK to leave your children home alone. There are so many variables that come into play such as maturity level, how far a parent is going while they are out, type of neighborhood you live in, and so much more. That being said, I think that around age 10, if a child is mature enough and a parent is running out to do a quick errand or is at a neighbor's house that it would be OK. There are probably some 8-year-olds who would be fine, but I think that's a bit young, and there are probably some 16-year-olds who still aren't ready so what's most important is that parents really evaluate if their child is capable and talk to them to make sure they are comfortable with it and set a solid list of rules such as no opening the doors, no cooking, or whatever is appropriate for the child's capabilities. As a parent the most important thing is my child's safety. This blog covers how a mother is dealing with a heartbreaking experience and how you can better protect your kids. This is the link: http://www.tsue-thatswhatshesaid.com/2011/08/your-childs-safety-your-piece-of-mind.html

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