Is it ok to leave kids under 13 home alone?
- The Children’s Bureau relates that only three US states have laws regarding the age that children are allowed to be left home alone, “Illinois, 14 years old; Maryland, 8 years old; and Oregon, 10 years old.”
- Merriam-Webster defines a ‘latchkey child’ as “a school-aged child of working parents who must spend part of the day unsupervised (as at home).”
- A recent SafeWise survey of 1,000 parents found that the “average parent starts allowing their kid to stay home alone at age 13.”
- A Pew Research Center survey revealed that parents, on average, say “kids should be at least 10 years old before they are allowed to play in front of the house,” 12 years old to “stay home alone for a short period,” and 14 years old to “spend time at a public park unsupervised.”
No two kids are exactly alike. Children's skills and level of responsibility can vary widely, so there's no universal age or law to designate when they can be safely left alone. Top priorities should always be the comfort of both child and parent and the controlled safety of the conditions.
The modern world is rich with digital connectivity. Especially in the wake of pandemic-imposed restrictions, the accessibility of constant remote contact is more significant than ever. With such a wealth of resources, parents can easily equip themselves with multiple means of electronic monitoring via smart-device enhancements, such as automated and customized shortcuts, programmed restrictions, and built-in emergency contact procedures. When coupled with old-fashioned methods, like established rules, structured routines, pre-discussed situational plans, access to a trusted neighbor, etc., these tools can be extremely useful.
While there's no general consensus on the topic, experts often advise on what to consider. Federal guidelines suggest not leaving children aged 8-10 alone for longer than an hour and a half and not more than three hours for 11-12-year-olds. Of only three states with a formal law on leaving children home alone, two specify an age younger than 13.
From age 10-13, kids naturally build foundational life skills and tools for self-sufficiency, while kids under 10 tend to require more assistance. Appropriately, children 11 and up are eligible for formal babysitter certification through the American Red Cross. It's evident, then, that with discretion based on maturity level, resources, and length of time, consistently building on success, kids under 13 can absolutely be safely left unsupervised.
While the gap of 'under 13' is quite large, considering that not all home alone situations are equal, in general, younger children should not be left to fend for themselves at home. The first and most important concern is the safety of the child, as a great many dangers may present themselves when there is no adult supervision. Injuries, fires, and burglaries are just a few potential hazards a child may face when home alone.
Another and more subtle danger to the child has to do with mental health. While short and rare periods of being home alone may increase a child's confidence, long and standard periods could lead to issues surrounding mental well-being and social development. According to the US Department of Health & Human Services, it may be better for these children to be put into a school program rather than be left home alone.
Beyond the consideration of the child's safety and health, certain states limit how young a child can legally be left at home alone. For example, in Illinois, the age limit is 14. Laws vary across states, and they also are somewhat ambiguous throughout. However, regardless of this, it is accepted that there are inherent risks in leaving a younger child at home alone, and various organizations create guides to advise parents on the topic. Because of the fundamental danger to younger children of being left home alone and also the possibility of it being illegal depending on where you live, it is not a good idea to leave kids under 13 at home alone.