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When to Allow Your Children to Stay Home Alone

Updated on September 02, 2016

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Every parent must decide at some point in their parenting career what age to allow your child to stay at home alone. The American Academy of Pediatrics strongly recommends adult supervision for children until they reach the age of 11 or 12 years old. But to be honest, there isn't a cookie cutter age. It seriously depends upon the maturity level and personality of each individual child. Several agencies and organizations have checklists upon checklists to consider before deciding whether your child can stay home alone or not.

There are some things you need to consider before decided whether your child can handle being left alone for any given time. Is your child mentally and physically able to care for him or herself? How does your child feel about staying home alone? Is he or she comfortable with the idea or is he or she apprehensive about the idea? Does your child follow instructions well and obey all the rules? Can your child use the telephone properly? These are just a few questions to ask yourself and discuss with your child.

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There are safety issues that must be addressed when considering leaving your child at home. Make sure your child has contact numbers to contact you and other adults. Also, be sure they know how to contact emergency personnel in the event of an emergency. It is also a good idea to contact your local Red Cross and enroll your child in first aid and other safety classes. Make sure your child knows fire safety rules and fire escape procedures. The same goes for severe storms. We can't always predict the weather, so does your child know what to do in the event of a tornado, other severe storms, or an earthquake?

There are ways you can test your child to see if they are ready to stay at home alone. Be advised, these are not fail safe but it is a good way of testing the waters, so to speak. Have the child stay home alone while not going to far from the home and in short time spans such as fifteen minutes or so. This is a good trial period for you and your child.

You can also role-play with your child. What if the lights go out? Teach your child what to do and have them walk through the procedures. What if there is a fire? Again, teach your child what to do and have them practice the routine over and over.

So you think your child is ready to stay home alone? Well, that may be but before you allow your child to stay home alone you should be familiar with the laws in your state. You also need to understand that although most states have no laws governing a minimum age to leave your child at home, they do have child neglect and child endangerment laws. Also, ALL states do not recommend leaving any child unattended in a vehicle. Let's face it, no matter what state you live in, you are responsible for your child until they become of legal adult age.

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State Laws

Alabama -There is no minimum age law in this state. It is left to the parents' discretion.

Alaska - There is no minimum age law in this state. It is left to the parents' discretion.

Arizona - Child Protective Services advises that children under the age of 6 cannot care for themselves and thus should not be left alone. It is not advised that children between the ages of 6 and 9 be left at home for more than three hours. This could result in a child neglect investigation.

Arkansas - There isn't a law that mandates what the minimum age requirements are for leaving a child home alone, but most authorities suggest no younger than 13 years of age.

California - There is no minimum age law in this state. They do suggest you wait until the child is at least 10 years old before considering leaving them home alone.

Colorado - There is no minimum age law in this state, however, there is merely a guideline of 12 years old.

Connecticut - There is no specific law regarding the minimum age to leave a child home alone. However, many experts in the state suggest waiting until the child is at least 12 years old and that children should be at least 15 years old before caring for younger siblings.

Delaware -There is no minimum age law, but Division of Family Services will investigate a child left alone if a report has been made on a child under the age of 12. The will also investigate reports of children over 12 years of age if they exhibit signs of a disability.

Florida - There is no minimum age law in this state. It is left to the parents' discretion and the condition of their environment.

Georgia - Children between the ages of 9 and 12 can be left alone for up to two hours. Children 13-17 may not be left alone for more than 12 hours.

Hawaii - There is no minimum age law in this state. It is left to the parents' discretion.

Idaho - There is no minimum age law in this state. It is left to the parents' discretion. It is advised, however, to wait until at least 12 years old before allowing them to stay home alone.

Illinois - In this state if you leave your child home alone before the child reaches the age of 14, you will be charged with child neglect. Juvenile Court Act, 705 ILCS 405/2-3(1)(d)

Indiana - There is no minimum age law in this state. However, most law enforcement officials in this state think that leaving a child under the age of 10 is ill-advised. They suggest waiting until at least 12 years old.

Iowa - There are no laws governing a minimum age requirement in this state.

Kansas - Technically there is no law regarding age requirements, but Safe Kids Kansas recommends children stay supervised until a minimum of 12 years old.

Kentucky - There isn't a law regarding minimum age, however, Child Protective services said that if you leave a child under the age of 11 you may be investigated for child neglect.

Louisiana - The law forbids parents from leaving a minor under 10 without adult supervision. Offenders can go to jail for up to a year and be fined $1,000.

Maine - There is no minimum age law in this state. It is left to the parents' discretion.

Maryland - The law requires that no child be left alone under any circumstances if the child is under the age of 8. It does say that a 13 year old may babysit a child under the age of 8. A person who violates this law is guilty of a misdemeanor and upon conviction is subject to a fine not exceeding $500 and/or imprisonment not exceeding 30 days. Maryland Family Law Article 5-801.

Massachusetts - This state has no laws set for the minimum age. Instead they decide on a case by case basis.

Michigan - There is no law established regarding minimum age, but Child Protective Services will step in if they believe neglect is involved.

Minnesota - There are no laws set in this state, just guidelines to consider prosecuting child neglect. It is advised by the state's attorney office that children under 7 should not be left alone, children ages 8-9 should not be left unattended for more than two hours, children 10 13 should not be left alone for more than 12 hours, and children 14-17 should not be left unattended for more than 24 hours and must have adequate back up adult supervision.

Mississippi - There is no minimum age law in this state. It is left to the parents' discretion.

Missouri - There is no minimum age law in this state. It is left to the parents' discretion.

Montana - There is no minimum age law in this state. It is left to the parents' discretion.

Nebraska - There is no minimum age law in this state. It is advised however, to wait until the child is at least 11 years old before determining whether to leave the child home alone.

Nevada - I could not find laws specifically mandating a minimum age. I did, however, find Nevada's definition of child neglect. "NEGLECT: Abandonment, failure to provide a child with supervision, food, education, shelter, medical care, etc." The way it is worded you may not leave your child at home alone at any age under 18 without being possibly charged with child neglect.

New Hampshire - There is no minimum age law in this state. It is left to the parents' discretion.

New Jersey - There is no law mandating a minimum age, but they encourage that you find supervised care for your child.

New Mexico - This state does not have state laws regarding minimum age. They leave it up to each city or county to decide. For example, Albuquerque's city code requires children to be at least 11 years old. Check with your local city for their laws.

New York - There are no laws stating a minimum age requirement, but New York Child and Family Services suggests no earlier that 12 or 13 years of age should be left alone.

North Carolina Law

§ 14-318. Exposing children to fire. If any person shall leave any child under the age of eight years locked or otherwise confined in any dwelling, building or enclosure, and go away from such dwelling, building or enclosure without leaving some person of the age of discretion in charge of the same, so as to expose the child to danger by fire, the person so offending shall be guilty of a Class 1 misdemeanor.

North Carolina - There is no juvenile code regarding minimum requirements but this state's fire code G.S. 14-318 does. It states that if you leave a child under the age of 8 alone without supervision this is a fire hazard and you will be found guilty of A Class 1 misdemeanor.

North Dakota - There are no laws regarding minimum age, but the Department of Human Services has their own policies and guidelines. Children ages 0-8 must not be left alone under any circumstances. Children ages 9-11 should not be left alone for more than two hours. They are also not allowed to be left home alone after dark and should not be in charge of caring for other children. Children who are 12 years or older may babysit but only after completing an approved child care training course. Children under the age of 15 should not be left alone overnight.

Ohio (Revised) - There seems to be some disagreement regarding what is permissible and what is not in the state of Ohio. Some of the comments below, although unverified of actual credentials of the individual past their own word in the comments and unsure if any of them have passed the Ohio bar to accurately verify an interpretation of Ohio law, suggest that there is not a governing age to which parents can or cannot leave their child home alone. However, upon numerous calls to the official agencies, there seems to be also an inconsistency in responses. Some case workers say 18, others say it is up to parent discretion and/or the circumstances involving the case. So as parents be proactive in your rights to parent your own child. All I am doing is passing on the information, as inconsistent as it may be, to you the parent to make your own informed choices.

But according to this state's child endangerment and child neglect laws, as was cited by the case workers mentioning the age restriction, (ORC 2919.22(a) Endangering children.) parents are prohibited from leaving a child under the age of 18 unsupervised. If you leave your child who is under the age of 18 home alone then you are "violating a duty of care, protection, or support." Also refer to ORC 2151.05 Child without proper parental care. An individual case worker and prosecutor may or may not use this law against you.

However, as others have reported in the comments below affiliating themselves with said agencies (unverified), this law has no bearing on what age is appropriate to leave your child home alone. So all I have to say to parents is that you have information presented from both sides of the debate and good luck.

Oklahoma - There is no minimum age law in this state. It is left to the parents' discretion.

Oregon - The laws states that the child must be a minimum of 10 years old before considering leaving him or her alone. It also advices that you understand the child neglect laws because if the child gets hurt while left alone you will be charged with child neglect in the second degree which is a Class A Misdemeanor.

Pennsylvania - There is no minimum age law in this state. It is left to the parents' discretion.

Rhode Island - Since I could not find any written information regarding this issue, I called various child welfare agencies to gather information. They all agreed that even though there is no laws governing the age to consider leave a child home alone, a parent must consider the child neglect and endangerment laws since the parent or guardian is responsible for the child until he or she becomes a legal adult.

South Carolina - There are no set laws in this state, but state agencies say no child under the age of 8 shall be left alone.

South Dakota - There is no minimum age law in this state. It is left to the parents' discretion.

Tennessee - There is no minimum age law in this state, but it is advised by state agencies not to leave children under the age of 10 unsupervised.

Texas - There is no minimum age law in this state. It is left to the parents' discretion.

Utah - There is no minimum age law in this state. It is left to the parents' discretion.

Vermont - I could not find any laws regarding this issue so I called the central office of the Department of Children and Families. They confirmed that there is no laws governing the minimum age for allow children to stay home alone.

Virginia - There is no minimum age law in this state. It is left to the parents' discretion.

Washington - There are no set laws in this state, but state agencies say no child under the age of 10 shall be left alone.

West Virginia - There is no minimum age law in this state. It is left to the parents' discretion.

Wisconsin - There are no set laws in this state, but state agencies say no child under the age of 12 shall be left alone.

Wyoming - There are no set laws in this state, but state agencies say no child under the age of 12 shall be left alone.

Creating a checklist of your own rules regarding them staying home is essential. Be sure to post this list in a clearly visible location. This gives them a constant reminder of what is expected of them and what to do in the event of various emergencies or situations. For example, do you feel comfortable with them cooking while you are away? If not, have snacks available that don't involve cooking.

Call your children to check how it is going. Don't pester them, just call often enough so that you are making yourself available to them the best way you can. If you personally can't call them, have a trusted friend or neighbor do this for you. Also, something to address is a rule of my own. I have told my children not to answer the phone unless one of the approved numbers comes up on caller ID.

Another safety rule to drill into their heads is to lock the doors and windows. More and more predators harm children of all ages because they gained easy access to the home. I tell my children to never answer the door when they are home alone. From time to time I test them on this. I knock on the door and move out of the line of sight to see if they open the door. So far, they have made me proud. I also tell them to keep the television, radio, and video games down low so that people won't know they are home.

As you can see there is a lot to consider before allowing your child to stay home alone. The best advice I can give you is to know your child and know the laws. Also, be prepared by teaching the child the skills they need before allowing them to stay home alone.

© 2014 Linda Sarhan. All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, distributed, or transmitted in any form or by any means without prior written permission of the author.

© 2014 Linda Soaring Eagle Sarhan

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    • klw1157 profile image

      Kevin Washburn 2 years ago from Macon, GA

      In my opinion there isn't necessarily a set age at which it would be acceptable to leave a child alone for any period of time but rather should be determined by the parent giving preference of course to the higher end of the scale. Any child younger than say 10 or 11 could still very likely be at a level of maturity that would leave them ill equipped to deal with an emergency situation. By the same token, a child as young as 10, especially if he or she is the oldest sibling could be more than mature enough to deal with anything reasonable. I do think that it is important to remember that children are just that, children and none should be left alone for long periods of time and expected to deal with any issues that clearly are of a serious enough nature that they should be either handled or at the very least supervised by an adult. Children learn by being given and expected to deal effectively with responsibility. That does not however give any adult a license to abuse that situation. As you read the news sometimes these days, sadly it begs the question just who is the more mature party here the child or the adult. Even more sad is that all to often the answer appears to be the former.

    • LindaSarhan profile image
      Author

      Linda Soaring Eagle Sarhan 2 years ago

      Very true.

    • firstday profile image

      R Beggs 2 years ago from Lincoln, Nebraska

      Linda,

      I found your article very interesting and the fact you listed each state's law related to this is useful. Even though I don't' have children at home I looked up Nebraska. I am surprised there is not more regulation in this area. Well off to pick up my husband.

    • Jamie 23 months ago

      The info for Ohio is not correct. Ohio law doesn't specify an age. Not sure where you got your info since there's no source cited.

    • LindaSarhan profile image
      Author

      Linda Soaring Eagle Sarhan 23 months ago

      Jamie - Actually, I called Child Protective Services in Ohio. This is what they said and quoted the law ORC 2919.22(a) Endangering children. If you leave your child who is under the age of 18 home alone then you are " violating a duty of care, protection, or support."

      Personally, I am not saying I agree with this totally. After all, I was babysitting at 13, but the law is the law and that is what I was referring to regardless of my opinion or yours.

    • DavidW 23 months ago

      Linda - as a 20+ year employee of a major metropololian Child Protective Services Agency in Ohio, I can tell you that in you have either misinterpretd the ORC or have been mislead. The ORC states that no person who is a parent "Shall create a substantial risk of harm" by violating a duty of care. ORC2919.01 defines "substantial risk" as a strong possibility something may happen. If a child has demonstated a level of competence and maturinty to be unsupervised for a period time, that child is not necessareily endangered, regardless of age.

    • DavidW 23 months ago

      Same comment as above, without typos (apologies to those who fought through that):

      Linda - as a 20+ year employee of a major metropolitan Child Protective Services Agency in Ohio, I can tell you that in you have either misinterpreted the ORC or have been misled. The ORC states that no person who is a parent "Shall create a substantial risk of harm" by violating a duty of care. ORC2919.01 defines "substantial risk" as a strong possibility something may happen. If a child has demonstrated a level of competence and maturity to be unsupervised for a period time, that child is not necessarily endangered, regardless of age.

    • DaveC 23 months ago

      While ORC 2912.22(a) clearly states types of endangerments for children under the age of 18, the lack of supervision is not one of them. Sounds like the CPS in Ohio may be wanting to interpret what they feel enables them to better protect children. Just wanted to point out that there still remains no laws for the "supervision" of children in Ohio.

    • LindaSarhan profile image
      Author

      Linda Soaring Eagle Sarhan 23 months ago

      I appreciate the feedback. I am just reporting what I have been told by an official government agency. As with some laws, perhaps it is more of an interpretations for the courts. As another state agency with a similar law said, if anything happens during the time that the child under the age of 18 is left alone, such as a fire, then CPS, etc will use the law to press charges of neglect on the parent and/or caregiver. By this thought, if an electrical fire started while the minor child is left home alone, it does create a "substantial risk" as any prosecuting lawyer would argue.

    • Amber MacDonald 23 months ago

      Ok I am a little confused as to the Ohio rules. 18 is a little extreme considering kids get their diver licence at 16 and drive alone with no parents. Just wondering if is a typo?

    • Laura335 profile image

      Laura Smith 23 months ago from Pittsburgh, PA

      This is interesting. My parents would let my siblings and I home alone for a few minutes at a time when I turned 9. We were always worried that there was something wrong with it, but I believe that a kid's maturity should determine at what age they should stay home alone and for how long. I'm surprised that most states feel the same way.

    • ODJFS 23 months ago

      I am Director of Communications at the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services, which supervises the state's public children services agencies. Your information regarding Ohio is not accurate. Ohio Revised Code does not specify an age at which a child can or cannot be left at home. I trust you will correct the article.

      Thank you.

      Benjamin Johnson

      Director of Communications

      Ohio Department of Job and Family Services

      30 East Broad Street, 32nd Floor

      Columbus, OH 43215

      benjamin.johnson@jfs.ohio.gov

    • LindaSarhan profile image
      Author

      Linda Soaring Eagle Sarhan 23 months ago

      I have revised the article, yet again and for the last time for the state of Ohio. But perhaps the inconsistencies in responses when one calls said agencies shows a lack of training and perhaps you should work on correcting this problem within these agencies so it causes less confusion.

      Thank you.

    • Patty Inglish, MS profile image

      Patty Inglish 23 months ago from North America

      Linda, congratulations on your article being highlighted by WOWK.TV in West Virginia:

      http://www.wowktv.com/story/28180241/recent-report...

    • Faye Alford in Pineville Kentucky 5 months ago

      I have a 12 year old granddaughter. is it against the law to leave her home alone from 1 to 3 hours. I'm in Kentucky.

    • LindaSarhan profile image
      Author

      Linda Soaring Eagle Sarhan 5 months ago

      Faye,

      I live in Kentucky. As I said, There isn't a law regarding minimum age, however, Child Protective services said that if you leave a child under the age of 11 you may be investigated for child neglect.

      However, I was also told by CPS that it depends on the maturity of the child. Also, if anything went wrong, accidental or not, such as a fire for any reason, while not in the care of an adult, the parent can be charged with child endangerment and neglect. This refers to any minor under the age of 18. I also noted that it seems to depend on the agent investigating if something did go wrong. (God forbid)

      I cannot legally advise you either way. All I can do is give you what CPS generally says regarding Kentucky Law. Other than that, the decision is yours to make with communication and wishes of the custodial parent(s).

    • Jade 2 weeks ago

      I think that if no one does anything about it, the age to be left alone will be raised to 18! It is already happening! Parents are arrested and sentenced to death for just leaving their 17 year olds for one second! This stinks!

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