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When to Allow Your Children to Stay Home Alone

L. Sarhan raised three children to become successful adults.

Get the facts you'll need to decide when and if your child is ready to be home alone.

Get the facts you'll need to decide when and if your child is ready to be home alone.

How Old Does a Child Need to Be to Stay Home Alone?

Every parent must decide at some point in their parenting career at what age to allow their 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. But realistically, there isn't one universal age of maturity. It depends upon the ability and personality of each individual child.

There are certain things you need to consider before deciding whether your child can be left alone at any given time. Many organizations have developed lengthy checklists and quizzes to determine whether your child can stay home alone or not, including questions like

  • Is your child mentally and physically able to care for themself?
  • How does your child feel about staying home alone? Are they comfortable or apprehensive about the idea?
  • Does your child follow instructions well and obey rules?
  • Can your child use a telephone?
  • What are your state's laws and policies about age requirements for leaving kids at home? (See the complete list of each state's policies below.)

These are just a few questions to ask yourself and discuss with your child.

How to Prepare a Child for Staying Home Alone

Of course, there are safety issues that must be addressed.

  • Make sure your child has access to a phone and knows how to use it.
  • Leave contact numbers for you and other responsible adults.
  • Be sure they know how to contact emergency personnel if necessary.
  • Consider enrolling your child in safety classes and first aid (through the Red Cross, for example), especially if you're leaving more than one child home alone.
  • Make sure your child knows fire safety rules and fire escape procedures.
  • We can't always predict the weather, so make sure your child knows what to do in the event of a tornado, severe storm, or earthquake.

Testing to See If Your Child Is Ready

There are ways you can test your child to see if they are ready to stay at home alone. These are not fail-safe, but they are a good way of testing the waters, so to speak.

  • Start small. The first time you leave, don't go too far from home and only go for a short time. Start with fifteen minutes or so. This is a good trial period for you and your child.
  • Role play for emergencies. 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 what to do and have them practice the routine over and over.

Opinion Poll

Although most states don't define a minimum age for leaving a child unaccompanied, they do have laws about child neglect and endangerment.

Although most states don't define a minimum age for leaving a child unaccompanied, they do have laws about child neglect and endangerment.

State Laws

So you think your child is ready to stay home alone? Well, that may be, but before you leave, you should be familiar with the laws in your state. Some states have specific laws in place regarding minors. Although most states don't define a minimum age for leaving a child unaccompanied, they do have laws about child neglect and endangerment. Also, every state prohibits leaving any child unattended in a vehicle.

Below, you will find each state's policies. The Child Welfare Information Gateway has a list of links to help you find your state's current policies.

Alabama - There is no minimum age law. It is left to the parent's discretion.

Alaska - There is no minimum age law. It is left to the parent's 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 a minimum age requirement, but most authorities suggest no younger than 13 years of age.

California - There is no minimum age law. 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. However, there is a suggested guideline of 12 years old.

Connecticut - There is no specific law regarding the minimum age to leave a child home alone. However, many authorities 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 children.

Delaware - There is no minimum age law, but the Division of Family Services will investigate if a report is made about a child under the age of 12 left alone. They 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. It is left to the parent's discretion and also dependent upon the condition of the environment.

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

Hawaii - There is no minimum age law. It is left to the parent's discretion.

Idaho - There is no minimum age law. It is left to the parent's discretion. It is advised, however, to wait until they are at least 12 years old before allowing a child to stay home alone.

Illinois - If you leave your child home alone before they reach 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. However, most law enforcement officials in Indiana advise against leaving a child under the age of 10 alone. 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 says that if you leave a child under the age of 11 alone, 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. It is left to the parent's discretion.

Maryland - The law requires that no child be left alone under any circumstances if the child is under the age of 8. 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, if convicted, 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 think there might be neglect.

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

Mississippi - There is no minimum age law. It is left to the parent's discretion.

Missouri - There is no minimum age law. It is left to the parent's discretion.

Montana - There is no minimum age law. It is left to the parent's discretion.

Nebraska - There is no minimum age law. It is advised, however, to wait until the child is at least 11 years old.

Nevada - I could not find laws specifically mandating a minimum age. I did, however, find Nevada's definition of child neglect, which is "Abandonment, failure to provide a child with supervision, food, education, shelter, medical care, etc." 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. It is left to the parent's discretion.

New Jersey - There is no law mandating a minimum age, but they encourage finding 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 suggest that a child should be left alone no earlier than 12 or 13 years of age.

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

North Dakota - There are no laws regarding minimum age, but the Department of Human Services has its 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, are not allowed to be left home alone after dark, and should not be left in charge of caring for other children. Children who are 12 years or older may babysit, but only after completing an approved childcare training course. Children under the age of 15 should not be left alone overnight.

Ohio - There seems to be some disagreement regarding what is permissible and what is not in the state of Ohio. Some suggest that there is not one age at which parents can or cannot leave their child home alone. However, numerous calls to official agencies reveal inconsistent responses. Some caseworkers say 18, others say it is up to each parent's discretion and/or the circumstances involving the case. According to this state's child endangerment and neglect laws (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.

Oklahoma - There is no minimum age law. It is left to the parent's discretion.

Oregon - Laws state that a child must be a minimum of 10 years old before leaving them alone. Child neglect laws state that if a child gets hurt while left alone, the parent(s) will be charged with child neglect in the second degree, which is a Class A misdemeanor.

Pennsylvania - There is no minimum age law. It is left to the parent's discretion.

Rhode Island - I called various child welfare agencies, and they all agreed that even though there are no laws governing the minimum age, 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, but state agencies say no child under the age of 8 should be left alone.

South Dakota - There is no minimum age law. It is left to the parent's discretion.

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

Texas - There is no minimum age law. It is left to the parent's discretion.

Utah - There is no minimum age law. It is left to the parent's discretion.

Vermont - I called the central office of the Department of Children and Families, which confirmed that there are no laws governing the minimum age.

Virginia - There is no minimum age law. It is left to the parent's discretion.

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

West Virginia - There is no minimum age law. It is left to the parent's discretion.

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

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

When Your Child Is Home Alone

Having a list of rules and emergency contacts is essential. Be sure to post this list in a visible location. This gives the child 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 child to check in. Don't pester them; just make yourself available to them. If you can't call, have a trusted friend or neighbor do this for you.

Have rules about answering the phone and the door. I tell my children not to answer the phone unless one of the approved numbers comes up on caller ID and to never answer the door if 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.

Lock the doors and windows. Don't give criminals easy access to your 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, never leave a child alone without first teaching them the skills they will need.

When Can a Child Legally Babysit?

According to World Population Review, some states do have guidelines about the minimum age requirement for babysitting. Although 46 states have no age requirement, these states do have limits to age:

  • Illinois: 14 years old
  • Mississippi, Delaware, and Colorado: 12 years old
  • Michigan: 11 years old
  • Washington, Tennessee, Oregon, and New Mexico: 10 years old
  • North Dakota: 9 years old
  • North Carolina, Maryland, and Georgia: 8 years old
  • Kansas: 6 years old

Poll

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2014 Linda Sarhan

Comments

Max on November 26, 2018:

Yes exactly if you live in ohio , trust me they dont follow the law in anyway they do whatever they want ohio is the worst state dont expect the courts to follow the laws ohio laws are all like that they write it the laws in a way that they can do whatever they want , and they do! If you have to deal ojfs, good luck , im a 100 % disabled vet who pays 2500 a month in child support for one child that i am not allowed to see. My child support order is for 1300 a month but they garnish my benefits and automatically take it out as well . Good luck finding an attorney in ohio or any kind of justice in the state of Ohio. Not really the buckeye state more like the brown eye state .

Joe on June 20, 2018:

I live in Georgia my son just turned 13 year old and his dad is giving me problems about him staying home he is very mature for his age and knows how to use the microwave to fix him food and I leave him all contacts and go over procedures if there's a fire or emergency

fluuffball on October 30, 2017:

im happy that many places dont have the rules

Elijah Krause on October 07, 2017:

If you lock your doors people will just break the window, no point really

Jade on January 01, 2017:

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!

Linda Sarhan (author) from Lexington KY USA on July 30, 2016:

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).

Faye Alford in Pineville Kentucky on July 29, 2016:

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.

Patty Inglish MS from USA and Asgardia, the First Space Nation on March 01, 2015:

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

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

Linda Sarhan (author) from Lexington KY USA on February 27, 2015:

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.

ODJFS on February 27, 2015:

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

Laura Smith from Pittsburgh, PA on February 25, 2015:

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.

Amber MacDonald on February 24, 2015:

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?

Linda Sarhan (author) from Lexington KY USA on February 24, 2015:

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.

DaveC on February 24, 2015:

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.

DavidW on February 24, 2015:

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.

DavidW on February 24, 2015:

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.

Linda Sarhan (author) from Lexington KY USA on February 23, 2015:

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.

Jamie on February 23, 2015:

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.

Rebecca Be from Lincoln, Nebraska on August 12, 2014:

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.

Linda Sarhan (author) from Lexington KY USA on August 12, 2014:

Very true.

Kevin Washburn from Macon, GA on August 12, 2014:

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.