21st Century parenting: When should your kids stay home alone?

BUFFALO, N.Y. (WIVB) – It’s inevitable that eventually, your children will stay home alone for some period of time, but deciding when the time is right isn’t always easy.

Megan is a mom with three children, between 18 and 14 years old. She’s already gone through the dilemma of when to let her children have some independence, and trust them to be on their own.

Megan said, “At some point, they are going to be home alone, so you have to build on it and eventually take a breath and let them do it”.

The Amherst mother started giving her kids the opportunity to prove they can handle an hour or two alone when they were all around 12 years-old. She always makes sure they know where she is, how to reach her, and how long she’ll be gone.

She also says you have to know your children, and treat each one accordingly.

“With one of my boys in particular, I was more nervous because he can be very oblivious if he’s watching TV for example”, Megan explained.

Although her boys were not interested in babysitting, her daughter was, and started doing so when she was 14 years-old. Megan had her take a babysitting class to make sure she was ready for the added responsibility.

Mary Francis Bayer is a therapist with Beyond Boundaries Therapy in Hamburg. She says she has talked to Child Protective Services a number of times about the legal requirements for leaving children home alone, and is surprised there are none.

“We found out it’s up to the discretion of the parents based on the maturity of the child”, Bayer said.

She also says that if a child is 7 years-old or younger, it doesn’t matter how mature they are, they should not be left home alone.

Other states do have minimum age requirements. In Maryland, a child must be at least 8 years old, and in Illinois they must be at least 14 years old.

Here is a general guideline for what you can expect for your child at different ages:

These are general guidelines; you must take into account your own child’s maturity level, ability to handle responsibility, and how many other children are in the home.

Bayer recommends easing into it, and making sure your child is comfortable too, because it can be just as scary for them as it is for you as a parent.

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