At what age can/do children start staying home alone?
In our situation we’re talking about one kid home alone for up to, say, 30 minutes while a parent runs to the store. She is pretty mature for her age and she is pleased with this arrangement (she doesn’t have to run the errand). When I mentioned this to a friend I could tell they were slightly horrified we left her home and they have not left their years older son home at all. Our kid is 7.5–is this too young?
At our house I’m finding a big difference in what age each child Seems Ready. My eldest (age 14) seemed ready when he was quite young, because he’s always been the responsible and cautious type; I’m STILL not entirely confident about my secondborn (age 12) (I do leave him, but I worry more).
I probably base it mostly on my confidence in the child’s ability to use the phone. Do I think they could use it to call 911, or to call my cell phone, or to call their grandparents up the street? Do I think we’ve had enough conversations on the topic that they’d know for what situations to call each number? Do I feel pretty sure they’d know NOT to use the phone if there was a fire, but instead to run next door?
I also base it on how much interest the child has shown in hypotheticals. Three of my kids think it’s fun to talk about things like would they be allowed to use the microwave, and what would they do if someone came to the door, and what would they do if the phone rang, and what would they do if they got a small cut but I was due back in 5 minutes. Two of my kids find such discussions boring, and they tune out if I try to discuss it with them. The two who tune out don’t get left on their own as much—and I prefer to leave them with one of the other three, just in case.
I also base it on how quickly and easily I could get home again. If I’m walking next door to talk to a neighbor, I’m much more likely to leave a responsible child on his or her own than I would be if I were going ten miles away, or if I were going somewhere I might not have phone service, or if I were going somewhere I wouldn’t be able to leave. I can easily abandon a grocery cart, but would reallllllly not feel comfortable leaving in the middle of a hair cut or a doctor or dentist appointment.
And finally, there’s the miscellaneous issues for an individual trip: how many other kids are home and which ones are they (is there likely to be fighting?); whether the kids are playing nicely at the moment or whether they’ve been bugging each other; how much faster/easier it would be for me not to bring them; whether I’m pretty sure my parents are home in case there’s a problem; etc.
How do you make the decision about when a child is old enough to be home on his or her own?
Edited to add: I think when we’re discussing this it would be useful to keep in mind that there’s a big difference between leaving a child at home for half an hour to run an errand, and leaving a child alone for a workday or overnight. I suspect the laws and recommendations are set up mostly to address the latter situation, not the former.