Dear Abby: Am I Paranoid Enough?

Hi Folks — If you ever wonder why parents seem so terrified these days, here’s why: We live in a society filled with more paranoia than a convention of Moon Landing conspiracists.

Below is a prime example of us being told by a trusted “authority” to always conjure up the least likely but most devastating scenario possible and then proceed as if it’s likely to happen.  As a parenting philosophy it’s depressing, delusional, debilitating — and apparently Dear Abby’s modus operandi:

Dear Abby: I know some children who seem to be mature and are able to make logical decisions on a fairly regular basis. Still, making a decision under stress when one has not had a lot of experience can be difficult.

Having said that, at what age do you think it is appropriate to leave a child alone at home? Sometimes it’s difficult to arrange for child care when kids are out of school. Do you have any guidelines as to what to look for that can help make this decision? — BUSY WORKING PARENT IN KANSAS


Dear Busy Working Parent: I don’t think children should be left alone if there is any other alternative available — after-school programs, YMCA, activities where they will have adult supervision. Too many things can go wrong, and you would never forgive yourself if one of them happened to your child.  
Hi again, folks: Yes, those italics were mine. But here is a response written by Free-Range Kids reader (slightly edited by me):
Dear Abby: Your answer is a classic example of what Lenore Skenazy ( refers to as “Worst-First” thinking. If we are encouraged to over-prepare for all the rare, tragic things that could happen, we will end up handicapping  our children’s independence, and our finances, and our  ability to shop alone for brief periods of time.

Can you really not imagine any age when a child is capable of being left alone in their home? Not at 8, 11, 14? Or 17? How is it that these children will ever become capable adults if they don’t get any incremental practice? Is this why, as a professor, I see college students today who are incapable of facing the regular bumps and glitches of daily life without calling on their parents to fix their problems for them?

Perhaps instead of “never” we can look for indicators that a child is capable of spending short time periods home alone: Are they generally responsible? Do they know basic safety measures?

Instead of infantilizing our children for fear of remote risks, we need to empower them. If you will recall, just a few decades ago, we did that very thing. I was a latchkey kid at nine and babysitting at 11. In the 70s, this was regular practice. Before you argue that the world was safer then, note that the crime statistics show that life is safer today than it has been any time since about 1973.

In that time on my own as a child, I learned how to feed and clean up after myself, how to take care of others, and who to call when I needed help.  I developed the confidence that I could take care of myself. That experience was invaluable and remains with me to this day. — Kari B.

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97 Responses to Dear Abby: Am I Paranoid Enough?

  1. KarenW December 9, 2011 at 1:59 am #

    YES! I read this column in the paper this morning and I almost punched a hole in the wall! I wasn’t like I was expecting any good free-range advice from the likes of Dear Abby, but this non-advice was just so brainless. Seriously, NEVER??? She couldn’t even throw out an obviously-old-enough age, like 15 or 16? Did even an ounce of thought go into this answer?

    This just struck a nerve for me, because it is an issue I am seriously dealing with right now. Where I live, the local Red Cross offers a baby-sitting class for kids starting at age 11. So, they obviously feel that 11-12 year olds are not only capable of being home alone, but to be watching younger kids as well! I plan to sign up my 11-year-old daughter for this class.

  2. Joel Dockery December 9, 2011 at 2:16 am #

    Here’s my reply:
    I have to take exception to your response to “Busy Working Parent in Kansas”. I’d agree with you that I would never forgive myself if something happened to my children while they were left at home alone. I disagree that this is a feeling worth basing a decision on. My responsibility as a parent is to raise happy and healthy children who will not be dependent on others for their basic safety and security when they grow older. This is not accomplished by blowing all risks out of proportion and hovering over them all the time. There is certainly risk while they are left at home, but there is also risk when their mother and I are with them, and there is risk when they ride the school bus, and there is great risk anytime we drive them anywhere. We are raising our children to live, and live well, and that always entails risk.

  3. PaulW December 9, 2011 at 2:18 am #

    @KarenW – My wife and I have discussed our 11 yr old son watching his 7 yr old sister while we go out, but we (she) decided we want him to take a CPR class first. I like the idea of a Red Cross ‘baby-sitters’ class. Hmm, I wonder what the boy/girl ratio will be?

    *Off topic – where is this site’s server located. The original post and KarenW’s response indicate it is early in the morning of December 9th. I’m on the east coast of the US and it is about 12 hours earlier here. Just wondering. *

  4. Brian December 9, 2011 at 2:22 am #

    Great replies to the Dear Abby. Dear Abby also advocates locking your doors and windows so she is not exactly free range in any area.

    Sorry Paul but when in the past 11 years have you or any caregiver used CPR on your son or daughter? Doesn’t CPR seem like a very unlikely skill for him to need? If he lives in the house with her on a daily basis don’t you think he probably knows how to take care of her? I say start with short periods of time where you will be relatively nearby and see how it goes.

  5. pentamom December 9, 2011 at 2:30 am #

    “Did even an ounce of thought go into this answer?”

    Right there, that’s the question. Jeanne Phillips is NOT her mother — not that I ever thought Dear Abby was the fount of all wisdom. ALL of her answers sound like she doesn’t think. Even when the advice isn’t wrong, it doesn’t sound like it’s any more than some kind of rote response to a stimulus.

  6. KarenW December 9, 2011 at 2:47 am #

    Pentamom – exactly, and I have noticed that the quality of the column is nothing like it used to be. After all, I wasn’t expecting an answer I agreed with, but at least SOME kind of answer! The old Dear Abby would have contacted an expert and discussed important safety tips for kids, not just give the popular stock answer (which, unfortunately, is exactly what the paranoid response is).

  7. Heather G December 9, 2011 at 2:59 am #

    Glad I don’t get the paper, or read advice columns. If that is the general quality of her work I hope she does it for free.

  8. TaraK December 9, 2011 at 3:02 am #

    Really, she probably has to cover her tail. If she’d said 10 or 11 and someone took her advice and SOMETHING bad had happened I’m afraid our “sue happy” society would be pointing the finger straight at Abby! (Pretend this is well written and makes sense, running on low sleep today!)

  9. North of 49 December 9, 2011 at 3:04 am #

    She isn’t the original Dear Abby. This is her daughter.

    If kids don’t learn how to handle themselves at home alone while they are kids, how are they supposed to handle themselves when they are growed up if they ever grow up at all?

  10. Carolyn December 9, 2011 at 3:05 am #

    Of course, adult supervision doesn’t guarantee a child’s safety either. Just ask those parents who left their children in the care of Jerry Sandusky and any number of Roman Catholic priests.

  11. Heather G December 9, 2011 at 3:07 am #

    As to the CPR issue, it and first aid are good things to know. Not in the “OMG, anything can happen” sense but in the ” *if* it happens I know how to respond and won’t freak out” sense. I had to perform CPR on my grandmother while I waited for an ambulance when I was 12. A few years later my cousin busted his head open while I was babysitting. In both cases knowing what to do kept me from panicking and making helicopter parents’ point for them. Instead the incidents showed that teaching kids responsibility and giving them independence works.

  12. siacircus December 9, 2011 at 3:13 am #

    How about even just the response of what is the most common legally acceptable age for a child to be left home without adult supervision? That would have even been more informative that her very negative (not answering the question) response.

  13. Tracy December 9, 2011 at 3:14 am #

    I don’t read Dear Abby. I do, however, prepare my kids to be self-reliant and responsible. This means I regularly put a lid on my worry–such as when I recently moved my 22 year old disabled daughter to a major metropolitan area to pursue her dream job. I tell her that she will love the city and have a wonderful life when internally I am worrying about her getting murdered walking to the bus stop late at night. I do this because not only is it unlikely that she will be murdered in the big city, but that fully living her life is worth that risk to her and handling the small things in her life prepared her for successively bigger challenges.

    This is something we taught her years ago when we let her fall, and fall, and fall again when walking was hard. At 11 she was supervising her three younger siblings when my husband and I went to coffee at a place a few minutes away.Later, we sent her off to college rather than driving her to the local university every day. Perhaps her disability made us very deliberate in moving her to independence but she goes through life unafraid and that is worth so much!

  14. Heather P. December 9, 2011 at 3:19 am #

    Carolyn–You forgot the epidemic of public school teachers. And foster parents. And mother’s boyfriends.

  15. Anthony Hernandez December 9, 2011 at 3:20 am #

    @Brian, I am a former volunteer firefighter/EMT and I KNOW the value of CPR training firsthand. When we adopted Logan, I told everyone to get trained and certified before even considering being alone with him. The family huffed and puffed butI held absolutely firm.

    On two occasions when he was very little, Logan choked on some food and could not move air. On both occasions, we simply flipped him on his tummy with his head low and face cradled in our hands and gently thrust on his back as we were trained to do. The bit of food popped right out. There was no fuss, no bother, no crying, no raised voices, no panic, no nothing. Just, “Whoops, need to fix this, OK, all done!”

    Had we not had that training, it could have been a very different story.

    I don’t see this as paranoia at all. I see it as having the basic life skills to be able to manage and defuse potential emergencies before they become real emergencies. Kind of like swimming, wearing helmets/seat belts, looking before crossing, how to use a fire extinguisher, how to get out of the house if needed, where to go in an earthquake, etc.

    As for Dear Abby, I sent her a long, heartfelt reply!

  16. Teri December 9, 2011 at 3:24 am #

    Mine is 11. For the past year, I have left her at home to run to the store, pharmacy, doc appt, gas up the car when I realized I had forgotten to do it earlier, run the garbage to the dump, or drop off something with a friend. Basically – if I’m staying in town, she can stay home because no place in town is more than 3 minutes from the house. How on earth anybody can say that I’m being irresponsible is beyond me. I feel she’s more in danger sitting in the waiting room at the docs office with me than she is at the house folding a load of laundry. Chores are always expected to be done when I get back – that’s a trade-off for getting to stay home. It’s calculated risk.

    We live in a small town, so a lot of shopping has to be done at the next town over (about a 15 minute drive each way) or possibly even the next city (30 minutes each way) if you need to go some place like Lowes or Home Depot. I have yet to leave her at home when going out of town, but plan to start letting her stay home after the first of the year if I make a run to the next town over. I’m seldom gone for more than 2 hours and I think she’s capable of staying home that long by herself.

    I feel bad for not already doing it to be honest with you. I’m just amazed at some parents who won’t let their kids out of sight for an hour or so. I make sure mine knows to stay inside (unless I specifically send her to the neighbor’s house while I’m gone – then she can run around the neighborhood for all I care because I’ve entrusted somebody else with keeping up with her.) She knows what she’s allowed to do and not allowed to do and she knows if she’s caught violating the rules, then the consequences are quite severe for a preteen – she has to start going places with her mom (actually, she thinks I’ll make her ride in the shopping cart, too. LOL!)

  17. steph December 9, 2011 at 3:32 am #

    Pentamom & KarenW – I thought I was the only one! Some of this new Dear Abby’s advice is terrible and stupid, showing very little research or knowledge. Occasionally she indicates that she has asked around, but usually it is just flying by the seat of her pants, and it shows.

    As for the content of this post, my 10-yr-old daughter read the column before me this morning and said, “thanks Dear Abby, you have just doomed an entire generation to the misery of YMCA camp.” Ha. I think SHE may be ready to stay home some…

  18. ripepapaya December 9, 2011 at 3:33 am #

    From bout 5 onwards I would usually have to spend at leastpart of the day at home alone when I was off sick. To be honest, I don’t beleive this was greatly questioned in the 80’s. There was even on incident of an overheating hot water heater that I had to deal with by immediately running to the neighbors. All were incredibly proud of myactions, and it was a huge confidence builder.

  19. Teri December 9, 2011 at 3:34 am #

    Dear Abby’s comment may have been directed more toward the fact that the general belief in society is that unsupervised kids tend to get into more trouble (drinking, drugs, sex) than supervised kids. It may not have had anything to do with the fear of them setting fire to the house, playing with knives, falling off of the roof while trying to shoot rockets into the neighbor’s pool (what?) or being abducted by the stranger that knocks on the the door. I think her advice was just to find alternate activities if possible in order to keep them occupied (and so their brain doesn’t rot by playing video games all day while mom is gone and they are stuck in the house).

  20. Teri December 9, 2011 at 3:37 am #

    Steph, I think you are right. LOL! When the feistiness emerges, they are generally well-equipped to handle most situations. It’s the sit on my butt and cry about it and waiting for someone else to take charge that causes problems with leaving a kid in charge of themselves. Those are the ones that are lost and can’t seem to think through a situation.

  21. SKL December 9, 2011 at 3:48 am #

    My brain would have died of starvation if I’d had to go to kid-oriented after-school programs until nothing more could possibly happen at home.

    Yeah, things happen. It’s usually better than being bored, frustrated, and denied real-world experience day after day, year after year.

    And also, as we all know, things happen to kids who are supervised, too. Perhaps more. I guess we should go this route anyway, on the basis that at least we won’t blame ourselves when “anything” happens?

  22. Library Diva December 9, 2011 at 3:49 am #

    Agree with Karen, Steph and Pentamom about Dear Abby. I don’t like the new one either. I’ve been reading this column all my life and am sad to see it go downhill. She doesn’t think, she gives snappy-sounding shallow non-advice. I miss the quality columns that her mom used to write. I much prefer Dear Carolyn. She definitely has a perspective, but her column gives nuanced, practical answers to questions, and she’s not afraid to put letter-writers in their place.

    I think CPR is a good skill for EVERYONE to know. In New York, it’s even taught in schools now, and I’m glad. It’s saved so many lives, and it’s simple to learn. When I took it in college, it made me feel empowered. If something bad were to happen to someone nearby, I could do something other than stand there and watch them die and hope EMS comes before that happens.

  23. Melissa December 9, 2011 at 3:50 am #

    It is very frustrating to see these stock responses from “advice” columnists. Every child is an individual case. I have two children. I am the same Mom, my personality and parenting philosophy has not changed. I have one self sufficient independent child, and one child who is the polar opposite. Every child is different. Know your child, and use that as a guide. But to suggest children always need to be in the care of an adult handicaps them and crushes their self worth.

  24. Heather December 9, 2011 at 3:53 am #

    Bravo, Kari!! Great response to some stupid, ill-conceived advice from Dear Abby.

  25. Heather December 9, 2011 at 3:57 am #

    Oh, and FWIW, I began staying home by myself (after school and during holidays/breaks from school) when I was 9.5 years old. I was allowed to do so once my parents felt I was old enough/mature enough/responsible enough to do so. Rules were set, and I followed them (called my mom at work when I got home, did my homework, didn’t have anyone over without permission, didn’t open door to strangers, etc). Nothing horrible ever happened to me or our house. I am now 37 years old, with children of my own, a loving marriage and a successful career. I have been capable of handling whatever life throws at me from a very young age, because I was given the opportunity by my parents to learn from my mistakes, develop judgment and make good decisions.

  26. Lollipoplover December 9, 2011 at 4:07 am #

    I still find it amazing that older generations feel that children need constant supervision regardless of age, even though they themselves were given very liberal freedoms by today’s standards.
    I also find it funny that when they attempt such paranoid parenting style (never take your eyes off of them!) while babysitting their grandchildren, they are often exhausted and can’t figure out why. Kids need incremental time alone until they can prove themselves capable. They will surprise you with just how much they actually can do, given the opportunity.

  27. Marie December 9, 2011 at 5:26 am #

    I knew I’d be seeing that here as soon as I read it. What awful advice. Suggest looking up the laws in your state if you can’t suggest an age or how to decide for yourself, but don’t say never.

    My oldest stayed home for a short time just yesterday because she was sick and I had to take her brother to school. No big deal, she’s 9, but some of the parents were surprised I did it. It was about 34 degrees F out, so not exactly a good place for a sick kid to go, and we walk to school. I’m willing to leave her longer than that; this was simply a very recent example to share.

  28. 3MGirls December 9, 2011 at 5:27 am #

    In my home, Mom and Dad both work full-time. I work in town, while my husband commutes over an hour one-way each day, making his arrival home in the evening a little later. I work until 4:30 most days, and about 10 minutes from home. Being that my eldest (15) has a part-time job babysitting 2-3 evenings a week for a 2 & 4 year old, sometimes she is not home to monitor my younger two after school(ages 10 & 6). They spend about 1 to 1 1/2 hours home alone a couple of times a week before I get home. We have neighbours (that I LET THEM TALK TO!) if something shoud arise that for some reason wouldn’t involve calling me, a grandparent, or 911. They do CHORES when they get home (sometimes involving household cleaners – unsupervised!) – they make a snack (that sometimes involves using a sharp utensil or the microwave). They complete their homework (I’m not there yet to do it FOR THEM!) They take our Golden out for a walk and I trust that after pooping & scooping they will wash their hands before preparing their snacks without me there to remind them. (Ha!Ha!) Sure, I would feel awful if something happened, just like I did last week when we spent 4 hours in emergency to assess a possible broken thumb because my 10 year old didn’t think to move her hand before closing the door on her self, which wouldn’t have been avoided no matter who was home (unless 10 year olds every moves are monitored in the bathroom now as well – kind of a creepy thought). Miss Abby would have a field day with my household going by her own useless advice – there is so much action going on in my house it is impossible to know what’s going on with everyone even when we are all there. I am no less of a parent for allowing my kids an hour or so on their own – but they are definitely better for it. It’s amazing when your newly turned 6 year old can educate older children and even adults on some things – from her own experience.

  29. Nikky December 9, 2011 at 5:55 am #

    I saw this letter the other day and it actually made me angry. My grandma and mom both started leaving me alone at home when I was around 8. Grandma was a nurse, I knew basic safety and my grandpa had been very ill leading up to his death, so I knew how to handle emergencies. When I was 10 and my grandma died, I began living with my mom, stepdad and 4 younger siblings (who were 6, 2, 11 mos and newborn at the time). She and my stepdad both worked, so my 12 year old stepbrother and I came home from school and babysat until dad was home. I was 13 and home alone when our dryer caught the house on fire, and everything turned out just fine. I was also 13 when my stepdad abandoned us (taking my older brother also) and I became responsible for getting the kids to school, home, bathed, and fed every day. I resented it at the time, but handled it fine (including when we lost our house when I was 18, and my mom and the older of the kids got one apartment, and my youngest siblings, my boyfriend and I shared one across town for a while) and now that I’m pregnant I couldn’t be more grateful for the experience. It’s a little insulting that she just assumes I should have been an incompetent boob.

    Most parents reading that would have a heart attack. “Abby” too, apparently. I’m 23, so it wasn’t that long ago… even a lot of my friend’s parents couldn’t believe it. I had one who used to follow me in her car when I’d walk the half mile home.

  30. Michelle Potter December 9, 2011 at 6:40 am #

    Yeah, I stopped reading Dear Abby about the time the daughter took over. I really can’t imagine her mother giving such a ridiculous non-answer.

    My first reaction when I read this, and the one that has stuck with me, is how much I wish parents could get reasonable advice on how and when to give our children more independence from the so-called experts. For me, this has always been one of the most difficult parts of parenting! Just today, my 5yo has been begging me to allow her to bathe on her own, and I just can’t decide if she is ready. My gut says, “Never, ever, EVER leave a child alone in the bath!!!” and “Most household accidents happen in the bathroom!!!” but I know she has to take this step one day. Maybe when she’s 30. :/

    My second reaction was to the ridiculous emotional imagery of, “you would never forgive yourself.” I would never forgive myself if I got into a car accident and one of my kids was killed while I was driving. That’s why I take reasonable safety measures to lessen the risk. I could completely eliminate that risk by refusing to allow my children to ever set foot in a car, but that would be unreasonable, IMO.

    Just like never allowing my children to stay home alone is unreasonable. I can teach my children reasonable safety measures to lessen the risk, but if I keep them in a little bubble until they are adults, they will never *become* adults.

    In regards to CPR, learning a new skill does not hamper or handicap anyone. Knowing that you can deal with an emergency situation on your own, even if the chances are slim that you will have to, can be empowering. For one thing, usually people get CPR and first aid training at the same time, and that teaches a wide array of skills that can be useful even if a person is not actually in cardiac arrest. I know many people who have saved someone or been saved by someone with such CPR and first aid training.

  31. Michelle Potter December 9, 2011 at 6:48 am #

    Ha! I just noticed that I worded it as though I want my kids to get independence from parenting experts! I meant get advice from the experts on giving kids independence, but I think I like the way it came out, LOL!

  32. Serena Enslow December 9, 2011 at 6:57 am #

    Okay, I just sent a reply to Dear Abby as well. Maybe we should all write her some negative feedback and she if she can come up with a better answer.

  33. Serena Enslow December 9, 2011 at 7:01 am #

    @3MGirls: Don’t feel bad, I smash my finger in the door about once a month and I’m 39! Maybe I shouldn’t be left unsupervised…

  34. PaulW December 9, 2011 at 7:40 am #

    @Brian – To answer your question – once. That was enough.

    You are right in that my son can (and has when Mommy and Daddy sleep in) take care his sister and I actually agree that the odds of CPR being needed are low. My understanding of the Free Range philosophy is that we are to raise our kids to be able to handle themselves appropriately in times of trouble. We teach them to look both ways before crossing the street. We teach them that a stranger isn’t automatically a person to be shunned, but at the same time not to climb in the back of their van to see their ‘puppy’.

    I try (not always successfully) to not be a worst-first type of guy, but I also want my children to grow up to be strong and independent and not panic in times of crisis.

    I wonder how the current Abby was raised by the original if that was the advice she came up with.

  35. ebohlman December 9, 2011 at 7:45 am #

    Tracy: The most common (and actually realistic) fear among parents of disabled kids is “what will they do when I’m gone?” That’s why many of them take the attitude you do, realizing that the more independence they develop, the better they’ll do when they outlive you. Helicopter parents don’t seem to realize that they’re putting their “normal” kids into a position where they’re going to have a hard time coping with outliving their parents (and yes, nearly all of them will; even though we’re constantly hearing about how obesity will make our kids the first generation to live shorter than their parents, that’s actually just the opinion of a few mavericks who admit they’re basing their prediction on gut feelings rather than actual data). Maybe they’re denying their own mortality.

  36. Jenn December 9, 2011 at 8:07 am #

    Last night I was talking with my friend. She had her 2 kids in the car age 9 and almost 5 the younger on fell asleep. My friend wasn’t feeling well and she wanted to stop at the 7 11 to buy some ginger ale but she didn’t notice the younger one was sleep untill she pulled up . She said what should I do she is asleep. The 9 year old told her he would stay in the car with his sister. So after she turned off the car and locked them in and gave him the speech about not opening the doors. She asked me if it was illegal to leave them like that.I told her I didn’t know but in anycase they were old enough to know how to get out of the car if there was an emergency. It was a really cold night last night well for us anyway probably around 55 degrees (lol) they weren’t gonna over heat in the 3 minutes it took her to get her drink and buy the kit kat her son requested and guess what… nothing happened…. This mom also watches too much SVU to the point where she is having nightmares about her kids being abducted…

    On a side note it was 40 degrees this morning after wind chill was figured in and you should have seen the way that my class of 4 year olds were dressed you’d think some of them were going on a arctic expedition….

    And about kids staying home alone.. in central Florida it has been decided that 9 is the age children can stay home alone… Since this is the age that childcare assistance for low income parents is cut off…. In south Florida it is cut off after the 5th grade regardless of age… My mother was a DCF investigator for awhile she says that in Florida there is no age that a child can officially be left alone you just have to prove that the child is competent enough to look after them selves knows how to call 911 in a emergency and has food available that they can prepare for themselves and that the child is not scared to be left alone. I also know from experiance b/c someone i know as trying to call DCF on his ex for leave the kids alone at night when she went to work they were between 7 and 13 and they told them the same thing…. but i can only speak for Florida…

  37. Lola December 9, 2011 at 9:23 am #

    IMHO, I think the key words here is knowing who to call when help is needed. I wouldn’t leave my kid completely alone, for the simple reason that I don’t think I live completely alone. We’ve got family, neighbours… If I can call on a neighbour’s door when I need a cup of sugar, heck, my kids should be allowed to call on that same door if they need some help with the boiler or something!
    And I actually speak from the friendly neighbour’s side, as I’m a stay-at-home mum. There are many of us out there, willing to lend a hand. Just give us a heads-up and we can check on your latch-key kids once in a while. We know they will turn to be great babysitters! 😉

  38. Lori Brown December 9, 2011 at 11:02 am #

    I responded to Abby as soon as I read this letter this morning – pretty similar to the above reader’s letter. Let’s hope she publishes at least one response that disagrees with her!

  39. The other Donna December 9, 2011 at 11:26 am #

    I leave my kids alone for about 3 hours a day, every day. They have a phone. They know they can call me if they need me (it is one client I have that requires me to work at his office, not mine). They know when to call 911, and when not to.

    They’re 10 and 8.

    I’m a single mom, and I really don’t feel like I am causing them any harm. Their dad complains about it, but like I keep telling him,

    “I am not raising children. I am raising adults.”

  40. olympia December 9, 2011 at 11:41 am #

    My God, “Dear Abby”‘s reply SUCKS! I don’t think she could have come up with a lazier or less thoughtless reply. Just phoning it in.

    On the topic of CPR: I think it’s a lot more important for people to learn how to deal with someone who’s choking than someone who’s gone into cardiac arrest. The need for the heimlich maneuver, I would guess, is a lot more common than the need for chest compressions. Also, from my experience, the heimlich is a lot more effective.

  41. olympia December 9, 2011 at 11:42 am #

    To my reply: meant MORE thoughtless, of course. :)

  42. sylvia_rachel December 9, 2011 at 11:56 am #

    My 9-year-old comes home from school (by public transit and, like, feet), lets herself into the building, takes the elevator up to our floor, lets herself into our apartment, and stays home alone for at least an hour before either DH or I, whoever didn’t have to stay late that day :/, gets home from work. One time she got locked out (NOT her fault — DH put her keys away for her, in the wrong place ::facepalm:: and she didn’t realize she didn’t have them when she left in the morning, because we left together and I locked up). One neighbour let her in the front door, and another hung out with her in the corridor for a while, gave her a snack, and lent her a mobile to ring her dad. When I got home, she had passed the time by doing her homework (not very well, as it turned out, but what are you gonna do). She was upset — DD upsets very easily, which is one reason we’re so adamant that she start learning to cope now, while she’s young and the stakes are lower — but not fatally. Next time something like that happens, she’ll be less upset.

    I’m not absolutely sure she hasn’t been sneaking cookies from the kitchen instead of eating a healthy snack or watching TV when she’s supposed to be practising multiplication tables or French verb conjugations or whatever, but for 3 months she’s managed not to set the building on fire, cut off any body parts, get hit by a vehicle on the way home, get abducted or molested, fall out a window, get locked in the washing machine, etc., etc., etc., and I’m reasonably confident that we can expect this state of things to continue. (Although of course YOU NEVER KNOW.)

    We did have to have a talk with her, after the student-parent-teacher conference last month, about doing her homework properly instead of rushing through it in a half-assed manner, the better to watch TV. Somehow, though I have a feeling that’s not what Daughter of Dear Abby means when she talks about things we’d never forgive ourselves for. I think Daughter of Dear Abby is a stupidhead.

  43. Steph December 9, 2011 at 12:34 pm #

    @The other Donna – I have been saying that for a while now… “I’m not raising a kid, I’m raising a person.”

  44. FrancesfromCanada December 9, 2011 at 1:21 pm #

    If I can add my two cents to the CPR discussion: even if you never need to use the actual CPR, there is value in taking the course (also the babysitting course, or the swimming lifesaver course, etc) because in the process of learning the skill, you also learn how to stop yourself from panicking and think through what you need to do.

    Keep calm and carry on…and that, folks, is one of the most important life skills out there.

  45. Ann In L.A. December 9, 2011 at 1:54 pm #

    Let’s see…

    Fire: What more does an adult know about how to get out of a fire than what a few lessons and a few fire drills at home can teach a 10 year old?

    Gas: What more does an adult know about a gas leak than what a few emergency drills and a quick whiff of an unlit stove can teach a 10 year old?

    Robber/Home invasion: What more does an adult know about an intruder than what a few lessons and a a few emergency drills can teach a 10 year old?

    Earthquake (I’m in So. Cal): What more does an adult know about an earthquake (especially a native out-of-stater) than what a few lessons and a a few emergency drills can teach a 10 year old? (I’ve found our kids, as native Californians, know more from what they are taught at school than we do.)

    Most of us have never had to deal with any of those in real life, and all we have had are a few lessons and some practice drills. We are no more knowledgeable than they can be after a bit of preparation. We can make our kids just as expert as we are with a few lessons and some practice.

  46. Tab December 9, 2011 at 2:42 pm #

    Thanks for this post today, Lenore! I also love the readers response you posted. So well said. I was so disappointed when I read this because it just feeds the cultural myth that we need to have eyes on our children EVERY second of the day. However, I have to agree with Teri, who commented that “her advice was just to find alternate activities if possible in order to keep them occupied (and so their brain doesn’t rot by playing video games all day while mom is gone and they are stuck in the house)” When I was home alone starting at age 10 or so, I didn’t do much else besides watch bad daytime TV, play video games, and find the least-healthy snacks in the house.

    Anyway, the most annoying thing about the column was she didn’t answer the question. The writer was asking for some guidelines and I think the the comments above outline those qualities beautifully.

  47. Sister Wolf December 9, 2011 at 4:38 pm #

    Le me just say that I worked for “Dear Abby” a few years ago! She is not only a bitch but a but of a dim bulb as well. She needs several assistants to write those answers.

    It’s distressing to think that anyone takes her seriously anymore. As far as parenting advice, she has never been a parent.

    Just ignore her.

  48. SuzyQ December 9, 2011 at 8:34 pm #

    This is great! We cripple our children because we are afraid something might happen to them (or are afraid of what others will say), rather than because something is GOING to happen to them. My parents had 5 children. By the time the oldest was 12 and the youngest was 1, my mother was leaving all 5 of us alone so she could run errands. (Of course, with 5 children, it might have been more about needing her sanity than helping us become independent.) My son has been left alone for short periods since he was 10 (daughter was 8 at the time). It started with 15-minute increments when I needed to pick up a gallon of milk, and we have built up to evenings where hubby and I get home by 10:30. We also associate with people who expect their kids to be reasonably self-sufficient…none of us expects our kids to prepare a roast chicken with side dishes, but they can certainly make a grilled cheese for themselves when needed.

    I work in an elementary school, and I have a goal to help them feel confident and successful. I do not sharpen pencils for them, dole out supplies, open bananas at the lunch table, tie shoes or put on mittens. They are capable of turning the crank on the sharpener, pulling a piece of paper out of their own desks, learning to flip the banana upside down and “open it the way the monkeys do – from the bottom!”, to ask a friend to help with their shoes (or learn to do it themselves!), and to use their teeth to help pull on their mittens.

    @Michelle Potter, you could let your daughter bathe alone, with the door ajar and yelling out when they were ready to get out – that’s how our kids started out. I could hear them if anything happened…and it never did. 😉

  49. Tracy December 9, 2011 at 8:37 pm #

    @michellepotter it is time to let your child bathe in private–I know this because she is begging you for a little privacy here. You may sit outside the door and listen for an ominous splash or cry for help if you must. 😉

    I do agree that it is not ideal for a kid, say under 12, to be home alone all day, every day, during the summer. It is boring and leads to too much bad tv, video games and junk food. It is also too isolating–I think a 12 year old with a slightly younger sibling is in a better situation than an only child. Several years ago my daughter had a friend over almost every day so that she would not be in that situation–they were supervised (minimally) by my college-aged children.

    Sometimes, though, you’ve got to manage with the life you have and I hate that this mom was left with the advice that leaving her kid alone was unforgivable (apparently until they reach their majority)!

  50. Tracy December 9, 2011 at 8:40 pm #

    @SuzyQ Great minds think alike (and at the same time)! Your kids can learn to prepare roast chicken and side dishes, given enough time in the kitchen and freedom to make lots of mistakes (Including dinner an hour late because they didn’t pay attention to how long a chicken needed to cook).

  51. katie December 9, 2011 at 9:00 pm #

    When I was 9 or 10, the sporadic occasiions on which my mum was out in the afternoon were an occasion to forego piano practicing….unbeknownst to my folks thgat is.

  52. BMS December 9, 2011 at 9:20 pm #

    We use the after school programs as a threat, as in, “If you and your brother don’t behave when you are home alone, you will have to go to an after school program.”

    They would rather chew both their own arms off than have to go to an organized after school activity. Therefore, we have had no problems with them hanging out for an hour after school by themselves until Dad gets home. Sure, they snack on questionable stuff and fill the house with legos. But they don’t let in every axe murderer on the block and they don’t set the house on fire.

  53. Nicole December 9, 2011 at 11:20 pm #

    I began staying at home alone when I was 8; not to encourage adult behavior but because my mother was a single parent & we were poor. I survived! I had a house key in a combination box that I would use once I got off the bus. I was told not to use the stove, go outside or answer the phone (I screened calls from my mom using the answering machine).

    TV watching was also prohibited & I was threated that “she would know” that I was watching TV by feeling for heat on the TV case. Smart, huh? I believed her so the boob tube was left off. Now, she didn’t say anything about the stereo, so that rental house was ROCKIN’ most of the time!!! I turned out just fine. In college, I didn’t freak out over minor details like many of my peers. I am able to handle events when they come my way and I learned that TV does not have to be the only source of entertainment. Staying home is good for kids and can be a great confidence builder. Just like another poster said, Abby is a stupid head. 😉

  54. kiesha December 9, 2011 at 11:24 pm #

    When I was around 12 or so, my family started raising chickens. We put a sign in the front yard that read “Fresh Eggs: 75 cents a dozen”. It was my responsibility in the summer to answer the door to people who pulled up the driveway and to sell them a dozen eggs. We had a jar with change by the door and I would make change. Yup, not only did I talk to strangers, I OPENED THE DOOR TO THE HOUSE to them. Any one of those people could have kidnapped me, pushed their way into the house and stolen stuff or murdered me, and yet, no one did.

    And all the egg money raised went into my college savings.

  55. walkamungus December 9, 2011 at 11:29 pm #

    @BMS: ‘We use the after school programs as a threat, as in, “If you and your brother don’t behave when you are home alone, you will have to go to an after school program.”’

    Oh, awesome! You win the thread!

  56. coffeegod December 9, 2011 at 11:37 pm #

    BMS, I do the same thing!

    My kid HATED the Y. Can’t say as I blame him. He has been riding the bus home in the afternoon and staying by himself for two years now. In 12 days, he turns 10.

    Oh, he can use the toaster and microwave, unload the dishwasher, make a snack, let the dogs outside and take out the garbage.

  57. Ben Ferguson December 10, 2011 at 12:13 am #

    I like the part about empowering kids. I experienced a positive situation with my recently-turned-9 year old daughter. I put her in charge of making waffles for the family, calling everyone up to get them when they popped out of the toaster. Not only did she execute perfectly, she also rose above the call of duty by making sure everyone had silverware, cutting up her younger siblings waffles, and cleaning up spilled milk. She’s never done anything quite like that on her own before. I have no doubt that this new sense of responsibility empowered her to think at a higher level than ever.

  58. EricS December 10, 2011 at 12:15 am #

    I was 7, my sister 8, and my brother 5 when we were first left on our own. Not for very long periods of time. Maybe 30min to an hour. We would come home from school (yes by ourselves), and my parents were still at work. There was our downstairs neighbor, who would check in on us, and leave once she knew we were ok. My sister and I already knew how to cook basic meals (eggs, toast), so we fed ourselves afternoon snacks. Watch tv, play or nap while waiting for our parents to get home. As we got older, we were left to our devices more and more, and for longer periods of time. By the time I was 10, our parents had full confidence in us to take care ourselves for long periods of time without them. And we felt confident to do so. And because we knew our parents trusted us, and gave us levels of responsibility, we felt prideful. And strive to not let our parents down, so we always worked at making ourselves better each time. That doesn’t mean we didn’t rebel from time to time, that’s part of growing up too. But we were responsible, adaptable, confident, self-sufficient. This is what we took with us right to our adult lives. And it’s what we instill in our own kids.

    IMO, when children are competent enough to understand what you are telling them, that’s when you start teaching and grooming them to be responsible. It has to start sometime, why not as early as possible before they pick up bad habits, including fearful mentality. As for the CPR thing, personally, I wish I had learned it when I was younger. It’s not a dire need, but that experience and knowledge is always good to have. I’m giving my own till he’s about 8 or 9 (when he is more physically strong) before teaching him first aid. Then eventually CPR.

    Dear Abby, why are you so paranoid? lol

  59. Heila December 10, 2011 at 1:00 am #

    Jenn, if I wasn’t feeling well and it wasn’t a big shop I would send my 9 year old in to get the drink instead of going myself!

    My 9 year old stays home for up to half an hour if I go to the shops, or to pick up the cleaning lady. She knows not to answer the door, not to tell someone on the phone we’re not home, and how to get out of the house in case of emergency. Phone numbers are easily accessible and we revise them often anyway in case she needs to call us. At our local smallish shopping centre I send her into one shop while I’m busy getting something at another one. Some of her friends’ parents seem to think this is very risky behaviour. I don’t get it, when will their kids be old enough to buy bread and milk? My daughter is learning to think, reason and make decisions… the kind of milk mom asked for is sold out, what should I get instead?… I got to the till and didn’t have enough money, what should I do?… Do I have enough pocket money to buy this thing? These are basic life skills and I think she is at the appropriate age to learn them. She won’t leave the shopping centre with a stranger, but she isn’t scared of talking to strangers. After all, she didn’t know the lady who graciously gave the money she was short one time!

  60. Julie December 10, 2011 at 1:07 am #

    The prevailing thought in today’s society is that you should never leave a child without adult supervision. Exactly when is this generation supposed to learn how to do the things that will one day allow them to function as adults and be the ones in that supervising role? They certainly are not learning it while being constantly monitored, never given the chance to be on their own or fix their own mistakes or take responsibility for themselves for any period of time.

    I suppose the only upside is that when the majority of adults in society can no longer figure out how to take care of themselves, those who have grown up being taught responsibility and independence will be in high demand!

  61. Ann in LA December 10, 2011 at 2:24 am #

    Our kids love it when we send them in to stores on their own while I wait in the car, or when I let them take a treat and go buy it themselves when I’m in another line. It’s such a simple thing, yet they get so much joy out of it.

  62. Decemberbaby December 10, 2011 at 4:59 am #

    I don’t believe in leaving children home alone in order to run errands etc. Parents should be sending the children to do the errands. That way our children can learn to navigate their community and operate independently… and we can sit down, put our feet up, and enjoy a cup of tea in peace and quiet :-)

  63. Michelle Potter December 10, 2011 at 5:29 am #

    Decemberbaby, LOL, wouldn’t that be nice! Unfortunately, I live in an area where the ONLY way to get around is by car. Everything is very spread out, there is no public transportation, there are no sidewalks, and we are surrounded by busy streets that no sane person would try to ride a bicycle down. (I grew up in a big city, and at 13 was riding my bike down “busy” city streets with no fear. Now I live in the suburbs where idiots drive 60mph on surface roads.)

    I have a feeling that we are not the only family stuck in the isolation of suburgatory. 😛

  64. Sister Wolf December 10, 2011 at 5:30 am #

    Even though no one has acknowledged my previous comment about working for Dear Abby (Jeanne Philips) I would still like to add this, for irony’s sake: When I asked her if I could change my hours, citing my concern about leaving my 11 year old autistic son alone at home….she said no! I actually have this documented somewhere.

  65. Michelle Potter December 10, 2011 at 5:33 am #

    Sister Wolf, I missed your first comment. Wow, way to practice what she preaches.

  66. backroadsem December 10, 2011 at 7:35 am #

    I too sent her a reply. If enough of us do this, she might have to come up with another answer!

  67. Cheryl W December 10, 2011 at 9:43 am #

    Sister Wolf,

    “Dear Abby, I am a working mom with a job that should be able to be done in a flexible way, as in, flexible hours, working from home, etc. I have a disabled son who combined with his age and disability, make it impossible for me to find child care for him for the hour after school that I need to be at work. I have asked my boss if I could please flex my hours, perhaps, coming in during lunch, or working that hour from home, and she told me that she could not allow me to do that because I am “expected” to be at work during certain times. How can I convince her that I will do just as good of a job (even better because I am not worrying about my son) if I change my schedule? I really need to have this help before someone calls CPS! Because of something that might happen while I am away? Giving up my job is not an option – I need the medical insurance for my son.”

    I am guessing that one would go in the trash bin, huh?

  68. Cheryl W December 10, 2011 at 9:53 am #

    Keisha, we kids sold extra vegetables from our garden. At dinner time we would leave a plastic bowl with a lid, and ask people to put their money in it as we were eating dinner. They always did, and never took our money. We kids learned some great people skills, as I am sure you did too!

    Next summer I am thinking of having my kids post duck and goose eggs on Craig’s list and handle it all. After all, we got the animals for their 4-H project. Good practice.

  69. Decemberbaby December 10, 2011 at 10:02 am #

    @Michelle potter – I love the term “suburgatory”!

  70. Sister Wolf December 10, 2011 at 10:30 am #

    Well, I may still have some of her stationary, with her picture on it. A letter on that might get her attention.

    But wait….she doesn’t even open her own letters! The assistants do that. And they choose the ones that might be “fun” for her to answer.

    So sorry to hear your situation. I feel your pain. xo

  71. Michelle Potter December 10, 2011 at 10:47 am #

    Decemberbaby, that’s a good one isn’t it? I wish I could say I thought it up, but I stole it from TV. 😉

  72. Claudia Conway December 10, 2011 at 5:02 pm #

    The other thing I think is that, if we’re talking ‘worst case scenarios’, how much help would YOU be anyway compared to an informed young person?

    If you don’t know CPR, a young child in the charge of an older one who doesn’t know it isn’t any safer than they are with you if that sort of threat comes up. Would you be any help in the case of, say, armed robbery?

    Do they know how to call the emergency services? Have you discussed with them routes out of the home in the event of fire? Are they old enough to know not to play with things that are potentially hazardous? etc

    Then they’re probably in no more danger than if you’re at home. A ‘terrible accident’ could happen if you’re in the next room, in theory, but nobody stays in the same room as their child at all times just in case of that (I hope not, anyway)

  73. Mo December 10, 2011 at 10:37 pm #

    What happens if you don’t let your kids stay alone? Well, your husband gets a pain so bad in the middle of the night he needs to go to the emergency room. You wake your 15 year old, tell her she needs to be in charge until you get back. She freaks out, says no, she’s too afraid. So you end up having to delay getting sick Dad to the hospital so you can bundle all four kids (youngest six) into the care and have them spend five hours in the emergency room. They would have been asleep the whole time had the teen had a scrap of sense in her head.

    Note: this story presented as a “oh, so horrible what happened to me last night.” No realization that it was a huge wake up call (pun intended) that she had been raising her kids wrong. That girl is going off to college in two or three years. Scary. Caught an episode of the new Supernanny show. Spent most of the time amazed at how much she looks like Michelle Obama, but I’m going to borrow her line about – “If you don’t teach your kids about the world, the world will teach them. And you probably won’t like what they learn.” It seems a good, non-judge mental way to point out the problem.

  74. avedon December 10, 2011 at 11:35 pm #

    Yeah, I had the same reaction a lot of you did – that, in spite of their flaws, Pauline and Eppie would have done a lot better with this one – and probably had some sharp words about someone who insisted that you can “never” leave a child alone.

  75. eb December 11, 2011 at 2:00 am #

    No, no, let’s teach kids that constant supervision is a permanent fact of live. How can we ever achieve the Republican goal of an an authoritarian, neo-fascistic society, without indoctrinating the kids from the youngest age to always be obedient to authority, and to never think for themselves?

    You free-range people like to pretend we’re living in a free society, but that is the opposite of what the powers-that-be want for us. That’s why the deploy the most powerful tool available, irrational fear, as their preferred technique for total societal control.

  76. sanctimonious purist December 11, 2011 at 6:15 am #

    In our city, you can stay alone at 8, watch another younger than 8 at 12. That’s reasonable. My 12 and 10 year old have been alone during the day for an hour or two at a time since the younger turned 8, and have stayed alone at night while we go out until 10 or 11 for the past year. Keep meaning to sign up for the babysitting class for the 12 year old. Will be sure to do it soon.

    She should have quoted some of the laws on the books and informed the writer to check their local laws. Then said something about indications of a child being mature enough to handle it even if they meet the minimum legal age, etc. The “you would never forgive yourself . . .” line is just stupid.

  77. Cheryl W December 11, 2011 at 7:45 am #

    A very sad, worst case scenario of what can happen when you take your kids WITH you happened locally the other day.

    The mom went to the bank with two kids, about 9 years old, at dusk. It sounded like one kid went with her, the other stayed in the car. When they got back to the car, a Suburban, the mom got in, heard the door slam where her daughter had been sitting, saw in the dark a kid sitting there, and she started to back up. Unfortunately, the other child had switched seats. The daughter opened the door, then closed it to go around to the other side. The mom ran over her own daughter, and about 5 hours later the daughter died at the hospital.

    Dear Abby my foot. Bad things can happen to good, well intentioned people every where at any time. This woman did what Dear Abby said and didn’t leave the kids home alone. And the unthinkable happened anyway. I am sure that this mother will never be able to forgive herself, just like Dear Abby said.

    What is the web page to go to so that I can post this story there for her to read?

  78. Michelle Potter December 11, 2011 at 9:38 am #

    Cheryl, go to

  79. News Nag December 11, 2011 at 10:58 am #

    OBVIOUSLY, KARI B. HAS NEVER SEEN “RISKY BUSINESS”. I REST MY CASE!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  80. sara December 11, 2011 at 11:03 pm #

    In some states, the legal age is 12. Prior to age 12, and you can be arrested for child endangeredment and you will lose your child if you leave your child home alone.

    That being said, there is statistical evidence that shows that most teens get into trouble during the hours after school when they are home alone.

  81. Donna December 11, 2011 at 11:55 pm #

    “there is statistical evidence that shows that most teens get into trouble during the hours after school when they are home alone.”

    There is absolutely no such statistical evidence. There is evidence that IF teens are going to get in trouble, the after school hours are the most common hours for them to do so. That is a VERY FAR cry from most teens getting into trouble when left home alone. In fact, most teens are pretty responsible and don’t get into much trouble at all (by trouble, I mean serious trouble and not just being a typical pain in the butt teenager).

  82. Paul December 12, 2011 at 12:39 am #

    One of the scariest things about the classic worst-first thinking is this: “you will never forgive yourself if ….”. It’s not even about the kids. The consequences we are trying to avoid is our own bad feelings. This kind of reasoning will of course be immune to your logical/statistical/child-developmental reasoning. The cost/benefit analysis you are applying your logic to is the kid. In this case the true equation is to avoid all possible guilt on the parent’s part at the cost of some extra hassle of watching the kid more closely. The cost/benefit to the child himself is totally irrelevant to this line or reasoning.

  83. Maggie December 12, 2011 at 2:17 am #

    About once a week we leave for 11.5 year old daughter and our 7.75 year old son alone for a few hours (the specific ages are intentional.)
    They know the rules and follow them. I’ve been a free-ranger since our girl was a baby, encouraging her to say hi to everyone she would meet. As a toddler she had lovely blond Shirley Temple curls (I’m not in the least biased), getting a lot of positive attention. I taught her to say “thank you” and look the person in the eye.

    Today she and her brother are confident little humans who adventurous, loving, and smart. They have brains and aren’t afraid to use them.

    I agree with Paul, the over protectiveness and fear-mongering is not about the child, it’s about the parents. Recently this 50 year old gal at work told us she got up at 4:30am to take her daughter’s boyfriend to the airport. The daughter is 20 and in college but still lives at home. Several of us asked her why the daughter didn’t take him. Well it’s because the girl gets lost coming home from school! How could she possible find her way to the airport and back!? She even has a GPS. This is about keeping the 20 year old at home and dependent on dear old mom. It’s weakening the weak.

    Personally, I’m not that selfish.

  84. Tracy December 12, 2011 at 6:23 am #

    @Sara: In my state, Indiana, there is no set age. The state published this rather sensible brochure to help parents determine when they are old enough.

    No one around here is in danger of losing their kids because they left their 11 year old at home while they went to pick up a gallon of milk!

  85. Jespren December 12, 2011 at 9:56 am #

    Wow guys, usually I’m right with the normal crowd here but.. gee, everyone’s talking about leaving a 9 or 10 year old home alone ‘for the first time’ or for ’15 or 30 min’. Really? The first time I was left home alone for ’15 or 30 min’ was about 5, and my then 3 year old brother was with me. By the time we were 7 and 9 we were staying home overnight by ourselves, our nearest neighbor was a 70+ widow 1/2 mile away. Town and any friends of the family that could have been called for help where 5 miles away. We were expected to cook dinner, breaskfast, lunch, feed the animals, keep the fire burning, you know, like kids that are have been doing for thousands of years. I’ve got a 3 1/2 year old, and I’m already thinking, hmm, ‘nother 6 or 12 months and I’ll be able to just bundle the toddler into the car and go grab milk/eggs without worrying about dragging him along. Good heavens by 6 or 7 (depending upon where the store is obviously) he can go walk the couple blocks to the store (like I did at that age) and get the milk for me!
    I did my first overnight (2 nights in fact) babysitting gig (with an infant, 4 year old and 6 year old) when I was 12. The parents were incomunicado in the woods, my parents were a good 25 minutes away.
    6 year olds go hunting in rain forests with machetes, the only reason why a 6 year old can’t stay home alone for a few hours is if you’re worried about some moron calling DHS on you. Which is the only realistic thing that would happen to a well parented child over the age of 5ish left alone for an afternoon.

  86. pentamom December 13, 2011 at 12:19 am #

    I really, really, really want to believe that New Nag is spoofing and doesn’t really believe that 1980’s movies marketed to the lowest entertainment tastes of teenagers are a source for understanding reality.

    And it’s quite possible. But it’s also unfortunately true that there are real people who think that way. So I can’t be sure.

  87. pentamom December 13, 2011 at 1:12 am #

    Jespren, I don’t think it’s so much that we’re not “with” you in spirit, but most of us have been conditioned to think differently, and haven’t managed to entirely reframe it, even if we’d agree with you in theory.

    Besides the fear of interference if we leave our kids alone “too young” by someone else’s standards, there’s just the uncertainty of whether it’s a good idea, largely due to lack of experience or example of others doing it. We might not even consciously believe that it would be “wrong,” but having an idea in our heads about what’s theoretically okay, and doing it with our kids, aren’t always the same.

    The reality is that after a generation or two of the idea that kids under 14 aren’t “safe” at home, it requires something of a social change for it to become more widespread, even if there are a lot of people who wouldn’t actually resist it. And social change takes time.

    Frankly, I also think it has something to do with the breakdown in disciplining kids in many families. (By disciplining, I don’t refer strictly to punishment, but teaching them to follow your standards consistently, so that you can rely on them to do it.) For all the kids who are mentally and physically “capable” of doing all the things you say, there are a lot of families from whom I hear, “I just couldn’t trust them not to get into trouble for that amount of time.” Not serious trouble, maybe, but the kind of trouble that’s a hassle to deal with and more trouble than just being there all the time and rearranging your schedule to permit it.

    These people aren’t raising terrible kids, but I think there’s an issue with lowered expectations of kids in the last couple of generations, not just in what they’re capable of, but what they can be relied on to do consistently and appropriately. And that’s reflected in the lack of attempt or lack of ability to empower them to be trustworthy.

  88. KarenW December 13, 2011 at 3:02 am #

    “…the only reason why a 6 year old can’t stay home alone for a few hours is if you’re worried about some moron calling DHS on you.” Unfortunately, that’s not a possibility, but a certainty. Jesperson, I agree with you that some 6 year olds may be capable of being home alone for a few hours. But we are dealing with a society that believes that 6 year olds are not capable of walking a couple blocks home from school, or playing in the park down the street unsupervised, or using a public restroom alone.

  89. FrancesfromCanada December 13, 2011 at 1:58 pm #

    @KarenW: “not a possibility, but a certainty” of someone calling DHS if you leave a 6 year old alone for a few hours?

    Strikes me that’s as good an example of worst-first thinking as any.

  90. DH December 13, 2011 at 11:38 pm #

    @Jespren: the situation you should be worried about is that your kid is going to be told at preschool or kindergarten that he’s not allowed to stay at home alone and thus become convinced that is the way of the world. Oh, and told that if mommy does something like this, you should tell another adult like a teacher (who is a mandated reporter).

    This is why I now cannot run something to my neighbor across the street without my 5-year-old tagging along with me.

  91. Jespren December 14, 2011 at 12:01 am #

    @ DH, and yet *another* reason to keep kids out of preschools/public schools! (Although I feel for you if the damage is done). In order for some moron to call DHS, some moron must be aware of the situation to begin with. While not even one of the top ten reasons my kids will never be in public school, it certainly is one good reason to avoid those cesspools. My only real problem is I currently live close to my mother-in-law, who was an extreme paranoid helecopter parent back in the 80’s before it became popular, and is actually niave enough to believe that DHS exists to ‘help’ families and kids. So I have to be very careful about which of my parenting norms she is aware of because she would totally call DHS with the mistaken belief they would provide us with ‘proper training’ to be able to ‘parent appropriately’ and that then everything would be good. I’m very much looking forward to moving away before my kids are old enough to do more than toddle around. The other day she gave my husband a huge lecture and then called me all concerned because my kids were waving at her from our 3rd story (screened) window because, didn’t I know, my 3 year old could jump out of the window and that fall would kill him. I patiently explained to her that he knows not to press on the screen and isn’t going to jump out of the window. Her response? He could trip and fall through. It is physically impossible, given the relative heights of the kid and window, for him to ‘trip’ and fall through the window. *sigh* she also became “very concerned” when I left my then 10 month old upstairs *still strapped in her carseat* to go back down to carry up groceries. Because, you know, the car seat, with it’s arm locked in place behind it, could magically flip over and somehow land in such a way as to smother the helpless (sleeping) baby in the 70 seconds it took for me to grab groceries and get back upstairs.
    End rant.
    Sorry ’bout that.

  92. DH December 14, 2011 at 12:19 am #

    @Jespren: my child is not in a public school. Private schools, in some ways, have even more issues about encouraging overprotectiveness and liability concerns.

  93. mollie December 14, 2011 at 3:26 am #

    I think my kids work harder to be safe when I am NOT around. This is my argument with the logic people use about traffic and not letting their kids walk to school because they don’t think they can cross the street safely… because whenever they are WITH their kids, their kids don’t seem to notice the traffic, and “my gosh, if I weren’t here, what would have happened??”

    Well, dear parent, if you weren’t there, your kid wouldn’t be delegating all of the common sense and awareness of the environment to you. When I ride a bus, I don’t scan the road for possible hazards the way I would if I were DRIVING the bus. I’m assuming the driver is looking out for hazards, and if a kid is waiting on a corner with you, they’re figuring YOU know when to cross safely, so they don’t have to worry about it.

    When your kid is home alone, they’re on high alert. They’re driving the bus. They are more aware of their surroundings, more likely to take care of things in a conscientious way, more likely to incorporate common sense at an earlier age than those constantly supervised by adults.

    I’m sure research would bear this out but back in the day, nobody even questioned logic like this. Sheesh.

  94. KD December 14, 2011 at 10:56 am #

    Given that I work with children in foster care, one of my biggest concerns is that “someone” will decide that my parenting is not okay and make a call to DSHS. I am not a social worker, but I have seen the best and worst from social workers in my area including complaints that a mother was unable to get all THREE of her todders into their carseats at the same time and leaving two in the carport while she buckled one and then continuing the process showed “a lack of regard to safety and an inability to parent” (the judge was not impressed with this statement). So, I am concerned over this. Just this year my 4th grader has been questioned by the teacher about our religion, the books she reads at home, the movies she watches and I recently got an email from another parent concerned that she saw my daughter “wandering the neighborhood” (she was riding bikes with her friends and this parent doesn’t live in our very free-range neighborhood). The issues with the teacher I am dealing with, the parent I chose to simply ignore. No time for busy-bodies in my life.
    When it comes to being home alone, I have two teenagers who are usually home when I need to go somewhere kid-free, but I have left the younger two for short periods as well which will be increasing over the next year or so. Although I am concerned with DSHS, I also can’t use that fear to stifle the children’s growth.

  95. Amy December 15, 2011 at 12:12 pm #

    I think it should be up to the parents when to let children stay alone. You can always help make it safer by knowing your neighbors. When it is time for my childrens to stay alone they will know which neighbors they can ask for help – and the first few times I will let the neighbors know too.


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