Letting a Child Stay Home Alone, But Haunted by “What If?”s

Hi yansbskryb
Readers! Sometimes I hear from Free-Range parents who feel alone and judged when they let their kids rise to some occasion. Here’s just such a mom in Australia. To her and everyone else trying to buck our fear-everyone/everything/all-the-time culture, I say: We are with you and support you! – L.

Dear Free-Range Kids:  I recently started to allow my 7-year-old to walk home from school on her own. I make sure I get home from work by the time she is home. But last week I also allowed her to walk home to an empty house and wait for me to come home — about 30-40 mins later — instead of being bored at After School Care.

When she called me when she got home, she told me that the neighbour across the road had offered to take her with to her granddaughter’s horse riding lesson. I had to call the neighbour to talk her out of it — my daughter would have had to sit on a bench for 1.5 hrs! — and to assure her that my daughter was safe at home and that I would not have allowed her to stay home alone if I didn’t trust her.

So far I have not had ONE person that I have told about this agree with me when I explain why I did this. All of them treat me like I am irresponsible, negligent or even stupid. The latter launch into a list of “what-ifs,” as if I had not at all considered any risks before I made this decision. Child abductors, traffic, unruly teenagers, emergencies at home, “What if the dog runs out”…

To those who will listen I try to explain that I have done a risk/benefit analysis of all of those things and am doing this because I think it is the best thing to do for my child’s development. But I feel so alone in this right now. On a very selfish level, I DO think: “What if my child is the one in a million that gets abducted? Then all those people will say, ‘Told you so!’ and make life even more unbearable.”

Thank goodness for this website. I told someone today that I am NOT alone in this, and that there is a whole movement of “nutcase parents” like me out there and that I hope that they will get heard and gain popularity. – Aussie Mom

Let’s hear it for the nutcase network! – Lenore

120 Responses to Letting a Child Stay Home Alone, But Haunted by “What If?”s

  1. Lynda M O March 19, 2012 at 1:34 pm #

    You are the authority on your child and your home life situation. We were, too, and our kids were responsible early; earned our respect and are quite well-functioning adults. Go with what You Know, not what others fear.

  2. Anthony Hernandez March 19, 2012 at 1:53 pm #

    My son has been walking home from school since he was 8, with stops at the playground, local shops, friends’ houses, etc. etc. all by himself with no problems whatsoever. He crosses streets, walks or rides his bike, carries and spends money, and more, all on his own.

    Neighbors, store owners, and more have come to know him along the routes he frequents, and they frequently stop me to relate anecdotes about what a mature, kind, courteous, confident, independent, and just plain happy guy he is. The most gratifying comments I get is from parents telling me how well he plays with their kids (older, his age, or younger) and looks out for them.

    He is perfectly fine being home by himself from time to time. My recommendations here are to teach them what to do in an emergency. Make sure they know all available escape routes. Have them work the fire escapes and climb out windows from time to time. Teach them how to use a fire extinguisher. Maybe a little basic first aid. What to do if 9-1-1 fails. Refresh the training from time to time. The odds of something happening are very low, and a little bit of training will ensure that they handle any such event with just as much aplomb as they handle normal living.

    Then sit back, relax, and take deep soul-warming pride that you are doing exactly what nature intended: teaching the young how to become fully independent adults!

  3. Karen (@SometimesKaren) March 19, 2012 at 2:27 pm #

    I’m also an Australian mum and I think you’re doing a great job! There are some parents at my kids’ school who have a similar setup for their children and everything is fine. And there are some mums who ‘tut tut’ about it quietly but on the whole our school community is fairly open to kids being independent. Hope things look up for you soon!

  4. Kenny Felder March 19, 2012 at 5:27 pm #

    Every such conversation is an opportunity to educate. Tell them about this blog, or better yet, buy them a copy of Lenore’s book. Remind them of their own childhoods. Tell them that the world is safer now than it was then. I’ve seen some evidence that a lot of parents secretly want to be Free Range, but they’re afraid to be the first; you may be the permission they need!

  5. Bec Stewart March 19, 2012 at 6:45 pm #

    I live in Melbourne, Australia, and I hope my kids will be walking home by themselves at this age. If we all let our kids walk home, it will become the new normal!

  6. Chris Moewes March 19, 2012 at 7:51 pm #

    How can a generation of kids, many of whom were probably latch-key kids (like me, I walked home from school, let myself in and entertained myself until my parents came home) all become such raving neurotic lunatics scared of their own shadows.

  7. Lauren March 19, 2012 at 7:58 pm #

    I appreciate this so much.

  8. tdr March 19, 2012 at 8:38 pm #

    My son is almost 8. One or two days a week he comes home to an empty house. He loves doing it! I have also let him stay home alone all day on occasion. I’m not crazy about doing that mainly because he just sits in front of the computer all day and I worry about his brain rotting. And now that he knows he can stay home alone, he never wants to come with me when I run errands (yay!).

    Being able to leave your kid home alone is truly liberating.

  9. Taradlion March 19, 2012 at 8:41 pm #

    My son is 7 (almost 8). For the last few weeks, he walks from our building to the basketball court playground on our block in NYC. He stays if his neighborhood friends are there, if not he comes back. I know he’s there. Our doorman knows he’s there. Kids I have met many times in the neighborhood are there (the same kids who brought his jacket to our lobby when he forgot it one day). The first day he was going to stay himself he said, “If the police come by, should I tell them I’m 10, so you don’t get in trouble”…. it is amazing what gets ingrained in our kids even when it is not what we, as their parents, are teaching them. So, in addition to having had multiple conversations about not leaving the park area, not getting in cars or going off with adults, etc, I had to have a conversation about the fact that it is OKAY and not “illegal” for him to be at the park. To tell him that I didn’t think anyone would ask, but that if they did, to say, “my mom knows I’m here”….guess I need to print a FRK card, just so HE doesn’t worry about it.

  10. K March 19, 2012 at 8:53 pm #

    Every child is different. Our oldest started having time alone at home when he was seven. Our youngest (at six) is nearly ready. Our middle child may need to be thirty before I trust him at home alone for more than a few minutes.

    Our oldest makes good choices and has his head on straight (at least in that way). He is trustworthy and cautious. Our youngest is less cautious, but (on his own) makes good decisions. The middle guy, well, finds stuff to do if he isn’t directed. Some of his choices are outrageously bad. I think he’d be ok, but I am not sure that the house would survive him.

    Our oldest and youngest feel empowered by being trusted. The middle guy prefers to have the attention.

    Let your knowledge of your own child guide what you think is appropriate.

  11. Susan March 19, 2012 at 9:26 pm #

    My daughter is 10 and is home alone every day after school and even that is seen as crazy around here.

  12. Gabo March 19, 2012 at 10:03 pm #

    I walked home from school to an empty house five days a week when I was 7.

    My boy doesn’t go to school, so there’s no walking home, but I let him go out and play in the neighborhood without close supervision and I let him stay at home by himself while I run errands if he wants to.

    It’s good to be objective about things: the number one danger to your child is cars. Make super sure he’s more than careful crossing the street. Danger being alone in the house? Not really unless he’s one of those kids who’s always setting things on fire.

  13. oncefallendotcom March 19, 2012 at 10:03 pm #

    What if you accidentally left you kid alone on Christmas week while flying your family to France? And what if that child realized that two bumbling burglars were planning on stealing stuff? And what if you did the same thing next year only you accidentally sent him on a plane to New York City? And what if those same two bumbling burglars found your kid wandering around Central Park alone?

  14. Craze March 19, 2012 at 10:12 pm #

    All of these “What if’s” that people talk about make me laugh. What if your child walks outside and gets hit by a car? What if they choke on their lunch and no one gives the the Heimlich in time? What if your crazy Great-Aunt Evangeline decided to make extra money by selling children to people who can’t have kids and figured ‘Hey, may as well start with family’? If we live out lives by “what if”, we’ll never leave out houses, or even leave our beds half the time.

  15. mama2cd March 19, 2012 at 10:21 pm #

    @Chris Moewes – I ask myself that question on a daily basis! How did a generation of kids who played outside by themselves, stayed home by themselves and came up with their own play ideas become a generation of parents who won’t let their kids outside to play, won’t leave them alone and feels that they need to schedule every moment of their child’s time? Then we complain that things aren’t like they were when we were kids. Crazy!

  16. Anna March 19, 2012 at 10:32 pm #

    I’ve started letting our 7 and 9 year old walk home alone after school twice a week because they were complaining about going to after school care every single time. They love it and I’m confident that they’re fine.

    It’s other people’s opinions that bother me – even if no-one said they approved or disapproved, I’m worried about what they’ll say. Which would probably only be that they think they are quite young, I don’t even think they would really disapprove (I live in France by the way). But apparently when they announced it to their teachers, one apparently was neutral and the other one very positive. It’s probably all in my head…

    They’ve been doing it for one week only and it’s truly liberating as I read in some of the other comments: no more rushing to get to after school care in time, depending on whether or not trains are on time, no more walking the streets in the dark with two kids at 7 PM (that’s only one night, the other night my husband’s home at 5.30 PM, school’s out at 4.30 PM).

    I definitely want to raise my kids free range, but everyone else’s fear is hard to shake off…

  17. BMS March 19, 2012 at 10:36 pm #

    The other night my husband and I had to go to an extremely boring, but necessary, meeting at the kids’ school. Because I can trust my 11 and 10 year olds to be fine for an hour or hour and a half (due to early training in safety, first aid, and getting help if needed) we:

    -Were able to go together so we both got the important information. In a two working parent family who does a lot of tag teaming, this is crucial.
    -Did not have to pay $10-$15 an hour for a babysitter which meant
    -We did not have to actually scramble for 2 hours to clean up the house
    -We could walk, rather than drive, because we didn’t have to rush home to relieve an expensive sitter.
    We got 15 minutes each way of walking, holding hands, in the moonlight.

    We got home, and not only were the kids still alive but they were playing duets on their violin and viola, after having finished their homework. Where’s the downside?

  18. MHM March 19, 2012 at 10:45 pm #

    It’s all about trusting that you’ve parented your child well. I stayed home by myself at that age…for longer periods of time. At times I had my older brother and sister home at other times I did not. We had rules to follow for our safety. Like not to tell anyone we were home alone and to not let anyone in the house. we had emergency numbers and knew friends that had parents that were home that we could go to if we felt we needed an adult.

    I hope to provide my kids with these opportunity to grow up. Spending time alone allows you to feel confident in handling your life. You are doing the right thing. My only comment would be if you feel she is ready for it, then go for it. Cause all children develop at their own pace.

  19. Sherri March 19, 2012 at 10:50 pm #

    I was in a conversation on facebook. A freind of a friend posted “My ex-husband left my 6 year old home alone with my 10 year old for 30-40 minutes while he went to the bank, and when I reported him to CFS they did nothing about it!” Everyone in the conversation was shocked that her ex-husband was so irresponsible, and that CFS wasn’t protecting the children, etc. I pointed out the fact that a 6 year old and a 10 year wouldn’t be in any danger home alone for half an hour, and that the kids were probably more at risk in the car (accident) or the bank (robbery) but no one else saw the logic of my arguement.

  20. Mistfish March 19, 2012 at 10:54 pm #

    There are ALWAYS “what if’s…” in every aspect of our lives. If we live by this philosophy then none of us will ever let our children leave our house (or what if the house catches fire, then we will have to leave the house – see the cycle?). “What if’s” will make us all crazy. I was a latch key kid ~ the youngest of 3 and it was what our family had to do because both of my parents worked. If you trust your child and feel that you have done a very good job of assessing the risk, then it is YOUR decision on how to handle leaving your child home alone. It is disturbing how many parents shelter their children to the point of harming their independence. Don’t even get me started about the parents in the drop-off line at our elementary school. Apparently some children can not open a car door, take off their seat belt, or even take their backpacks out of the car on their own. Again, these parents are doing what they think is right but I truly wish they would see that teaching our children to be independent and confident IS GOOD PARENTING!

  21. Kiesha March 19, 2012 at 10:57 pm #

    You aren’t purposely hurting your child/ren and who knows better about what OUR children are prepared for than those who actually PREPARED them? II lived in fear of “what ifs” for the longest…screw that. My children are 7,11,12 and 17…great heads on their shoulders and they know the rules…DO WHAT WORKS FOR YOU AND YOUR FAMILY…we do!! P.S. LOL at some of the comments on here,especially the one about “Home Alone”…and also us being latch key kids turning into neurotic lunatics-HAHAHAH!

  22. AnotherAnon March 19, 2012 at 11:01 pm #

    My mom used to leave me alone at that age for that length of time, to go to the grocery store or whatever. The world hasn’t changed that much since 1983.

  23. Leah March 19, 2012 at 11:04 pm #

    Be careful who knows you leave your daughter ALONE. According to DCF in massachusetts your child has to be 12 in order to be left alone. My 7 year old was home alone for litterally 5 minutes, dropped off by her school bus at my front door, when 2 detectives 6 police officers and a DCF social worker arrived to charge me with neglect. Dispite the fact that i had talked to daughter on the phone and told her not to answer the door and that i was on my way home, i was still charged neglect and have lost custody of my kids over this.

  24. Steve March 19, 2012 at 11:04 pm #

    I’m all for leaving the kids alone for short, but increasing periods of time. I leave my daughter when I run a few miles. I think she’s kind of proud of the level of trust and accomplishment this represents.

    I would like to allow her to walk home from school, but the only viable route is along the shoulder of a too busy highway. I mention this because we all should be making risk analyses and consciously deciding the acceptable cost/benefit rather than ruling out even the smallest risk.

  25. Paige Roper Norman March 19, 2012 at 11:12 pm #

    In our state, it’s “illegal” to leave a child under age 10 alone without (adult) supervision. It’s a stupid law, but then we also have stupid people who think it’s okay to leave the baby at home all night long while they work or go to the casino.

    If you trust your 7 year old at home, then good for you! However, don’t be surprised if your friends, family and neighbors don’t agree with your decisions.

  26. BMS March 19, 2012 at 11:25 pm #

    Not one to doubt, but according to http://www.latchkey-kids.com/latchkey-kids-age-limits.htm there is no legal age limit for leaving kids home alone in Massachusetts. Since I live there, I checked.

  27. Sonja March 19, 2012 at 11:32 pm #

    One of the beautiful thing about this to me is that you are able to let your daughter do this, not just based on your trust in her, but it is obvious that you trust all of those nay-sayers that she has to bass by to get home! What a wonderful community that even those who don’t agree with you still support you in what you are doing.

  28. Heila March 19, 2012 at 11:47 pm #

    I think it’s awesome to leave kids at home when you feel they have the maturity to be able to handle it. My daughter is 9 and we’ve been leaving her for up to 30 minutes and she loved it. Unfortunately there is a crime wave in our area and we’ve been burgled twice in a month. Luckily we weren’t home at the time, but a friend’s neighbour had an attempted break-in on a Saturday afternoon when half the neighbourhood was clearly at home. I cannot run the risk of my daughter being a soft target because a criminal sees me leaving and knows that she is in the house and therefore the alarm system isn’t armed. This leaves me feeling angry and frustrated but it’s the price I pay for choosing to live in beautiful Cape Town.

  29. Emily March 19, 2012 at 11:53 pm #

    I’m from Ontario, Canada, and my parents told me that the minimum age to stay home alone was 12, but maybe it’s 10 to stay home alone, and 12 to watch siblings. Anyway, I wasn’t allowed to be home alone until I was 12, and I hated it–I knew I was ready long before that.

  30. Emily March 19, 2012 at 11:55 pm #

    P.S., I also took a Home Alone course in grade six, as preparation. We learned things like simple first aid, calling 9-11, and, for some reason, we also learned how to make Kraft Dinner.

  31. SusanH March 19, 2012 at 11:57 pm #

    @BMS: thanks for that chart. Interesting, and helpful. I can’t believe Illinois though…14?! Our babysitter started watching my kids when she was still only 11. I can’t believe it’s illegal to leave a 13 year old alone for a few minutes in Illinois.

  32. Heather G March 20, 2012 at 12:01 am #

    You know your child’s ability and maturity. You know the risks. You made a parental decision based on YOUR situation. Sounds like the job of a parent to me. I was a latchkey kid and it was a great experience to develop time management skills (homework and chores were to be done before my grandmother got home or I couldn’t play outside) as well as independence.

  33. justanotherjen March 20, 2012 at 12:06 am #

    My kids are almost 12, 10, 9, 6 (in a couple weeks) and 1 1/2. Since we moved here in 2010 (a month after the youngest was born) we started leaving the older kids home alone…just a little bit at a time.

    Now I don’t even think twice about it. The older 3 can stay absolutely on their own. The 6yo can stay if at least one of the older kids is with her. It used to be if the 6yo was with them we’d keep our trips out of the house to under an hour but now we just come and go as needed.

    They often come home to an empty house because me and my husband no longer rush to get home before they do. The oldest gets home around 3pm, the younger kids get home at 4pm except on Wednesdays when they get home at 1pm. I leave a note telling them when we expect to be home and to do their homework, clean up and no one in the house. We usually come home to a destroyed house and kids sitting in front of the TV (homework unfinished, lol). But so far no injuries…except the time the desk chair broke. With my 10yo son in it. They called to say he fell and hit his head. I asked if he was all right, they said yes but the chair was broke. That was the end of it.

    It is extremely nice to not have to drag 5 kids everywhere I go. I’m hoping in a couple years to start leaving the youngest with them. They could technically handle watching him for 15-30 minutes right now but he can be a handful (typical toddler). They often take him for walks to the local playground and watch him while I nap or take a shower. They’ve been changing diapers and taking care of him since he was 5 months old.

    Luckily this is all pretty common in our neighborhood. No one bats an eye at groups of kids (or just a kid by himself) wandering around, going to stores, being home alone, sitting in cars by themselves. You see them every where.

  34. Heather G March 20, 2012 at 12:07 am #

    Thanks for that chart, good to see Florida lets parents decide. Hopefully they keep it that way.

  35. BMS March 20, 2012 at 12:08 am #

    @ SusanH: I grew up in Chicago, and routinely watched my 6 years younger sister starting at age 9. I guess someone should retroactively call CPS on my folks…

  36. mollie March 20, 2012 at 12:10 am #

    First of all, hooray for mom from Australia who is facing her fears of derision by others, and giving her child the gift of competence and growth (and space!).

    As for the hysteria in these parents, after watching Lenore’s TV show, there seem to be two types, or maybe just one type with two faces: the sort of parents who are absolutely convinced that their child WILL come to harm and that “even a one in a million chance is too high because I love my kids too much to take any risk at all.” Not sure what these folks would have been like 30 years ago, when that kind of talk was pretty much nonexistent in the parenting circles of middle-class suburbia, but we all know that people have kind of gone off the deep end, being manipulated by the for-profiteers who sell “safety” products and the whole sensationalist journalism and made-for-TV drama shows.

    Then there’s this type, for whom media cannot be blamed: the “über Mom.” This gal has her ego all tied up in her kids. The only meaning and purpose in her life is to “do” for them: cut their meat, brush their teeth, accompany them everywhere, protect them from any discomfort or inconvenience whatsoever because “that’s what moms do” and her response to the parent above who said something about “leaving your kids at home is so liberating” would be one of complete derision. “Ãœber Mom” would wag her finger and say, “Tsk! You shouldn’t have ever had children if you felt you needed to be ‘liberated’ from them! Bad Mommy! I don’t feel that way at all. My kids need me, and I love always being there for them, unlike you, lazy and despicable Mommy, who is too busy having a nap or watching your soaps or having an adult conversation with a grown-up friend over coffee to CARE about whether your children LIVE or DIE…”

    This second type was around in the 1940s, from what my grandmother told me. She said the pattern was women who focused entirely on their children, to the detriment of their marriages, and when the kids left home, they were totally bereft of any sense of connection with their husbands or purpose in life. Now, I don’t think these women necessarily accompanied their 11-year-olds to school half a mile away every morning, or cut up their meat when they were 12, or took them into the ladies’ room with them when they were 13. No, back then, moms like this just found little ways to revolve around their kids… after all, making yourself “indispensable” doesn’t have to mean joined at the hip; anyone skilled at manipulation of others in order to try to fulfill a sense of self-worth and belonging can explain it to you.

    If you had kids so someone would love you, always, unconditionally, well, then, yikes.

    And a strategy of constant supervision and “indispensability” will get you the opposite of eternal, unconditional love: the “love” will be quite conditional, fear-based, in fact— and most likely will be wrenched away quite suddenly once the kid is old enough to see what your game is, so you won’t be having much of a sense of connection later on after all.

    On the TV show, these moms start to realize that they are actually alienating themselves from the children they so wish to remain close to; that, and the fact that constant worry and supervision is driving them to the point of collapse (or divorce) also means that they must find a new way.

    All this to simply say everyone can have their own path through this raising kids thing. I want this Aussie mom and all of us who make considered and loving choices about giving our kids some space and room to grow up to be seen as we are: devoted, responsible parents! How I long for a sense of autonomy and respect as I raise my kids!!!!

  37. Heila March 20, 2012 at 12:16 am #

    One of the benefits of living in South Africa is that we have nowhere near the hysterical level of legislation and rules to avoid litigation that you guys have in the States. I’m regularly flabbergasted at the stuff that turns up on this blog.

  38. Uly March 20, 2012 at 12:24 am #

    Just because there’s no law in Massachusetts does not mean that cops and child services are above making laws up to suit them.

  39. Teri March 20, 2012 at 12:30 am #

    So true, Sherri. Some people are just quick to call DCS/DHS/CFS/DCF or whatever it is called in their area – just to try to get the other parent in trouble. Those are usually the ones who question or worry about their own parenting skills. Always having to put down the other parent in order to make themselves feel adequate. Unfortunately, I have first hand experience with the type that likes to call in backup forces.

  40. Teri March 20, 2012 at 12:50 am #

    Leah – DCF doesn’t show up with police officers unless they have a warrant to search the premises or an order to remove the kids (it takes more than 5 minutes to get a warrant). They have to already have some type of proof that a crime has been committed in order to get a judge to sign off on the warrant. DCF doesn’t just lay in wait to snatch kids because they are off the school bus for 5 minutes and mom is running a few minutes late.

    Some kids are more mature and can be trusted more at age 7 than others can at age 14. It’s silly for any state to set an age and it really should be at the parent’s judgement. Unfortunately, a lot of parents these days don’t use good judgement and we end up with silly guidelines and laws.

  41. Brenda March 20, 2012 at 1:00 am #

    You are not alone. This last year I started to have my son walk home by himself. I’ve also allowed him to start walking to and from the mini mart and his friends houses so long as he followed the route we discussed and called in a timely manner. I am the only mother in the neighborhood to allow that much freedom – and if my child runs late and I’m out looking for him I look like a crazy lady – ( it just happened the other day because he found a caterpillar ). I applaud your decision, I know it’s not easy to be the nut job mom on the block…

  42. Suzanne March 20, 2012 at 1:18 am #

    I just scanned through the other comments and I have to say I agree with 2 points whole heartedly. Be careful who you tell you leave her home alone, not because it’s wrong but because it isn’t anyone’s business. You have to listen to less criticism if you keep your decision to yourself. Second, find out what the law is in your area. In Fort Wayne “9 is old enough to babysit” I have been told this by both the police and CPS (long story.) Here one can leave a child home alone when it’s reasonable that they are capable of it. Actually IN has a pamphlet that if you ignore the oh so scary stats on the first page actually has good information in the rest of it to assess whether your child is mature enough to be home alone. I leave my older 2 home alone fairly regularly and noticed there are a couple of things I should probably talk to them about. One thing I don’t like but maybe it’s just the wording – if you smell smoke or the alarm goes off call 911 and then go outside, I’d rather my kids just go outside. If they happen to pass the phone on the way out grab it but call from outside the house. Here’s the link – http://www.in.gov/dcs/files/Home_Alone_Brochure.pdf

    Almost forgot why I starting this post – 7 is the same age my daughter was when I started leaving her home so you’re not the only one to start that young.

  43. Neil M March 20, 2012 at 1:23 am #

    I’m not a parent, but I find something confusing. If this mom and her daughter were involved in an auto accident no one would ever suggest she should never again allow her child in a car. And it’s certainly far more likely that any child will be harmed as a result of an auto accident than at the hands of a sexual predator. It’s about perceived risk. Many people perceive that sexual predators are a greater menace to children than auto accidents, but because the former is a more dramatic threat it is taken more seriously than the more frequent threat. I don’t get it.

  44. Spazztastic March 20, 2012 at 1:26 am #

    Honestly, walking home alone at seven I’m OK with. Leaving him home alone for more than a few minutes, no, I think seven is too young.

    Maybe at nine.

    But then, I’ve got a friend who doesn’t let her 13 year old daughter use the toaster, because she might get burned.

  45. Danielle F March 20, 2012 at 1:40 am #

    In response to “what if the dog gets out…” The same thing that happened when my three yr old let her out when I was sitting on the couch nursing my newborn… she’ll come back eventually, and I’ll deal with it then…

  46. Tonya March 20, 2012 at 1:42 am #

    Our county guidelines tell us 8. I followed them and was even criticized for letting my then 8 year old twins stay home alone during daylight hours for no more than 1.5 hours. They are 12 and it is a regular thing for them now. I will even have them sit their 7 yo sister. I get critics for that.

    I really don’t care but I will follow the guidelines of the county to avoid unwanted visits from them.

  47. Amy O March 20, 2012 at 1:42 am #

    I’m having the same issues with my family. They are “what if”-ing me crazy! Just last week, I was at my aunt’s house, where my 2 year old was running around on the lawn while my aunt and I chatted on the steps. My uncle made a comment that if he was watching her (instead of me), he would be running with her because he’d never forgive himself if she darted into the street. One car drove by in the entire hour we were outside, and my daughter always turns around when we tell her to. He knows this.

    This example is just one of a hundred I could tell. Can’t wait until I tell them I’m going to teach her how to use a knife when we eat starting next week!

  48. Donna March 20, 2012 at 2:02 am #

    You can’t rely on a lack of law. Few areas have published guidelines as to when it’s okay to leave a child home alone. The reason for that is simple. Children mature at different levels. Some kids can be safely left alone at 7. As the Darwin Awards prove, some people are better off never left unsupervised. If the State sets a certain age, some people will take that as a license to leave any child of that age home alone, even if not ready. And there would be little CPS or the law could do about it. In areas where you see a very high set age, my guess is that people pushed for a set age and that is what they got. You have to err on the high side – the age in which most kids are certainly able to take care of themselves – to cover for parental stupidity if you are going to legislate a specific age.

    I guarantee you that every CPS agency has a specific age under which it considers it negligent to leave a child at home alone. That age is simply not publicized anywhere.

  49. Rachel March 20, 2012 at 2:03 am #

    I have two kids, 9 & 12, that come home from school on the bus, walk home (slowly) with their friends and stay at home alone until I come home from work. I started allowing this when they were 7 & 9 occasionally for 20-30 at a time. Now, I don’t even think about it. The 12 yr old is home first and she calls me to let me know she made it home. But if she stays late for an after school activity, then the 9 yr old comes home alone. I trust them to eat a snack and start on their homework without burning down the house. I know they feel a sense of pride and accomplishment with the freedom and trust they’ve been given.

    Based on other comments and the articles on this site, it seems we live in a somewhat unusual neighborhood. It makes me wonder what role class and wealth play in these discussions. We live in a solidly middle-class neighborhood. The houses are small and fairly close together. Not everyone is expected to go on to college. There are occasionally outbreaks of petty crime and theft. Our neighbors are not spending their time shuttling their kids to and from lessons or activities – they’re working!

    Groups of kids run free after school and on the weekends, playing on their bikes, skate boards and scooters (sometimes without helmets!!!) They walk a few blocks to our local park, buy ice cream at the corner deli and come home full of stories and tired out! It seems more like a time warp where all the kids are shoved outside and told not to come home until dark 🙂

  50. Kara March 20, 2012 at 2:17 am #

    I started leaving my kids home alone when they were about four. Yes, four. We live in a city of 4+ million, in Russia, where the crime rate is higher than most of the developed world.

    When I leave a young one alone, I always turned on a video (a treat in our house) and then they beg to be left home alone whenever possible. But I keep it as an exception for when it’s really necessary. My youngest is now 5, Our precautions are that if there is a fire, I leave the door unlocked, so she can get out, knock on all the neighbors’ doors and go down the stairs out the building.

    My 10 and 7 year olds love staying home alone. They become super responsible, get their homework done quickly to ‘surprise’ me. My only restriction is that I don’t leave for more than an hour, and I don’t drive while I’m out, unless my husband is due home soon. My ‘what if’ has to do with getting in a car accident, and not coming home. But after thinking of that, I’ve made sure my older kids know who they should call if I don’t come home.

    I thought it would scare them to talk about what to do in emergencies, but they actually love it. And they love feeling responsible. And I LOVE being able to run to the store, the clinic, or even for a walk by myself!

    And they play outside often by themselves, and my 10 year old has been walking to and from school and sports since he was 8. There are thousands of neighbors, many of them know us by sight, and I have made the concession to have my kids carry phones.

    By the way, I’d say about half of Russian parents leave their kids home alone regularly from an early age. The other half have taken in the Western media plus the truly horrifying stories that happen here, and will not leave their kids unsupervised anywhere for a moment. If you want to find some true Free Range Kids, check out the history of the Soviet Union. One of my friends was sent to regularly to the store to stand in line for bread at age four. She walked herself to and from preschool around age five. And almost all kids walked or rode the bus to school and sports by themselves from age seven. Not that I advocate that, but it helps explain the split between the ‘We did it’ camp and the ‘That was wrong!’ camp. I hope to find a happy medium

  51. Kara March 20, 2012 at 2:20 am #

    I agree that the socio-economic level is a factor. Here is Russia, it seems to be a badge of having arrived economically that the mothers shuttle their kids everywhere. They look down on families who can’t ‘handle all their kids’ needs, whether for all the activites and clothes, or for constant supervision.

  52. hineata March 20, 2012 at 2:53 am #

    Must confess, Aussie Mum, that my first kneejerk reaction was – 7’s too young to be home alone, without siblings etc. Just have laws running around in my head…..However, I was at home with younger siblings at that age, and you do live in Australia, where outback kids learn to drive younger than that!

    (My favourite story recently was that wonderful case where 7 year old was bored and cross with parents so took his 5 year old brother and proceeded to attempt to drive the 100+ kms to grandma’s, or maybe it was 100 km before he was stopped by the police- anyway, great story. Outback kids are often taught to drive very young because of their extreme isolation, in case something happens to their parents…..)

    Good on you for trusting your instincts. As long as they know what to do in case of fire etc, kids should be fine. However, it’s probably better not to tell too many people, as you’ve discovered……

    And at the end of the day, it beats hands down leaving them outside the pub, which used to be such a regular occurence in smalltown NZ – might still be, I haven’t wandered past a rural pub in ages!

  53. hineata March 20, 2012 at 3:02 am #

    Actually, that brings me to another point related. Does anyone else get mad at the hypocrisy displayed by some of the older generation? As I said, in the 60s,70s and 80s anyway, and no doubt much earlier than that, it was regular to leave kids home alone, even late into the night, while parents went out various places socialising or whatever. Or to leave their kids outside the pub, either in cars or on foot, to entertain themselves while Dad got on the booze for hours. Whereas these days people are demonised by oldies sometimes for leaving their kids in the car while they duck into the dairy for the milk….

    It’s a sick old world……!

  54. legalmist March 20, 2012 at 3:38 am #

    I’m with you; you have analyzed the risks and are doing the right thing for your child!! I remember staying home alone for an hour or two after school when I was a kid — as did most of the other kids in my neighborhood. We had lists of friends we were allowed to visit and / or invite into our houses. Believe in yourself — and your child!

    That said, I sympathize with your feeling of “alone-ness” in being reasonable. Even my husband gives me a hard time for leaving my 8 y.o. (almost 9!!) home for half an hour while I take his sister to school each morning. It just seems so much more sane to let him stay home and eat breakfast while we’re gone, rather than dragging him out of bed earlier so he can go on a half-hour car ride after breakfast.

    (On a side note, she’s been asking if she can ride her bike to school. My husband objects, but I might let her anyway. Then at least he can quit complaining about the 8 year old being “home alone”).

  55. mom2girlandboy March 20, 2012 at 3:53 am #

    You are not alone. Don’t let the fear-mongers get to you. This past school year we began allowing our 8 year-old to be a “latch key” kid two days a week. She gets herself off the bus, lets herself in with her key and enjoys the house all to herself for about 30 minutes to an hour. She is mature, responsible, and follows all the safety rules. There are trusted neighbors she can go to if needed. She also hated the boring after school program. When I was still trying to decide if I should, I mentioned the idea to an online mommy group of friends and I got the “what if” speech–mainly “what if someone begins to track/stalk her–you just never know!”

    This was a turning point for me. I decided to stop worrying what everyone else thought and use my own common sense and instincts to know what my daughter can handle. No, I don’t go around telling people, but I don’t hide it if anyone asks. The one-in-a-million chance the boogeyman will get her does not deter us from teaching our child appropriate amounts of independence and responsibility. Let others sit in fear and judgment all they want. Their kids will be wringing their hands in adulthood while yours thrive.

  56. Linda March 20, 2012 at 4:19 am #

    Adelaide here!
    Can I just say, your child walking will eventually have an effect on the neighbourhood. My 3 kids started walking to and from on their own a couple years ago. They were the ONLY kids and I got a few comments from people (youngest was 6). My eldest always has a key just in case I am not home at the end of the day (I have been running late the odd occassion but how great to know I can and not worry?)

    Anyway 2 years down the track my children are confident self reliant children but the best part… MORE KIDS WALK now! I mean it, they pick up more kids on the way now. It has become the norm in my block (as it should, school is a 15 minute walk)
    There are still the odd parent who insists on driving their kids but the majority all walk, adult free, and it is a nicer neighbourhood because of it.
    My kids go off and play with friends on weekends, on bikes, at parks and are having a childhood. I do feel for the 12 year old across the road though who sits and looks on through her bedroom window. An only child who is never allowed to be out of ear shot of an adult 🙁 She use to walk to school with me and the kids but when I stopped going, she wasnt allowed any more 🙁

  57. bmax March 20, 2012 at 4:22 am #

    “She also hated the boring after school program”

    Yes we are all now raising narcissisits and a generation of entitled folks. She hates the “boring” after school program, Too bad I say! But that’s just me. She won’t grow up to be too good for anything will she? (sarcasm).

    Be careful what you wish for folks.

  58. sue March 20, 2012 at 4:50 am #

    teri…yes child protective services does show up with police and no they do not need a warrent. if they state in “their opinion” it is neccessary they can remove children at will. if perchance the person who called them is in any way a manditory reporter you’re screwed,because those are trained”to never lie or exagerate”. so obviously you must be the liar.

  59. dawnrachele March 20, 2012 at 4:59 am #

    I feel the same way about letting my 6 year old son go into the men’s washroom on his own. I have had everyone think I’m crazy for doing it. (I started letting him do this when he was 4.5 years old)
    But it’s not like I let him go in ANY washroom, there are times when a place feels sketchy or dirty and I tell him to just come in with me. But most washrooms are clean and virtually empty, and I’m quite nearby. I’m either in the women’s, or I’m waiting outside the men’s. My son know’s that he can call me if he needs me and what is appropriate/not appropriate in the men’s washroom.
    It is mostly his grandparents that think I’m nuts and putting my son in harms way. They always bring up the ‘what if’s ‘. ‘You can’t be too careful’, ‘how could you live with yourself if something happened?’.

    It’s hard to feel alone in stuff like this. I feel so thankful for this site.

  60. ks March 20, 2012 at 5:10 am #

    I started letting my oldest stay home by himself when I ran errands at 8. He just turned 10 a couple of weeks ago and I started letting him “watch” his 6 year old brother after school a couple of days a week and while I run errands on weekends. So far, there have been no problems and the boys love that they are allowed to do this–they feel very proud of themselves and mature, and they’ve risen to the occasion.

  61. Susan March 20, 2012 at 5:11 am #

    Latchkey kids, kids with divorced parents, kids whose parents were too busy working, who just didn’t care, or who were too busy “living their own adult lives” – those places were our favorites to go to as kids!

    Without the pesky presence of adults in the house we could do whatever we wanted. It is amazing how much fun you can have when you can do what you want.

    And when we became teens these were the best places to go for underage drinking parties, or places to make out.

    It was easy to clean up quick before the parents got home lol. The kids whose houses we partied at we’re quite popular too, so as well as independence it provides a social boost for kids too 🙂

  62. Lin March 20, 2012 at 5:16 am #

    Brenda, your “it just happened the other day because he found a caterpillar” brought a tear to my eye! Because THAT is what it is all about! To allow kids to experience the world they live in. At their own pace…

  63. Ali March 20, 2012 at 5:18 am #

    @BMS Thanks for potting the latchkey website; lots of good information!

    Now my head is starting to hurt a little though. How is “being home alone” different than walking to the park “alone”. I don’t get it. If kids can handle being inside a house, they can handle being in a park a little ways away form the house, and vice versa.

    And, yes, it is very kid dependent. My 5 yo is way more responsible than his 7 yo sister. I wouldn’t trust her to be home, but him? Looks like I have a couple more years ahead of me…..

  64. Lin March 20, 2012 at 5:22 am #

    And there is no law in Australia on the age you can leave your kids home alone. However, there are laws regarding “proper supervision” which could be used against parents leaving kids home alone or letting them walk home from school.

  65. mitomom March 20, 2012 at 5:36 am #

    I read the latch-key kid web site listed above. I live in IL. The age restriction for my state is the highest-14 years old. Unbelievable. I was babysitting other people’s children when I was 12. My son is 9, but not quite mature enough yet to be alone. When he is I better be careful who I tell, especially school people. I do think it does depend on the maturity of the child, not a certain age. The parent knows their child best.

  66. linvoLin March 20, 2012 at 7:21 am #

    bmax, it doesn’t say anywhere that not liking Afters was the determining factor.

    There are people who seem to mistake free-range parenting with letting the kids do what they want. I can assure you that nothing is further than the truth in our case. I have had to encourage my child to be independent, she did not ask for it.

    Funny fact, the first time she walked home alone it was actually as a punishment for misbehaviour at Afters! I left her on the kerb sobbing her eyes out under her umbrella as I drove off, because she hated the thought of having to walk alone. Then I watched her bounce up our front steps all smiles 10 minutes later. It is a moment I will never forget.

    She told me: “Halfway home, I was still crying. And then I looked around and I started thinking ‘Hey, I could climb that tree if I wanted to’ and ‘Hey, I could stop at the playground'”. She didn’t do any of those things, but felt excited about the possibilities. I don’t actually see it as me giving her more freedom. I gave her more responsibility. And she discovered that freedom and responsibility go hand in hand all by herself.

  67. linvoLin March 20, 2012 at 7:22 am #

    Ugh “further from the truth*”

  68. BMS March 20, 2012 at 7:36 am #

    I never wanted to send my kids to the after school programs, no matter how interesting they were. Kids need unstructured time, where adults are not directing their actions and regulating their play. Before last year, I was always home when the kids came home from school. My husband is usually home now within about 15-20 minutes of when they get off the bus, if not earlier. They need time to just play. Dig holes, ride their bikes, flop on the couch, build with legos, draw, whatever. They do their homework after dinner, and they are much happier to do it and their chores because they have had that time to blow off steam. I could send them to an after school program, but they would be miserable, and then they’d come home and share the misery with me. Who needs that? If they were younger and/or less trustworthy, I would obviously find some sort of after school care. At 10 and 11, they are much, much happier as things are.

  69. This girl loves to talk March 20, 2012 at 7:45 am #

    maybe you can find another family who is like minded interested in walking together (keep trying) last year a family moved from the country to the inner city (brisbane) where I live. They lived too far from the school and had to catch a bus when they lived out bush. Their most wish was to walk or ride bike to school when they moved to the city. The school is easily one km away, but with lots of busy roads. Last year my 10 and 8 year old starting walking with them too! It was so nice to find a similarly minded family! Our older girls have started catching a bus to instrumental music. It would actually be quicker for me to drive them (they have to change busses – what would take me 5 mins to drive takes them 20 and we have to pay! But the other mother runs a canteen and starts work at 5am. Also my 10 year old is learning so much! I am so grateful that this other family have similar ideals to mine! And is leading me essentially.

    that said a few years back there was a young boy who walked alone every day. I wrongly judged the mother (to myself not to her) because he was a bit of a naughty boy etc. I thought this poor boy left to fend for himself. You know what though – that boy has calmed down over the years and is so self reliant. Since I’ve started to try and be more free range I’ve felt guilty for ever judging her (even it was just in my head) Though this year because my 3rd daughter started prep I have to sign in an out everyday that my older girls dont really walk alone anymore.. maybe next year when I dont have to sign in and out.. but we do try to walk and ride a couple of times a week and the olders go ahead of me.

    I had a high school mother (who also has a prep kid) lamenting about the school pick up – high school first then primary school, in the after noon primary school then off to high school) and this school is not far he could easily walk or ride and all she said was since Daniel Morcombe you can never let a kid walk alone… surely he could find a friend… I’ve had that told to me alot of times too. My heart breaks for daniel morcombe and family, but it is permeating everyones thoughts and actions here in queensland

  70. unboundedocean March 20, 2012 at 7:53 am #

    Not sure if anyone else has said this, but most states in Australia have no stated minimum age for a child to be left alone – everyone seems to think there is a ‘law’, but I recently looked it up and found it not to be true.

  71. Jennifer March 20, 2012 at 8:23 am #

    I think Lynda M. said it right and best – tell people that you are the authority in your household and know your kids the best. 30 – 40 minutes during the day is NOT unreasonable. It also fosters a sense of self-sufficiency in your child which is necessary when they finally launch out on their own. This summer, I will run a few errands in town – 30 – 45 minutes – and leave my daughter at home. We’ve done this for 15 minutes now and again…she’s been fine. So we will try a couple of longer times here and there, working toward the summer. Don’t try to explain the situation to other people. They will not understand.

  72. velobaby March 20, 2012 at 8:34 am #

    You are giving your daughter the gift of self-reliance. When her peers are in college, calling their moms and unable to cope because they’ve never had to, she’s going to be thriving. I did the same thing with my kids, but I only told a few people because I didn’t want the reaction you’re getting. Refuse to participate in paranoia! You’re a great mom.

  73. JC March 20, 2012 at 8:37 am #

    You aren’t the nut-case, they are.

    I remember when my two daughters were 6 and 7, I went bike riding with them through my neighborhood, a fairly quiet, typical suburban type of neighborhood. We were riding in the street together when a large woman in a big black SUV came up behind us and starting screaming out the window to me that “I must be crazy” to let my kids ride in the street like that. I told her likewise that she should tell me how I should be raising my children. You should tell those people who think you’re a nut-case the same.

  74. Rita (a.k.a.) Oma March 20, 2012 at 8:45 am #

    I’m one more voice in your corner. I’ve raised three to adulthood. My elder son (who is 16 years older than his sister and 18 older than his brother) walked home on those days I had to be at work from the age of 7 since he was really too old for a ‘babysitter’ and attended a private school that did not offer aftercare, with the understanding that he would call me at work to confirm he’d got home safely, and stay in the house doing ‘quiet activities’ unless he was invited to one of his two best friend’s homes, and only if their moms were home, He is now in his 40’s and doing quite well.

    He did violate the rule on two occasions, on one of them he ran head first into a stucco wall while playing next door to our house, the other, when he was 11ish, he was beaned in the head with a baseball by the 14 year old across the street who’d offered to teach him to pitch. I am grateful neither was more serious than an object lesson as to why I did not want him to play outside with an adult close by in case of just such occurrences. I figure two minor head injuries in 10 years before college isn’t bad, heck he had worse when I was home, or when at school.

    The two younger both went to after school care in the early grades, and now I wish I’d had them do the same as thoir elder brother, since in after-care I had no choice about with whom they associated, or what kinds of media they were exposed to, whereas with their elder brother, I knew his friends and their parents and knew that we shared values in common so he would get consistent messages from us all.

    At that the younger two started heading home after school when my daughter was in 5th grade, and 8 years old, my younger son was 7. They had a list of phone numbers for emergencies, knew which neighbors would be home, and have both made it to healthy adulthood as well.

    They are all resourceful, creative, independent people, perhaps they’d have been in any case, but I’m inclined to believe that having the opportunity to be responsible facilitated developing those qualities.

    As to the ‘one in a million’ scenario, it is just that, or even less likely, but none of us has absolute control over our own lives much less the lives of others, including our children, and no matter how well we prepare against ‘all’ contingencies when something goes awry no matter how serious, hindsight most often tells us we could have done ‘X, Y, or Z and prevented it.’ mostly because we humans like the illusion of control.

  75. Pamala Watts March 20, 2012 at 8:49 am #

    my daughter was 7 1/2 when I started letting her walk home alone or stay home for half an hour or so alone.. and basically EVERY SINGLE PERSON I told I had to explain to them that while I was nervous at first, I have every confidence in my child.. I played the “what if” game with my daughter and every “what if” I gave her she thought it through and gave me an answer that made me feel more and more confident that she could handle this and would be safe. Sometimes you just have to say “you know, I’ve played the ‘what if game’ with her, and she knows what to do… that’s the best I can ask for.. I’m trying to raise a responsible young adult, I’m not raising her to stay a child! If she’s comfortable and confident then I have to be as well!”

  76. Fisyd March 20, 2012 at 8:54 am #

    This sums up the Australian legal position. http://www.community.nsw.gov.au/docswr/_assets/main/documents/survival_kit/home_alone.pdf

  77. Laura March 20, 2012 at 9:04 am #

    The irresponsible parents are the ones who never let their children out of their sight. How are children supposed to grow into competent adults if they never get to practice? Our children 11,8,6 & 6 stay home for 30-45 minutes at a time on a regular basis and they have been fine every time. They know who to ask for help in an emergency and they know how to behave when I’m not looking. Trust yourself and trust your kids- you are doing the right thing.

  78. Daniel M. DuBois March 20, 2012 at 10:40 am #

    We had to leave our 8 and 7 year old boys home alone for the first time last Tuesday (because we had promised our van to my father in law for church). So my wife and I trained them to answer the phone for only us, put Carl Sagan’s Cosmos on the TV for them, then took the 3-year old on a public bus ride with us, and went to the caucus location to vote for Ron Paul. Bad parents or BEST PARENTS EVER?

  79. Anthony Hernandez March 20, 2012 at 10:43 am #

    A) choosing religion over the kids.

    B) being Paul bots


  80. LarryK March 20, 2012 at 11:01 am #

    Here is a document from the MA Department of Children & Families:


    “children under 13 cannot take care of themselves, so you should never leave them home alone – even for a few minutes.”

    The document doesn’t give any references but I’d recommend that you talk with a lawyer or perhaps the police before deciding to leave your child alone on a regular basis. Ignorance of the law is not a valid defense.

    If there is a law and you want to overturn it, create a group and start lobbying your legislators. Talk with other citizen action groups eg MADD and learn from them. Remember to cultivate the press and first find some friendly university experts that the press can call to support your goals.

    See if your children want to work on the project–a great lesson in civics and empowerment.

  81. linvoLin March 20, 2012 at 11:16 am #

    LarryK, that is not a legislative document, merely informal advice from some obscure government agency.

    As mentioned, there are no laws in Australia regarding the minimum age to leave your child home alone. Someone here posted a document on the legal age in the various US States further up in the comments though.

  82. Lin March 20, 2012 at 11:25 am #

    Vague statements like “Cannot take care of themselves” annoy me too. I don’t expect my 7yo to cook her own dinner or take herself to the doctor if she is sick or move the car into the garage! I am just asking her to stay home for 30 mins without getting into trouble and with the phone handy in case she does need to talk to me. She usually watches tv. I think most parents would be very surprised if there was some research that showed that kids under 13 are not capable of sitting on the lounge watching tv for 30 minutes without needing their parents! Heck, I have trouble getting her to notice me when she watches the idiot box when I am there!

    So called experts who make unfounded statements like that lose all credibility in my eyes.

  83. Jennifer J March 20, 2012 at 11:39 am #

    @Anthony Hernandez –
    A) being charitable and active in the community
    B) Being politically active and caring about our country

    PASS with flying colors

  84. justanotherjen March 20, 2012 at 12:06 pm #

    “children under 13 cannot take care of themselves, so you should never leave them home alone – even for a few minutes.”

    That is the dumbest thing I’ve read yet from these safety “experts”.

    My 11yo, 10yo and 9yo kids are perfectly capable of taking care of themselves for several hours on their own. And have been for many years. I’m now prepping my almost 6yo to be able to take care of herself, too. By 8 she should be able to stay alone, too (that is the youngest the other kids were when staying alone).

    But, I suppose the helicoptered kids wouldn’t be able to take care of themselves since they have almost no experience with that. Free range kids tend to actually know what they are doing. My kids have been “taking care of themselves” since they were 4 or 5 with me in the house. By 6 they were “taking care” of younger siblings while I was in another room. If they can handle sitting there watching a movie for an hour with nothing happening (while I nap in another room) I’m pretty sure they can do the same while I walk to the store and back (which takes an hour). Especially at 11, 10 and 9. If they couldn’t I’d consider myself negligent as a parent (unless they had some behavior problem or other disability…which they don’t).

    I remember vividly being left alone at 8 with my younger brother (who would have been 6). We survived just fine. We could get food for ourselves (lunch meat and cheese was always available), watch TV and Gramma or the neighbors were around in case we needed some kind of help. Which never happened that I recall. We usually just watched TV or sat on the porch with friends.

    I do remember that our self-reliance came in handy when we were sledding down the street once. I think I was 11 and my brother was 9. He went down the hill right into a beat up old car and broke his ankle. Instead of freaking out me and his friend (also 9) got him into the sled and pulled him home then helped him into the house and out of his snow gear. I believe my dad was at work and my mom was shopping so we waited for them to get home, iced his ankle, wrapped it with an ACE bandage and I made hot chocolate for us. We were watching TV when my mom got home. Everyone survived. Life went on. And we learned valuable lessons (like watch where you sled, basic first aid, that we were capable of taking care of ourselves in an emergency).

  85. CrazyCatLady March 20, 2012 at 12:11 pm #

    The “what ifs” are mostly pretty minor or far fetched with staying home a little while on their own. 1st grade I got home a hour before my older brother on days when my mom was substitute teaching.

    Save the “what ifs” for bigger things, like that ski jump Lenore has in the sidebar. Or the sheep riding at the local rodeo I saw this summer. The kids were all 6 or under, put on a sheep in a gate, let loose, and had to see how long they could stay up on the sheep. There must have been 2000 people there cheering – I was cringing. The kids were getting dragged by their feet, under the sheep, and in one case, drug on his face across the arena that a couple weeks before my kids and I helped to get rocks out of. It was scary, and I wondered how the parents could agree to do this. My then 6 year old was begging to go do it too. Fortunately for me, I didn’t have to decide – the night we were there was the last night and not a chance of him doing it.

    People let their kids do more dangerous stuff all the time. Ride horses, climb trees and rocks, compete in various sports that can result in drowning, death, paralization and other major injury if not done correctly. I am not going to decide for those other parents. I am not going to judge them. I like watching the gymnastics, skating and skiing in the Olympics. Most of those athletes are or began young. Just like the kid staying home, they learn how to do their chosen thing safely.

    So there you go. When parents start questioning the staying home, then up the anti and say you are considering letting your child do X chosen dangerous activity, and they will probably forget all about the staying home alone.

  86. jessilee82 March 20, 2012 at 12:31 pm #

    My step daughters mother just had to take a deal on Child Neglect 2 because she let her kids stay home alone after school. Age 10 and 8. Yup, apparently that’s felony neglect.

  87. Lea March 20, 2012 at 2:25 pm #

    I let my 9 and 11 year olds stay home alone for periods of time and my 11 year old babysits his 6 year old brother fairly regularly for up to an hour. They all love it and appreciate the responsibility and freedom. I was babysitting half the neighborhood at 11 and staying home for several hours everyday after school at 8! I would have wondered what I did wrong if my kids couldn’t manage for an hour without me at this point.

    I would take the safekids wesite with a large grain of salt on accuracy. I did some checking and many of the ages they have listed as laws for states are acutally the states reocmended age for being able and mature enough to be alone, not an actual law. I’m in Ks and was suprided to see 12 as a legal age which promted my search. Age 11 is middle school and all the middle school kids I know, whos parents work, go home to empty homes and care for themselves just fine.Occasionally a grandma or other relative keeps them afterschool but it’s rare. There really isn’t any other way for them to do it, even if parents wanted to. Around here the middle schools don’t offer afterschool childcare programs and school age daycare programs stop after grade school/5th grade.

    I know some states do have very specific laws about ages children can be alone and in those states it can become a serious legal matter. It’s a fairly small amount of states though.

  88. Michelle March 20, 2012 at 3:56 pm #

    Having left Sydney last year and moved to Germany, the first thing my husband and I noticed was how much more freedom kids had here. In Australia we were constantly being questioned about letting our kids roam – eg – to the end of the beach ON THEIR OWN or buy bread and milk at the corner store! Here is is expected to let kids walk to school/catch the bus on their own!!!!! and generally hang out together. I regularly loose track of where the kids are in the neighbourhood in the afternoons (ie I do not know exactly where they are at all times !!!) as they enjoy playing with their friends. The parents all look out for the kids and they know to check-in for unusual adventures first. And I can get on with dinner prep with a clear concience! The kids are 7, 5 and 3.

  89. Janey M March 20, 2012 at 4:58 pm #

    Good one you Aussie Mum, we have to start somewhere! My kids walk 10 minutes to friends place 2-3 times a week and and 4 kids have a ball. They are left alone for a whole 30-40 minutes (gasp horror!) and have been known to take that amount of time to get home- once they’ve climbed a tree, checked out the taddies in the creek and bought some lollies at the corner shop.
    I seriously doubt DOCS, Family and Community services or what ever they call themselves this month have time to worry about our kids, they don’t even check up on the ones who really need help due to their huge workload and understaffing. Let’s stick together, spread the word and soon the kids getting picked up at the school gates will be the minority- I seriously think parents love the school drop off and pick up because they get to gossip about our poor neglected children!

  90. Cassie March 20, 2012 at 7:05 pm #

    I have also been a victim of similar comments from the mums at school and I totally understand how these comments from narrow minded busy bodies, can place doubt in our minds and question our parenting. We are the best judges and educators of our children and we know them the best. Remember, we are not raising children but, ‘young adults’ and it is our job to guide them and provide them the skils to survive in this world. It is about teaching them to be careful, but not fearful and I am sure you are doing exactly that.
    Hold your head up high and be proud of knowing you are raising a very capable and responsible daughter.

  91. Tamaya March 20, 2012 at 7:37 pm #

    Next year I am hoping to let my son do this. He will be 9. This year he can’t, not because I don’t trust him but because the school won’t let him. Next year I can sign a waiver to allow him to leave. My sister was walking me home when she was in grade 3. People wonder why kids now a days are so less mature, what do they expect when you baby them for so long?

  92. K March 20, 2012 at 9:43 pm #

    @Lin – I do expect my seven-year-old to be able to take care of himself (and cook dinner).

    Our boys are currently 6, 8, and 11. About two years ago, I started having them cook (with my direction from outside the kitchen) dinner once a week. Our now 8-year-old loves to cook. Last night he made chicken quesadillas. He literally sent me out of the kitchen because he wanted to do cook dinner for everyone.

    His specialty, though, is chicken parmigiano which he does from breading the chicken through broiling on the cheese (with sides dishes as well). I do not want our children to, like many of my college students, live off of poptarts and ramen because they don’t know how to feed themselves.

    This year, they are starting to learn how to grill (the older two are tall enough to do it now).

    They are capable of doing as much as you allow them to take on.

    They love that they can cook dinner.

    Can’t take care of themselves until 13? Holy cow, MA, where do you find these children?

  93. Proud Puppies March 20, 2012 at 11:29 pm #

    the biggest “what if” you need to worry about is ‘what if social services gets involved” I dont know about where you live, but different states here have different laws about what age can be left alonge. Some do it by whether the child can answer a few questions, like name and emergency contact info(911) and others do it by age and some even tho your child qualifies by their guidelines to be left alone will charge you with neglect if something does go wrong. I have never worried about my kids..I have worried about the do gooders.

  94. Amanda Mae March 21, 2012 at 1:13 am #

    I’m 22 now, and I don’t have kids, but it wasn’t that long ago that I was 10 and coming home to an empty house, or staying home all day by myself during the summer. The freedom I was afforded at that age was one of my greatest joys, and definitely contributed to the independent, competent adult I have become.

  95. Jim Collins March 21, 2012 at 1:47 am #

    The problem with these “Children and Youth Services” people is that if they didn’t come up with all of these “ifs” and “advice”, we might realize how much of our tax dollars are being wasted by their employment and decide that we don’t need as many of them as we have.

  96. karin March 21, 2012 at 3:42 am #

    What if she went to the horseback lessons and got in a car accident and died? The what if game works for everything!

  97. denishehats March 21, 2012 at 4:22 am #

    I’m right there with you. I feel like the biggest problem we’re going to have with our parenting style is other people.

  98. Tsu Dho Nimh March 21, 2012 at 4:34 am #

    mitomom – Illinois law does not forbid leaving a child home alone … it says “Illinois law defines a neglected minor, in part, as “any minor under the age of 14 years whose parent or other person responsible for the minor’s welfare leaves the minor without supervision for an unreasonable period of time without regard for the mental or physical health, safety or welfare of that minor.”

    So a 7-year old with access to a phone and training in how to deal with emergencies wold be fine.

  99. Lindsay March 21, 2012 at 4:18 pm #

    As a fellow Aussie living in Sydney, good on you! You know your child and should know her well enough to know if she is capable of looking after herself for a little while.

    Since the answer is yes, if you don’t do it occasionally, she will not develop the independence she is capable of developing.

  100. m March 22, 2012 at 3:47 am #

    I read these main stories and shake my head. If children are never allowed to do anything at what ‘age’ are they reponsible enough? You don’t turn 18 and magically become ‘responsible’ for your life. Actually it just makes me sad how overprotective parents distrust their children. Thank goodness for Lenore and all you free range folks!

  101. SeaDoodle March 22, 2012 at 10:59 am #

    Also in Aus here (an American living in Melbourne) … know that for everyone that second-guesses you, there are probably as many who look to you as proof that it is ok and may be changing their behaviour because of you. They might not be so verbal about it – due to the mum culture – but rest assured that there are probably as many mums who want to be more free-range as there are who helicopter. I am pretty vocal about the fact that I leave my daughter (she’s now 9) home alone, that she bikes and takes the tram home by herself, that she goes over to the shops alone … I “advertise” my free-range-ness hoping that it makes a few others more comfortable to be so themselves. As for the rest – the judgey helicopters? I’m confident in my parenting enough that I really don’t let them get to me 🙂

  102. lexi March 22, 2012 at 12:00 pm #

    The reason I love Lenore’s blog is that it keeps me sane to know other parents are not bubble wrapping their children. Otherwise when things like this happen I would feel nuts to think I just might be an irresponsible parent: Just a few weeks ago I went to the store while my daughter (17 3/4–yes, almost 18) went to the movie with her 16 year old friend. Yes, they went unaccompanied by an adult! Her friend’s dad picked them up at the movie theater and drove my daughter home. She did not have her key with her so I told her to wait for me until I got home. I was 10 minutes away, just finished shopping and getting into the car.

    She arrived at the house before I did and called to tell me that her friend and dad were going to take her to get a soda at a fast food restaurant around the corner. They were already driving when I told her quite exasperated “oh my God, that is ridiculous! It is perfectly okay for you to wait 10 minutes outside alone!” The father purchased the soda, wasted some gas, and returned her to me. I thanked him but kindly explained that in the future he didn’t need to worry about leaving her alone. I had to remind him that she is almost 18 and we are encouraging her independence since she will be moving out soon, hopefully before she is 40.

    I understand there is a chance he may have just been enjoying a fun day with two goofy teenage girls, and that’s fantastic. But knowing my daughter’s friend’s parents NEVER let their daughter walk ANYWHERE alone, I have a feeling the poor dad was too frightened of someone abducting my daughter during that 10 minutes sitting on our doorstep.

  103. Heather Davidson March 22, 2012 at 1:19 pm #

    Good for you – from one Aussie mum to another – I let my kids stay at home by themselves for short periods of time too. Just yesterday I gave my 9 year old the choice of coming with me to buy bread and milk or stay at home and finish her homework – she chose to do her homework. Was I being irresponsible? Of course not!

  104. Renee March 22, 2012 at 5:20 pm #

    I started to leave my oldest home for a bit, the hardest was how to tell others and who needed to know.

  105. Kimberly March 22, 2012 at 9:14 pm #

    @dawnrachele- I was at a very safe ball park where only little leaguers were playing. There were tons of families there. No reports of any kind of child molestation going on, and a nine-year-old boy came in the the women’s room ALONE to use the bathroom. I asked him what he was doing in there and how old he was. He said his mom told him to use the women’s room. I told him that next time, he needed to bring his mom with him b/c it was the ladies washroom, not the men’s. I was really saddened and mortified that a boy that old wasn’t permitted to use the men’s room. There has never been an event at the ballpark, ever that I am aware of. There were tons of people around. Plenty going in and out of the washroom. Yet mom sent the boy into the women’s bathroom. I know me confronting him had to be humiliating, but I also was hoping that he would say something to his mom and maybe she would let him grow up and use the right bathroom.

    I see nothing wrong with you letting your son use the men’s room.

  106. Diane S. March 23, 2012 at 9:21 am #

    @Daniel – you go! I was babysitting infants when I was 12, and the summer I turned 13, I was doing housekeeping and babysitting for a family that lived about a mile away, taking care of their 4 and 5 year old while they worked. I got there around 6:30 am and left around 5:30 pm after the parents got home. I did housecleaning, laundry, all the fun stuff.

    I think I’d be more leery of leaving TEENAGERS home alone for a while than younger kids…as their boyfriends often drive 😛

  107. Diane S. March 23, 2012 at 9:24 am #

    @crazycatlady – muttonbusting is what it’s called – and its a coveted thing for kids to do. We found out about it too late for our oldest to ride. Strangest ride was a sheep that just walked sedately around the area. 27 seconds – the girl got the belt buckle & the trophy. Most fall off. They wear helmets too.. kind of like football helmets? I noticed that bullriders now wear vests to protect the vitals. They never used to. And that Chickenchase! the 4 and under crowd often trip while chasing that chicken around the arena.

  108. B March 23, 2012 at 2:10 pm #

    Just had to comment on this: I was five when I started coming home to an empty house after school. Just like Lenore advocates, I knew the rules, knew what to do in an emergency, and was perfectly happy to have an hour or so to myself before my parents got home. Yeah, I did have a tendency to accidentally leave the key in the door, but I’m not sure if that had anything to do with being 5. I’m 40 now (nope, didn’t die!)–and I still do that!

  109. Lin March 23, 2012 at 2:53 pm #

    I happened to pick up my daughter from school by car today as I came straight from work. I had to make a little detour to turn the car and saw 3 separate little groups of kids, between 6 and 10 at a guess, walking home by themselves! Looks like we live on the wrong side of the school, because I rarely see any kids do that on our side.

  110. Jenna March 24, 2012 at 6:22 am #

    My boys are 7 and 8 and they walk to the bus and home from the bus by themselves. I’m usually home when they get home, but in the incident that I’m not, they know the code to our garage door and know that they are to go in, shut the garage door and do their homework. They have had to do that a few times and it has always turned out just fine. I’ve taught them too that if that does happen, they aren’t supposed to tell their friends or any of our neighbors that I’m not there, just go on in like usual (if the front door is locked, go in through the garage even if I’m there). They know the rules and they know what to do in an emergency also. Kids are a lot smarter and more capable than adults in today’s world give them credit for. In fact, not too long ago I saw an article in a church magazine where the writer, now a man in his 70s, had the job of rounding up the cattle on his horse when he was 8 years old. I’m sure that would raise a fuss these days!

  111. Jacki March 26, 2012 at 11:16 am #

    I think it depends on how safe the neighborhood is, traffic, if you have an arrangement with neighbors to be on the watch, and how well trained your kids are. We have an arrangement with neighbors who stay home with their young children, who watch out for us, and our kids know their phone numbers.

  112. Stephanie April 2, 2012 at 4:15 am #

    I face this kind of thing all the time as well. My daughter is only two, so it’s not like I’m letting her stay home alone, but I am very pro-germs: I don’t wash things unless they get dirty, I don’t sanitize, and I certainly don’t disinfect every surface my daughter touches. When her binky hits the floor, I pop it in my own mouth to “clean” it, then give it back to her. I’ve gotten the strangest looks from people who have offered to go wash it for me, when it hits their carpet or something, then see me give it right back to her. “You’re not going to rinse it off? Don’t you know what kind of germs there are on the floor? People’s FEET touch that!” I sometimes feel like I’m fighting a losing battle against overreaction.

  113. AngeinAus April 2, 2012 at 6:45 pm #

    My girls walked home, sometimes alone, sometimes with friends from about 8 or 9 (for the younger one) and 10 or 11 for the older one. I would would have loved to let them walk the whole way, but because of an exceptionally busy road with no crossing, I let them walk to it and I met them there. I have watched far too many drivers zooming along that particular road and know that the majority are not taking any notice whatsoever of pedestrians. To all those who advocate children walking to school and elsewhere, please pay attention to them when you are on the road. Too many drivers seem to forget there is a world out there with other people in it when they are cocooned in their cars.

  114. Quinn Smith April 10, 2012 at 11:15 pm #

    Staying home alone is more a matter of maturity than age. I can recommend a great resource for anyone trying to decide if a child is ready to be left home alone. When my daughter insisted she was old enough to stay at home alone, I started seeking for possible ways on how I can protect her even I am not with her. I was so glad that last month, while reading an article on a blog, it mentioned that there was a service I could use to track my kids to be sure they were always in safe places. At the bottom it said I could follow the site anationofmoms and be entered for a drawing of 6 months free of the service. Not bad! http://anationofmoms.com/2011/08/protect-your-family-giveaway.html

  115. Fiona April 21, 2012 at 2:46 pm #

    Hi, another Aussie mum here! I leave my child (same age) at home alone while I shop, and he also plays outside in the local neighbourhood for 1-2 hours with other friends from our street.

    There’s a great resource from “Raising Children Network” that lists some common-sense things to check before you let them stay home alone: http://raisingchildren.net.au/articles/home_alone_-_cyh.html

    It also points out that it’s not illegal in any state of Australia to leave children home alone.

    However, it *is* illegal in every state of Australia to leave your child unattended in a car (due to our climate.)

  116. Gail Jones May 22, 2012 at 5:31 am #

    Im a rare breed it seems you see I’m a stay at home mum. And i reckon you lot are full of it! We made a decission 14yrs ago that i was going to stay home and be with the kids and just quietly its been BRILLIANT 🙂 and u lot know in your heart of hearts that you would love to have my life, i mean why wouldnt you? But you will keep on justifying it with “Oh my Jimmy’s such a good boy i can trust him” or “My Sally’s such a confident independant 7yr old she’s more than ready” well wake smell the stench of your teenagers room people!! They want you there trust me i know and i know this cause they drive me friggin nuts with the cheek and the arguments and the answering back but there’s also the talking and the laughing and just chilling out together just being together thats whats it all about and in years to come when my sometimes ungrateful but wonderful kids look back at their life at home it will be with a smile on their dial and lots of love in their hearts for their poor suffering Mum!

  117. linvo May 22, 2012 at 6:20 am #

    Wow Gail. I am happy that you think you made the right decision for your family, but I don’t get why you think it is the only right decision for everyone else? I am a single parent. I decided when my child was born that I would teach her that women can be financially independent and give her the gift of showing an example of strong work ethic. Like my mother gave me. That was 7 years ago and I have never had any regrets about this decision. And I hope my child will never think of me as her “poor suffering mum”.

  118. caring parent September 5, 2012 at 11:12 pm #

    irresponsible to the extreme. as a parent you are responsible for your kids well being. By “allowing” them to be home alone and susceptible to risks that in this day are far more frequently realised than in previous latch-key kids years, is irresponsible.

  119. Frustrated October 12, 2012 at 7:16 pm #

    1) yes- CPS/DCF can (and will in many cases) show up with law enforcement officers for their safety
    2) you think 13 is ridiculous in Illinois here in FL it’s 18!! And yes they will charge you with neglect (I’m I’m the process of investigation now as I left my 5 year old ASLEEP (at 10:00pm) for 5 minutes while I took a phone call outside our house (never moving more than 500 feet from the front door))


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