How old were your kids when they started staying home alone?

My coworker asked when kids start staying home alone. She’s got three, but they’re all quite different.

Her youngest is almost 10 and has ADD. She’s trying to decide if he is okay to stay alone during the day this summer. His older brother is almost 15 and going to sports camp during the days. His older sister is 21 and not reliable as a sitter.

I told her “depends on the kid” but I think she’s looking for an average age. I was about 7 and very responsible. My brother was about 12 and a flake.

So, how about your kids?

My kids started staying at home after school when they were 12 & 9. It does indeed depend upon the child, but in our state it is illegal for a person under 12 to be left home alone for an extended period of time. That’s why they continued to go to after-school care until the oldest turned 12.

I started staying home alone when I was 8. My younger brother was 4. It was illegal, but apparently my parents had faith in me. Nothing ever happened. Well, I accidentally stabbed my brother with a pencil that one time, but I handled it quite well, I do believe. I was a precocious child. :stuck_out_tongue:

I came home from school to an empty house as young as 7 or 8, definitely. And that’s coming home on the city bus, with a transfer.

My mom started leaving me home alone for short periods of time when I was 8. In theory, my brother was supposed to watch me during the days in the summers when I was elementary school, but he was six years older and so always had other stuff going on.

I became a latch-key kid (does anyone still use that term?) at the age of 9 when I started taking the bus home from school. Day care was far too expensive, apparently.

No negative incidents to speak of as a result.

During the day, I was 11ish and watching my 7 y/o brother. I’d also just started babysitting around the neighbourhood for a couple hours.

My son isn’t old enough yet for that. :slight_smile:

When my son was 6 or 7 we started leaving him alone for short periods (a walk down the street to pick up a couple of grocery items, say), with my cell phone number taped right next to the phone. The first time was a riot because he called about every 5 minutes to report strange noises and ask how soon we’d be home.

Now he is 9 and we will leave him alone for a couple of hours if we are nearby and could rush home quickly if needed. He is a very responsible kid, though - not likely to do anything stupid, and likely to keep his wits about him in an emergency situation. I’d be more nervous about some of his friends.

I was 11, with my 7-year-old sister.

Worst thing that happened was we watched too much TV and didn’t do enough cleaning up/ instrument practicing.

My twin sis and I were both seven when we started doing the latch-key kid thing. I think this is kinda young, but we were well-behaved, non-adventurous kids who were easily preoccupied with television.

My son is ten and stays alone for short periods of time; however, it’s more usual that his fifteen year old sister is there too.

From what I can find, only two states have specific ages in their lawbooks about kids being left home alone: Illinois is 14 ( :eek: - although it’s mitigated by a mushy “unreasonable time” clause) and Maryland 8.

I was 6 (first grade) when my mother divorced my father and had to go to work. She was a substitute teacher at the time, so she didn’t work every day, and she was usually home only an hour or so after me. I had to check in with the neighbor when I got home and then lock myself in the house - no going out, no having friends over, no answering the door or the phone (except if the phone rang in our secret ring pattern - one ring, hang up, two rings, hang up, and then answer on the next call).

These days, 6 or even 7 or 8 is likely to present problems in my state (IL) if you have [del] nosy [/del] concerned neighbors. I think my son was around 8 before I’d leave him alone for a 20 minute run to the grocery store next door, and around 9 before he could stay home alone for a couple of hours at a stretch. By 10 I’d leave him for an evening and expect him to get himself into bed at a reasonable time, and by 12 I stopped feeling guilty for it.

So not only does it depend on your local laws and prevailing attitudes, as well as the individual kid, it also depends on what kind of circumstances, length of time and time of day you’re talking about.

My son was 12 and I did not allow him to be home with the roommate’s kids because they were trouble just waiting to happen when they all got together. My niece, on the other hand, was like 10 when she started staying home alone. Different kids, different rules. If your friend has to ask, chances are the kid isn’t ready.

By the way, if something does happen, your friend can get in big trouble. There are laws in nearly every state regarding how old a kid has to be before you can leave them unattended. Your friend needs to look into it and weigh the risk.

We left our kids alone for very brief errands when they were quite young. Say, a trip to a local store. Figured the house wouldn’t burn down during that 10-minute period. Hell, if they were engrossed in a video, they probably wouldn’t even notice we were gone. I remember saying things like “Don’t get off the couch. Don’t answer the door.”

We got our first cellphone when our oldest was maybe 10 or so, with the younger two around 9 and 7, mainly to use instead of a babysitter on the rare occasions that we went out for dinner or a movie. Figured our kids were no more or less irresponsible than a sitter only a couple of years older. They were always instructed that they were not allowed to have any guests over, and not to use the oven or other appliances. Never had any problem.

Pretty early in our parenthood, we consciously decided not style our lives assuming “the worst possible thing” would happen at any moment. So - for example - we made our kids walk places, without worrying that stranger danger was going to abduct them from a suburban street in the middle of the afternoon. And we figured the kids would benefit more from learning independence and responsibility, than from insulating themselves from every conceivable danger.

That’s a very good point - I sometimes get concerned that, as a society, we are evolving towards a culture of fear to such an extent that parents are unwilling to allow their kids to be exposed to danger - and thus, responsibility and independence.

Our own baby is only one and a half, but when he grows older I hope to avoid stifling him with excessive protection.

Our daughter turns 10 this summer, and in the fall we plan to let her ride the school bus home and let herself in for the hour or two until one of us gets home from work.

I did the same thing from the age of 8. It was no big deal. In fact, I think it’s healthy for kids to get a shot of responsibility like that when they are young. I think it did me a lot of good - made me a little more self-reliant as a kid than I otherwise might have been had I been looked after 24/7.

Why would having ADD mean he neds someone watching him constantly? It doesn’t! He’s a lot more likely to learn responsibility if he’s given some trust and responsibility to begin with.

I would be left alone at home for short periods when I was 4 - if anything happened, I knew I had to cross the hallway to the apartment across. Never needed to.

My parents were part of a religious group that met one night a month. When they left for the meeting, I’d be awake and my brothers (once they’d been born, that is) in bed. Being an early person, they knew I’d tuck myself in before 10. One time they came in and I was awake. “Ipromiseit’sanokmoviereallyit’sCinderellaanddoesn’thaveanyrhombsandiwasntsleepyandit’sjustaregularmovieidontknowwhytheyputitsolate” Once they had gotten over the initial surprise of finding me still awake at 1am, they were able to determine that
a) for once in my life, I hadn’t been drop-dead sleepy by half past 9.
b) the saturday night movie in channel 1 happened to be Cinderella, which is classified for all ages (one rhomb meant 14+, 2 18+)
c) I’d started watching the movie and it was about to end
d) no brothers had been awakened nor any damage to the house been caused during the unauthorized viewing of the movie

I seem to remember it being 12 back in the day when it was pertinent to my situation (many, many years ago in a land far, far away). I still wouldn’t do it, though because these three boys were nuts.

My roommate came home to a surprise one day when her kids came home and found that one of the doors was open. He freaked out, grabbed all the knives out of the drawer, and ran screaming down the street with them. :eek:

That’s when the police told her she could be arrested if there were ever a repeat performance. I think the kid was 8.

No kids of my own. I grew in a little village, population 3000, and I started being home alone when I was about eight. It was a bit different for me as my mother worked nights, so there was always someone there and if there ever was a crisis situation we could wake her up (I don’t think I ever did, though). I now think it was a totally perfect way to grow up. Being alone was no big deal, we learned to take responsibility, we felt completely free, and at the same time there was always a lifeline. It was great.

I’m going to have to talk to my parents about this, but I don’t remember them ever worrying that much about us. We were allowed to roam the neighbourhood from an early age. Of course, the tininess of the village helped. We were unlikely to run into traffic, because there pretty much wasn’t any.

It’s certainly possible they’ve changed the age. IL child neglect laws are a strange thing. On the one hand, they read as rather draconian. I’d hazard a guess that most 13 year olds would be just fine for a short period of time. Heck, many 13 year olds are babysitting other kids! (Although you bring up a great point re: roommate’s kids and other siblings. Sometimes two or more perfectly reasonable and intelligent kids just get stupid when they’re alone together. I think the aggregate IQ drops in some inverse proportion to the number of bodies when kids hang out together.)

On the other hand, Illinois has made it so there’s a whole lot of rigidly defined areas of doubt and uncertainty. In addition to the undefined “unreasonable”, they have 15 “factors” (or more - it says “not limited to”) that caseworkers and judges consider to determine if neglect is present. So there’s a whole lot of individual discretion - good for some parents, bad for others.

Here’s the relevant part of the statute. The whole thing can be found here.