While it’s obvious to most parents that a five-year-old shouldn’t be home alone, the majority of kids eventually grow up enough to spend time at home without mom or dad. The big question is when. As in, when is it okay to pop out for milk without taking the kids along or to let kids come home to an empty house? While a few states have laws about when kids can be left at home alone, maturity level matters more than age.
After all, some ten-year-olds are mature beyond their years while some sixteen-year-olds are prone to getting into trouble when unsupervised. So if you’re on the fence about letting your kids stay home alone, here are some things to consider:
● Do your kids actually want to stay home alone? Some can seem ready but when pressed, would actually prefer not to be left alone.
● How do your children handle unexpected situations? Do they know basic first aid?
● Are there neighbors who could help your children in the event of an emergency?
● Do your kids make good decisions most of the time or are they risk takers?
Remember, your decision should be based on what your children are capable of. It doesn’t matter if your friends have been leaving their kids home alone for years. If your gut is telling you to wait, listen to it!
Preparing Kids to Stay Home Alone
Assuming your kids are ready, the next question you need to ask concerns safety. How do you make sure your children are as safe as possible when you’re not there? The good news is there are ways to keep your children safe, even when you aren’t home. They include tips like:
● Stay in touch. Let your kids know you’re going to call to check in – and that they better answer.
● Keep them connected. Make sure your children’s phones are programmed with your contact information, the doctor’s phone number and contact information for friends, relatives and neighbors who can help in an emergency.
● Practice makes perfect. Make sure your kids know what to do if someone comes to the door, if they hear someone trying to get into the house, if a friend asks them to come over after school, etc.
● Set firm rules. Be sure your children know what they may or may not do when you aren’t home. Can they go online? Chat with friends? Play outside? Use the stove?
● Lock up firearms and alcohol. Better safe than sorry.
Keeping Kids Safer With Technology
While communicating with your kids about safety is the number one thing you can do to make staying home alone no big deal, there are also gadgets and apps that are worth checking out.
Home automation systems: Many modern home automation systems let parents lock and unlock doors, monitor the whole house via security cameras and see when kids have arrived home after school.
Smart locks: Besides ensuring that lost keys don’t mean kids are locked out of the house, some touchscreen door locks and smart locks will also send you an alert when your kids unlock the doors.
LIFE360: A location-sharing app for iPhone and Android, LIFE360 lets you see where your kids are (or aren’t) based on zones you set for your family. You’ll always know your kids have left school and have made it home because you’ll receive a notification when they do either.
How much monitoring is too much? That’s something you will need to talk about as a family. While some people have advocated for less, you need to do what you feel is right for your children.
Work Up to It
Most children eventually get used to spending hours at home without parents, but lots of families find that working up to longer stretches helps everyone feel more secure. Start by letting kids stay home alone while you run quick errands. After each outing ask them if they felt safe and then take a look at your own feelings. Were you confident everything would be fine? When you can all answer yes with certainty, then it’s time to move on to longer stretches of alone time.
Just remember to always trust your parental intuition. If you ever feel like leaving kids home alone is a bad idea – even if you’ve left them home before – take them with you.
Jennifer Thayer is a technology writer from Southern California who loves finding ways technology can make life easier. She enjoys sharing her tips and tricks with readers. Follow her on Twitter.