At what age is it safe to leave a child home alone?

At what age is it safe to leave a child home alone?

At what age is it okay to leave your child at home alone? It’s something many parents struggle to define.

But a group of social workers are weighing in, thanks to a research study presented at the recent American Academy of Pediatrics 2019 National Conference.

The majority of the nearly 500 members of the National Association of Social Workers feel a child should be at least 12 years old to stay home alone for four hours. Based on scenarios emailed to the group, if a child suffers an injury while without supervision or state or local laws prohibit it, those weighing in were more likely to see it as neglect, even at age 12.

The survey showed 100% of the respondents felt leaving a child 6 years old or younger home alone was neglect, while 80% felt the same about 8 years or younger.

“Parents have to use good common sense,” says Dr. Shrinal Vyas, a pediatrician at Advocate Children’s Hospital. “Small children need to be supervised at all times and shouldn’t be left alone. And just because a child reaches a certain age, doesn’t mean they are automatically ready to stay alone. Parents should make those decisions based upon their own child’s maturity levels.”

Studies show that a lack of supervision accounts for 40% of pediatric-related deaths in the United States.

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  1. I was left home in charge of 2 younger bros. at age 11 (5th grade, 1953). Mom had to start working. As an over-40 adult, I taught Sunday School for 8-9 years for combined 5th-6th grade classes. I noticed in my students that there was an intellectual/cognitive movement generally between the 5th graders and the 6th graders. The 6th graders had a better, quicker grasp of abstractions and concepts whereas the 5th graders perceived everything more literally. It was an interesting teaching environment seeing the kids for two years in a row.

  2. I’m happy to see this information after having worked in an elementary school and knowing first hand how many 9 and 10 year olds were going home to make dinner for their younger sibling(s).
    I’d like to add that over 70 year old loved ones with slowed reflexes and often minds as well, should at least be checked up on regularly to be sure they’re taking care of themselves properly.

  3. I was babysitting for the neighbor kids when I was 11. Starting in fourth grade, I left an empty house in the morning, walked several blocks to school (oh, my, imagine that), walked home in the afternoon, and arrived at an empty house. Both parents worked. During the summer or on school holidays, I was home alone. When did we become such a nanny state in this country?

    • As a former latchkey kid, I can say with confidence that, while I did relatively fine alone (never lost a limb or landed myself in the hospital), it wasn’t the optimal environment for me, and I never want my children to have to be latchkey kids — specifically because of my experience. I want to foster independence, but I also want them to know their family will always be there for them. It’s not because I want to foster a nanny state, it’s because I want them to be comfortable asking for help, and always know it’s available. Latchkey kids can sometimes be malignantly independent, and that fosters the idea that asking for help is a weakness instead of the strength that it is.

      For parents who need to leave their kids alone, it’s fine if that’s what is available to them, but it’s not a choice I’d prefer over having them be with someone. We’re social creatures, we thrive on community, and it’s okay to just lean into that instead of fighting it.

  4. If nurturing and protecting our children is considered being a nanny state, then I believe we have always been a nanny state. Some kids are mature enough at 11. Most kids are mature enough during normal circumstances. But when a catastrophe happens, they are not necessarily equipped to handle things. You are lucky nothing happened while you were being asked to be responsible for younger kids.

  5. Gloria Picchetti August 10, 2021 at 12:39 pm · Reply

    I started staying home alone when I was six because I wouldn’t go to church.

  6. Looking back on my own childhood. I would have been safe to leave home at 57. But seriously it depends on the child and your neighborhood. I was a single parent, my daughter became a latch key kid at a little before age 11. I know other parents that waited till age 13. I started work early and usually got home before she did. She’s a very responsible 37 year old woman with her own hair salon.

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About the Author

Evonne Woloshyn
Evonne Woloshyn

Evonne Woloshyn, health enews contributor, is director of public affairs at Advocate Children's Hospital. Evonne began her career as an anchor and reporter in broadcast news. Over the past 20 years, she has worked in health care marketing in both Ohio and Illinois. Evonne loves to travel, spend time with family and is an avid Pittsburgh Steelers fan!