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Ready to Be Home Alone?

By Tim Jahn, M.ED

Your ten-year-old son tells you that he doesn’t want to go to the after-school program anymore, but wants to stay home alone like his friends. You begin to panic. Is he old enough to be home alone? Will he be safe? Can I trust him?

Many experts recommend that parents never leave a child under the age of ten alone at home. The American Academy of Pediatrics suggests that even eleven and twelve-year-olds should not come home to an empty house unless they show unusual maturity. It’s important to remember, however, that age is not a good predictor of maturity. Some ten-year-olds may have the skill and judgment to handle self-care, while some fourteen-year-olds may still need lots of adult supervision.

How do you make sure that home alone doesn’t turn into risky business? Ask yourself the following questions:

Is there an alternative? When children express a desire to be home alone, perhaps they are dissatisfied with the present care arrangement. You may be able to hire a college-age sitter, find a new school-age care program, advocate for after-school programs for older youth, or make arrangements with other parents in the same predicament.

Does your child really want to be home alone? If your child seems excited about home alone independence, he may be ready for self-care. On the other hand, if he is anxious, fearful or lonely after a few experiences on his own, he’s probably not.

Are your home and neighborhood safe? Safety is your first concern. When you childproof your home for a school-ager, you must consider such things as firearms, alcohol, tobacco products, medicines, and Internet use. There should always be adult back-up, such as a dependable neighbor or relative, in the event of an emergency.

Can your child obey rules and follow directions? To keep kids safe in self-care, parents will need to establish clear rules and routines. If your child resists rules, loses things, can’t stick to routines for homework, or doesn’t follow through on responsibilities, he can’t be trusted to stay home alone.

If you decide that your child is ready to be home alone after school, give it a trial period. If it works, continue to monitor your child regularly. If it doesn’t, continue to search for other alternatives.

 

Tim Jahn is a Human Ecology Specialist with Cornell Cooperative Extension of Suffolk County’s Family Health and Wellness Program and leads workshops for parents of pre-teens and teens. He can be reached at 631-727-7850 ext. 331 or at tcj2@cornell.edu.

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