Perhaps Home Alone isn’t really a good movie for kids to see. After watching it during a very long drive from North Carolina to Maine, the kids commented how cool it would be to sled down the stairs and out the door as Macaulay Caulkin does. Fortunately it hardly evers snow in NC, so we don’t own a sled. But my husband, in his infinite wisdom, shared how as a kid he and his brother somehow connected Hot Wheel tracks and skied down the stairway. These very same tracks sit in our bonus room . . . readily accessible for such an adventure.
All this is to say, will I ever be able to leave the kids in the house alone because I’ve been dreaming of the day when my daughter can babysit my son, and I can actually afford to go out instead of going into debt paying the sitter.
Lisa W. Foderaro wrote about this topic in yesterday’s New York Times—Children Left Alone at Home, Worriedly.
Her article has set off a frenzy of blog commentary. Alice Bradley decided to consult her mom about the issue. She insisted that she didn’t leave Alice alone until she was 11, and that Alice was an incredibly mature young child. Alice’s response: “I was a big baby. If the oven had suddenly caught fire I would have hid under my bed. I suspect my mom crossed her fingers and hoped for the best.”
Meredith O’Brien talks about a friend who has decided to let her grade school-aged boys stay home alone after school for the 20-minute or so gap in between the time the bus drops them off and the time she gets home from work.
In the NYT piece, Sharman Stein, a spokeswoman for the New York City Administration for Children’s Services, says “There are child-safety experts who believe some 10-year-olds are quite O.K. alone and others who would tell you that there are some 14-year-olds they wouldn’t leave alone.”
This seems to be the general consensus of most “experts.” It’s not about an age, it’s about a personality. In its fact sheet on the subject, the The American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry says, “ Parent (s) must consider the child’s level of maturity and past evidence of responsible behavior and good judgment.”
As the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services notes, “No consistent community standards exist describing when and under what circumstances children can be left alone or in the care of other children.”
Standards or not, many kids are staying home alone. A 2003 study by Child Trends, estimated that three million children nationwide under the age of 13 are home alone for at least a few hours a week on a regular basis.
But even when parents do leave their kids home alone, they worry. A poll by The University of Michigan C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital, found that “many parents leave their tweens home alone for an extended period of time, even though they are not confident these 11- to 13-year-olds have the knowledge or skills to stay safe.”
I have left my daughter at home alone twice—and for no more than 30 minutes. I’m not sure how I feel about leaving her alone longer. And there is no way that she is ready to watch her brother (or maybe it’s the other way around).