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Moms Talk: Home Alone—Please, Mom, Just for a Half Hour?

Moms are wondering what age it's OK to let your child stay home alone and for how long?

There comes a point in every mom’s life when she looks around at the chaos of a family of four: one child sick with what is probably strep throat, pending a doctor visit;  another child needing to go to basketball practice; a third child facing an hour of math homework, and the youngest in diapers completely oblivious… but whining.

She thinks: “I can take the baby, drop Joey off to practice on my way to take Sam to the pediatrician, but what about Billy and his math homework? He’s 11, should I let him stay here alone to finish his homework in peace and quiet, rather than get dragged everywhere?”

 Then the mother calculates the time and potential hazard of this solution.

“Please mom, let me stay here,” the boy begs, as the mom searches her decision-making capabilities. 

 Her mind races: He knows 911, but what about the poison control number, should he accidentally ingest a bottle of window cleaner? Ummm, unlikely. He knows how to do Heimlich on himself...or does he?

More likely: the neighborhood friends will be knocking on the door. PlayStation will be calling. Is he responsible enough to say no thanks, and just do his homework?

She is faced with a dilemma. With apologies to the Ramones, should he stay or should he go now? If he goes there might be trouble.

Is 11 old enough to be home alone for an hour while the mom gets things done, so the family can function?

In the child supervision and babysitting guidelines for Prince William County,   it’s suggested that ages 9-11 can be home for an hour and a half during the day (older ages vary). That age may not babysit a younger sibling however. But each case is individual, and the county website offers guidelines and a phone number (703) 793-4200, to check.  

Consider this lenient. According to Parent Dish,  a mom in England was recently ticketed for “cruelty” for allowing her 14 year old son to be home alone, babysitting his 3-year-old brother.

We’d like to hear from you. Do you let your kids stay home alone for short times? Do they babysit their younger siblings? What are the ages and times you feel comfortable with? What about snow day and sick day plans when you are working? Has anything happened that made you re-think your decision?

Rachel February 17, 2011 at 03:11 AM
We are not there yet, but I have nieces. When they were younger and visiting, I would run brief errands and leave my younger kids in their care when they were 15. I was never more than ten minutes away, and they had my number and my SAHM neighbors were on alert. What's amazing is how much kids seem to long for that moment - my seven year old is asking when he can stay home alone? If I leave the main level while he is watching TV, he follows. The youngest - I imagine he will go latch key when he is 10 or 11 (5th grade), but I work ten minutes away and he would arrive home forty five minutes before I would. It depends on his behavior when we get there, of course, and how comfortable he is with the idea - he would not be responsible for anyone else. But if I lived any further or worked any later, I don't think I would even think of it. Even older kids need supervision. Oh, Kristine - Should I Stay or Should I Go was The Clash, not The Ramones ;-)
Jamie M. Rogers (Editor) February 17, 2011 at 03:50 AM
When I was 12 years old and home alone, I called E-911 after getting a toothpick stuck in my foot. That's right-a toothpick. My parents had just installed some plush new carpet which made it easy for a discarded tooth pick to stick straight up-awaiting the next barefoot to stroll by. I still remember scream and falling over as the toothpick went right into my heel and broke off in such a way it couldn't easily be extracted. I was afraid for my safety so I called E-911 and the ambulance came and picked me up and took me to the hospital. The medics left a note for my parents who came to the emergency room and waited with me while a doctor extracted the toothpick. Boy that was painful!
Erin Gibson (Editor) February 17, 2011 at 03:52 AM
It definitely think it depends on the person. There are some 11 year olds I know that would be perfectly capable of being left home alone for an hour or two, but I would never let my 18-year-old brother stay unsupervised in my home. Some kids are capable of using their heads, making sound decisions and being considerate, while others simply are not. When my kids are old enough to stay at home alone, it will definitely be considered a privilege and one that can be taken away just like that if you mess up!
Kris Day February 17, 2011 at 04:37 AM
Jaime, it's painful just thinking about it!
Holly Bowne February 18, 2011 at 02:26 AM
We first started letting our daughter stay home alone for one-hour-or-less increments when she was 11. And then for longer periods when she hit 12. But we'd planned to NEVER let her babysit her little brother! We figured they would fight and it would turn out absolutely awful. Of course, as they grew and matured, that changed. Great discussion topic!

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