When kids are old enough to stay home alone

May 15, 2014 by Scott Gilbert, Pennsylvania State University
Children participating in one of Penn State's Science-U Jr. Sleuths camps begin an experiment that introduced mixing individual polymers to create a new polymer. Camps are an option for parents of children too young to be left at home alone during the summer. Credit: Penn State

(Medical Xpress)—As the school year draws to a close, many parents face the question of whether their children can be left home alone during the day in the summer months.

Pennsylvania, like the majority of states, has no law on the subject, according to Susan Rzucidlo, pediatric trauma and injury prevention program manager at Penn State Hershey Children's Hospital and coordinator of Safe Kids Dauphin County.

The National Safe Kids campaign suggests that younger than13 shouldn't be left alone, but there are qualifiers.

Most guidelines indicate that a 7-year-old could probably stay home alone safely while you run a 20-minute errand. If the is 10 or younger, an hour or two might be the longest you'd want to leave them.

For children ages 10 to 12, it depends on the child. Parents should consider the child's maturity level, behavior, and emotional readiness before making a decision. Also, how does the child feel about such an arrangement?

Before giving it a try, the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry suggests parents spend time talking about expectations for the time alone. What is and isn't OK for them to do? How would they handle certain situations? Maybe do some role playing with your child.

"Maybe a 13-year-old can use the microwave, but would you want them using the stove or baking cookies? What would they do if someone comes to the door? If there were a fire or they were to cut themselves?" Rzucidlo said.

It's also important to consider sibling interactions. A 13-year-old who might be fine on his or her own at home might end up fighting with a younger brother or sister left in his or her care. And would the child be allowed to go places? To have friends over while you are gone? Or to go to the homes of their friends?

"You could have certain rules when you are there, but you might need to be more explicit about what you want when you aren't there," Rzucidlo said.

Penn State Hershey and the Red Cross offer safe sitters programs that teach children ages 11 to 13 what to do in an emergency and how to handle who may be at a different stage developmentally. They can also take a hands-free CPR class. "That's not a bad thing to learn anyway," Rzucidlo said.

If you and your child don't feel comfortable with the arrangement, it's wise to consider alternatives. Maybe a sitter could come in just for the afternoon, once the child has gotten up, dressed, eaten breakfast and completed any household chores? Maybe the child takes turns staying with different neighbors and friends so they have someone to do things and adult supervision?

"It is hard because it can be very expensive to send them to camps," Rzucidlo said. "If you can find a neighbor or someone a few years older who could come and babysit, it might cost less."

Rzucidlo suggests looking into free programs such as Vacation Bible School or other activities offered by local organizations and community groups. Many local recreation departments offer free or low-cost summer programs for children of all ages.

Explore further: Think before you shop: A guide to safe holiday gift buying

More information: To learn more, check out these resources:

www.centralpennparent.com
www.parenting.org/article/kids-home-alone
msue.anr.msu.edu/news/home_alone_isnt_just_a_movie

Related Stories

Think before you shop: A guide to safe holiday gift buying

November 22, 2012
(Medical Xpress)—At this time of year, most of us are busy planning the holiday experience for families and loved ones. For the kids, it's about the anticipation and the toys.

Thousands of kids injured in furniture accidents

May 5, 2011
In the winter months, more injuries occur in the home as children and their families are indoors for longer periods. In 2007, the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) identified injuries from furniture tip-overs ...

Younger siblings of kids with autism may show early signs of problems

March 7, 2014
(HealthDay)—Younger siblings of children with autism may show signs of abnormal development or behavior as early as 1 year of age, according to a new study.

Parents just as likely to use cell phones while driving, putting child passengers at risk

April 30, 2014
Despite their precious cargo, parents are no less likely to engage in driving distractions like cell phone use than drivers from the general population, according to a new University of Michigan study published in Academic ...

'Sensitive' older sibling may help boost preschoolers' language skills

January 27, 2014
(HealthDay)—Preschoolers with lots of brothers and sisters seem to develop language skills a bit slower than other kids—possibly because they get less attention from mom and dad.

One out of two parents do not see their child's weight problems

March 13, 2014
One out of two parents of children with overweight feel that their child's weight is normal. Four out of ten parents of children with overweight or obesity are even worried that their child will get too thin. These are the ...

Recommended for you

Who uses phone apps to track sleep habits? Mostly the healthy and wealthy in US

January 16, 2018
The profile of most Americans who use popular mobile phone apps that track sleep habits is that they are relatively affluent, claim to eat well, and say they are in good health, even if some of them tend to smoke.

Improvements in mortality rates are slowed by rise in obesity in the United States

January 15, 2018
With countless medical advances and efforts to curb smoking, one might expect that life expectancy in the United States would improve. Yet according to recent studies, there's been a reduction in the rate of improvement in ...

Teens likely to crave junk food after watching TV ads

January 15, 2018
Teenagers who watch more than three hours of commercial TV a day are more likely to eat hundreds of extra junk food snacks, according to a report by Cancer Research UK.

Can muesli help against arthritis?

January 15, 2018
It is well known that healthy eating increases a general sense of wellbeing. Researchers at Friedrich-Alexander-Universität Erlangen-Nürnberg (FAU) have now discovered that a fibre-rich diet can have a positive influence ...

Your dishwasher is not as sterile as you think

January 13, 2018
(HealthDay)—Your dishwasher may get those plates spotless, but it is also probably teeming with bacteria and fungus, a new study suggests.

Study reveals what sleep talkers have to say

January 12, 2018
A team of researchers with members from several institutions in France has conducted a study regarding sleep talking and has found that most sleep talking is not only negative in nature, but involves a large amount of swearing. ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.