*Updated 22 January 2018
You may or may not have heard about the 2017 incident where a couple left their sleeping baby alone in their hotel room – taking the baby monitor so they could lovingly observe their sleeping infant from the restaurant in the downstairs area of the hotel.
There was also the 2016 case involving Australian parents who went on holiday leaving their 4 and 6-year-old children unsupervised for an entire week!
While these are of course extreme cases with the latter leading to an arrest, the question of what the appropriate age is for kids to be left alone remains a much-debated topic.
- Also see: How to keep kids safe at home
A mom blogger based in New York recently shared about considering leaving her 7-year-old alone at home.
Her reasoning seems logical, noting that her little boy, the eldest of three, is a rule-following homebody who had been asking to be left home in his own company for a little over a year.
And despite his independent nature, she felt reluctant to leave him home all by himself, rule following or not.
After consulting official legislation she found that an exact age for leaving your child in their own company was not specified.
- Also see: The dangers of distracted parenting
In South Africa, this is basically the case as well.
The law, in particular, the Children’s Act 38 of 2005, doesn’t specify an age at which children are considered old enough to be left at home alone.
A child is considered a child until the age of 18 in SA. There is legislation governing neglect and the rights of the child to proper family care and protection from any abuse or threat to the well-being of the child, but this is always within the context of the individual child.
Responsibility is not determined by age
It’s quite easy to note the ways in which children, even of the same age, vary in degrees of maturity and responsibility. A child of 10 or 12 may well be able to cook for themselves and be aware of the possible dangers present in the home (and how to respond to an emergency situation), while a child of 15 may still require supervision and assistance.
- Also see: Messy houses can be dangerous!
There is no exact age at which a child becomes responsible enough to look after themselves.
In the case of the NYC-based mom, setting a few home-alone rules, and asking her little boy to do a few tasks, which included collecting mail from inside their apartment building, and watching his baby sister for just a few minutes, was enough to convince her not to overestimate her child's level of autonomy.
If you are considering leaving your responsible teen at home alone, make sure to ease him into it.
Start by leaving him for short periods, and then increase the duration of time where he is on his own. Don’t push him to stay alone at home if he is showing signs of distress, which may be anything from tearful “don’t go!” moments to nightmares.
- Also see: Don’t leave your kid in the car!
9 tips for home-alone kids:
- Teach your child basic first aid.
- Have an emergency drill, with a list of relevant telephone numbers on the fridge, and drills for fire/safety or medical emergencies. Make sure he can cope with difficult situations, and that he won’t panic.
- Make sure medicines, swimming pool covers and household chemicals are secured.
- Teach the number one rule: Don’t open the door to ANYONE!
- Have rules: Your child must come straight home, homework/chores must be done/no friends are allowed to come over.
- Get to know your neighbours, and make sure your kid checks in with you or one of them when he comes home.
- Give him a house key (rather than hide it under a doormat), and make sure he knows not to enter the house if it appears that windows or doors have been disturbed.
- Ensure he isn’t afraid. Your child needs to feel secure.
- Make doubly sure he is capable of all of these measures before putting him in charge of other children – situations can get out of control very quickly – remember Macaulay Culkin in the movie “Home Alone”?
Essentially, you and your child should both be comfortable with him staying at home, based on a proven sense of responsibility and his maturity, and a plan for situations which could plausibly arise if you are not around.
It’s perfectly okay to err on the side of caution in this big step – after all, your child’s safety and security are your biggest concerns.
Take a look at our gallery below:
5 dangers your child faces when alone at home
When would you be comfortable leaving your kids at home alone? Vote below or share your home alone stories by emailing to firstname.lastname@example.org and we might publish them. Do let us know if you'd like to stay anonymous.
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