When Should I Let My Child Stay Home Alone?

During middle childhood, some kids still need supervision. A responsible adult should be available to get them ready and off to school in the morning and watch over them after school until a parent returns home from work. Even some children approaching adolescence, 11 and 12 year olds, should not come home to an empty house in the afternoon unless they show unusual maturity for their age. Maturity is the key here and is a much more important criterion than age. Some 14 year olds still require supervision; some 12 year olds can be trusted to come home, do their homework and care for themselves responsibly.

What does the law say? The state of Illinois law states that no child can be left alone until he or she is 14 years old. On the flip side, Maryland’s law permits parents to leave children as young as 8 to stay home alone. Ohio does not have a legal age at which children can be left alone but the Franklin County court system has generally ruled that children 12 and over are considered old enough to stay home. To help get them prepared to stay at home, the Dublin Community Recreation Center has a great program that teaches kids to be safe while alone.

When deciding whether your child is ready to return home to an empty house after school, keep in mind that according to research is showing children should have something to do after school. One study showed that middle schoolers who were ages 12 to 14 who were left home alone for 3 or more hours showed higher levels of depression, behavior problems, low self-esteem and low academic efficacy (Mertens et al., 2003). Another study of five thousand 8th graders (12 and 13 year olds from a range of economic and ethnic backgrounds) concluded that children who care for themselves for 11 or more hours per week (about 2 hours per day) were twice as likely to consume alcohol, smoke cigarettes, and use marijuana than children who were supervised (Afterschool Alliance). However, it is the argued opinion that being home alone may provide children with opportunities to enhance their independence and responsibility (Ruiz-Casars et al., 2010). The key to making the decision is knowing your child’s maturity level and whether or not he or she can stay safe when home alone.