Every parent, at some point, must decide if and when their child is responsible enough to stay home alone for a short period of time. Most often the reason is that both parents need to work. Child care is costly and family members often live too far away to help. If the children are too young staying home alone, there may be negative consequences both legally and health-wise.
Parents should find out about their state and local laws regarding unsupervised children. In one state it is illegal to leave a child under 14 home alone. In another it is okay to leave a child unsupervised after they turn 8 years old. In California there is no specific age stated in the law. Therefore, parents must follow the guidelines below to make a responsible decision. In most cases, a child under 12 is not ready to stay home alone.
Parents must consider their child’s development. The brain continues to develop advanced functions such as planning, memory and impulse control into the late teens and 20’s. This maturation of the brain allows a child to evaluate a problem and use appropriate decision-making skills to resolve the problem. Every child develops at a different rate. Parents must watch for these decision-making skills in every day situations, and even practice these skills with role playing at home.
Children left at home unsupervised are more likely to feel alone, scared, or bored. In children under 14 years old, more injuries occur from falls, burns (from house fires), and poisonings if left unsupervised. Children left home alone are more likely to experiment with risky activities such as smoking, alcohol, and drugs. However, if a child is left unsupervised at the appropriate age, they often develop a better sense of responsibility and independence.
Resources: Consultant for Pediatricians: May 2010