At What Age Can You Leave Kids Home Alone?

Pennsylvania, New Jersey and Delaware don't give a specific answer, but a new survey of social workers says kids should be at least 12.

You know you shouldn't leave a 6-year-old home alone. You're pretty sure it's okay to leave your 17-year-old by himself, though there are days… 

But what about ages in between? You think you know your kids and can make the call based on their maturity, common sense and personality. 

Of course you're primarily making the decision based on your child's safety, but there are also legal ramifications. Could you get in trouble, even if your time away from the house is uneventful?

Most states — including Pennsylvania, New Jersey and Delaware — don't set a specific age for when a child can be left alone.

Delaware comes the closest by saying it will investigate reports of a child under 12 left home alone. 

If you're looking for a "What would a child-welfare worker say?" answer, a study released this week found the majority of nearly 500 social workers said the child should be at least 12.

Nearly every social worker surveyed said leaving a 6-year-old home for four hours was neglectful. More than 80 percent said that was the case when they were 8 and it was a 50-50 split for 10 year olds.

More than half said it should be illegal to leave a child younger than 12 home alone and four-fifths said the same should apply to those under 10.

Most parents aren't going to make this decision based on whether they'll get in trouble; they will base it on how safe they think their kids will be by themselves for a little while. 

Signs your child is ready to be left alone

Here are some signs to look for that your child is ready to be alone at home:

• Wants to stay home alone and is not fearful about it

• Exhibits good decision making

• Shows he is aware of others and his surroundings

• Proves himself to be responsible and trustworthy

• Knows home address and phone number as well as how to get in touch with parents

• Can make a snack for himself

• Knows how to use a phone to call a neighbor for  help and dial 911

• Follows simple rules and instructions

• Knows basic first aid

If you decide they are ready, here is how to prepare them so you can leave the house with some peace of mind.

Categories: News & Views, Tweens & Teens