While commenting on Sunday Stars last week I read a post by Lisa, who blogs over at Mumma Scribbles, about leaving children at home alone. Poor Lisa had an awful experience as a 12 year old and now as a mother to young children is questioning what age is considered appropriate, you should go and read her post here.
After reading the comments, where the perceived ‘appropriate’ age varied from six up to 15, I decided I needed to share my own opinions on this matter. But first I just want to go over the legalities with you.
Of course herein lies the problem.
There is NO legal minimum age for leaving children home alone. Here is the link to the government website. It simply contains a tiny bit of information released by the NSPCC which you can read in full here.
Basically it is the parents responsibility to decide if a child is capable enough to be left home alone and to ensure that they are leaving them in a safe environment with food and heat. Until they are 16 the parent is responsible if anything goes wrong and can be prosecuted for neglect if it does.
So what is my opinion? Do I believe there is a specific ‘ideal’ age to leave a child alone? Do I believe there should be a legally binding lower age limit?
Well, To begin with I believe it depends on each individual child and only the parent can make the final decision.
I currently have two almost 14 year olds, an 11 year old, an eight year old and a 20 month old. And yes, shock horror, I have left them all in the house to pop to the shop. I have left my oldest four while I visited somewhere in the valley. I have left my oldest three, while I have been out of the valley for a few hours.
Do I get concerned about them?
Of course I do! I am their mother after all.
My daughters can all cook a meal for the entire family, not just themselves, they can make hot drinks safely and use sharp knives responsibly. They can change nappies (although they object to stinky ones!), they can bathe a toddler and put him to bed (not that they do these things while I’m out,I’m just making a point). They would act responsibly in an emergency.
My eight year old son walks the 15 minutes to and from school every day, on the very rare occasion he has needed to let himself in, he just watches the TV till someone comes home, which is always within 15 minutes. He can make himself toast or a sandwich and a drink. He has a mobile with everyone’s numbers and knows what to do if there is an emergency.
O is a toddler, of course I wouldn’t leave him alone, I’m not an idiot!
I know I can trust MY children because I have taught them to be independent and are capable of taking care of themselves. I also trust my children not to do anything stupid whether it be purposefully, like sliding down the stairs on a baking tray. Or accidentally, like leaving food in the oven and going out. They are all pretty sensible kids. I have a mobile phone, as do they. We can be in contact instantly, we also have family and friends dotted all around the valley where they know they can go for any reason at all.
They are also completely happy and comfortable to be left.
At eight, or even 12, YOUR child may not be sensible enough to be left home alone. At 14, they still may not be comfortable being alone for hours at a time. There is nothing wrong with that, all children are different.
What you have to keep in mind is at 16 those children are no longer really children. They legally allowed to leave school and home, they can get a job, have sex, make their own decisions in life, they can enlist in the armed forces (albeit with parental consent) to learn to fight, and kill, for their country which they can then be doing as young as 18.
Yet at 15 some parents still don’t believe they are safe enough to be left in the comfort of their own home.
Surely as parents we are doing a complete disservice to our children if we haven’t prepared them to be self sufficient well before that? How can they be expected to survive in the adult world if they have never been given the opportunity to fend for themselves for even a few minutes?
Do I believe that the government should make a legal minimum age for leaving children alone?
Actually no I don’t.
Let’s say a law was made stating that infants are not allowed to be left home alone. Could parents then legally leave 3 year olds in bed while they went to the pub? So what if they created a law that under 12’s were not allowed to be left? What would happen to all the children of working parents, or parents who have kids in different schools, who are perfectly capable of walking to and from home and then wait for a parent to come home from work? How many families would suffer because one parent (or the only parent) would need to stop working, even though some of these children are in secondary school?
I believe that ultimately it’s up to each set of parents and the children themselves to decide when the right time is, no one else.
So what do you think? Do you believe there should be a legal minimum age? How young do you think is too young to be left home alone?