Leaving children home alone

It’s not something I have to think about at the moment because I’m not quite stupid enough to leave Zach home alone at the age of two and a half. I mean, he would turn the hob on (because he’s darn tall enough to attempt it now), try and put toast in the toaster (after dragging something over to it to help him get up there), or kill the fish through overfeeding (after dragging something over to the tank to help him open it). However it has been revealed this week that one parent is arrested every day on suspicion of leaving one or more children home alone. According to the report, cases involved children aged from just a few weeks to 14 years old. Here lies the problem; there is no law that determines an age at which a child can be left alone.

Obviously this is not a problem regarding young children. Quite simply, do not leave them alone! No matter how responsible you think your eight year old may be; they aren’t responsible enough, and no matter how you may be thinking that the corner shop is two doors down and the baby is sleeping, do not leave them. They may wake up, they may cry, they may choke on their crying and something terrible may happen. I have experience of that. I was not left home alone, my mum was upstairs bathing my sister and I was downstairs in the hallway asleep in my pram. Only I woke up and I was unhappy so I cried and cried and my poor mum had one child crying their eyes out and one she had to safely remove from the bath (my sister would have been about four). What happened next was that I got myself into such a state that I stopped breathing and I very nearly died. Thankfully, I am here to tell the story even if I don’t remember it! So, there lies my point, I was not home alone, simply downstairs and something terrible nearly happened.

However, what age is acceptable to leave a child alone? My Nephew gets home from school to an empty house and mostly goes up to his bedroom, puts the XBox on and sits there until my sister comes home. He’s 12. Is that old enough? Is it too young? I have a feeling you are saying that’s old enough to be left at home for a few hours, but is it really? What about the safety aspect of it? I’ll tell you another story.

I was left home alone at the age of 12. It was an inset day at school and my mum had to go to work for just a few hours, no more than a mile away from home. She thought I was old enough, I thought I was old enough. I probably was old enough to make sure that I was ok for a few hours but unfortunately someone else had other ideas. While I was upstairs getting dressed, there was a ring on the doorbell. I was in my underwear so clearly, didn’t answer it (plus, I’m sure my mum told me not to answer the door anyway). A mere half an hour later while still upstairs, I could hear my dog barking and noises coming from downstairs. Yep, you guessed it, there was a burglar in the house. To say I was terrified is an understatement. When I heard his footsteps coming up the stairs, I was on the phone to my Dad’s office (again a mere half a mile from home), and mr burglar heard me talking (I remember I was saying he’s coming upstairs in a hideously panicked tone and he legged it out the front door). Moments later the police arrived, my mum was called and she initally thought I’d gone out and left a door unlocked. I remember her face when I informed her that actually I was in the house. I can tell you now, that memory has haunted me forever. I am 32 now and still freak out if I’m home alone and upstairs! The littlest noise sends me into sheer panic and I’m convinced someone has got in.

So, was I too young? Was it a freak happening or should my mum or dad have been home with me at the age of twelve to make sure I was safe?

To be honest, I can’t answer the question! I don’t see the problem with my nephew spending some time at home alone, it’s never longer than a couple of hours. But then I think of what happened to me and I think otherwise. Then I think we would be wrapping them in cotton wool in a world that you need to be strong in.

Chris Cloke, head of child protection awareness at the NSPCC, said, “Ideally, parents should check that their children are happy and confident to be left at home alone and know what to do in an emergency.”

That’s all well and good; I knew what to do in an emergency (although it wasn’t me that called the police as I was worried the dog was just chasing a fly!), my mum had checked that I was happy and confident to be left alone for a few hours but not one of us could have anticipated what happened, actually happening.

It’s a tough one isn’t it? I’d love to hear your opinions!

You can read the full report by ITV News here and the advice that the NSPCC gives here

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31 Comments

  1. March 28, 2015 / 8:12 am

    This is a great post and such a difficult subject.

    My son is 12 next week and on a couple of occasions we have left him for no more than about half an hour – he had his phone on him and was happily playing on his xbox so probably didn’t even think twice about us while we were gone. I also gave him the whole safety talk before we left although being an almost-teenage-boy he probably wasn’t listening but I was worrying the whole time!! For me it’s just not worth the worry of all the possible things that might happen.

    I wish the government would decide on a set of rules for this if only to give parents some guidelines to follow!

    • April 2, 2015 / 1:56 pm

      Absolutely agree with you, there needs to be some age limit so that we at least have something to go by. It’s also a tough one because I know for me it was feeling trusted and earning that little bit of responsibility. There is no answer, it’s just such an interesting topic! Thanks for commenting πŸ™‚

  2. March 28, 2015 / 8:14 am

    Gosh how scary for you! My eldest is 10, nearly 11 and I would not leave her yet. It is hard to say how I will feel when she is 12, 13 or older. I can’t imagine being comfortable until she is 16, but who knows how I will feel when she is 12?

    • April 2, 2015 / 1:58 pm

      It definitely does depend on the child in a lot of circumstances! Two twelve year olds may have a completely different mentality. It would just be nice to have a guidance there to go by what people think is acceptable! Maybe there will be by the time mine is old enough! Thanks for commenting πŸ™‚

  3. March 28, 2015 / 11:25 am

    Wow that is so blooming scary. I always thought high school time (so almost 12) and that was simply because I was left then. My Mum was alone and it was less money on child minders after school. I used to pick my brother up too later on from the childminder until my Mum came back. However I’m 30 now and think have times changed? Be interesting to see how I feel with my girl when she’s a school xxx #bigfatlinky

    • April 2, 2015 / 2:00 pm

      This is the thing. Is there much of a difference in being left home alone for a couple of hours than there is to have to navigate yourself to school twice a day. I too think high school age is a good time to be learning responsibilities. I definitely don’t think my mum was to blame for leaving me alone – it was a freak incident! Thanks for commenting πŸ™‚

  4. March 28, 2015 / 11:44 am

    I leave my 12 year old and 10 year old at home but only when I am out for a short time. I have to take the 12 year old to swimming every afternoon – it is a 20 min round trip to drop him and I will leave the 10 year old home. We live in a complex so both neighbours are home and often other people as well – so there is always “help” and we have a panic button.

    The 12 year old does stay a bit longer but he would know how to react in an emergency!

    I only started doing it this year though.

    • April 2, 2015 / 2:01 pm

      I do think it is about the right age depending on the child. I wish I’d have had a panic button all those years ago – they might have caught him in the act! Thanks for commenting πŸ™‚

  5. March 28, 2015 / 1:16 pm

    That’s so scary! I bet you were terrified! πŸ™ Personally I feel, and I’m sure I was told when I was younger that you shouldn’t leave a child younger than 15 home alone for any time. And you can’t leave a child to look after another child unless they are older than 16. I would honestly never leave my children in the house alone, unless they were 15. I just think thats a good, more sensible age. Saying that, my mother in law leaves my brother in law home alone all the time, and he’s 11. He does only stay upstairs, shut in his room. But still, I wouldnt risk it at all. Sarah xx
    whimsicalmumblings.blogspot.co.uk

    • April 2, 2015 / 2:03 pm

      It’s so interesting hearing everyone’s opinions on this. It proves there is no general rule for this! I’m a long way off leaving a child at home so there may be something in place by then but I think there should be some guidance considering all the different comments I’m getting! Thanks for commenting πŸ™‚

  6. March 28, 2015 / 2:52 pm

    This topic is one that, thankfully, I am yet to have to cross. My children are 2.5 years and 1 year, so obviously too young to be left along.

    The whole idea freaks me out. I think I’m going to be an ultra controlling parent and really struggle with allowing them to slowly sever the apron strings. I have no idea when is old enough, and I think I’ll have even less idea when my kids are 12 years old.

    • April 2, 2015 / 2:04 pm

      Hehe it gets harder as they get older doesn’t it?! At what point do we leave them to be taught certain responsibilities etc? It’s such a hard one and clearly something that needs a bit of thought put into it! Thanks for commenting – maybe by the time our little ones are old enough, they’ll be some guidelines in place!

  7. March 28, 2015 / 8:05 pm

    Personally I think it comes down to the child. My eldest son is very aware of his safter (he’s 15) and has been left after school alone for a few hours since about 12, my younger son is 11 and not quite so self aware so I would be more wary.

    I often think we have changed in society and now trust our kids less, I’ve heard tales (actually in the US not UK) of parents getting in trouble for their kids aged 10 walking home alone or going to the park, yet I was walking to and from school from about 8 (so 30 odd years ago). Although I would never have been left at home alone (a bit contradictory I guess, glad to see that hasn’t changed in parenting lol).

    • April 2, 2015 / 2:06 pm

      We started walking to school on our own in the final year of junior school so that we were ready when it came to senior school. I’d say it’s just as worrying walking to school as staying home alone – there is danger everywhere but it’s about making the littlies aware and sensible! Thanks for commenting πŸ™‚

  8. March 28, 2015 / 10:19 pm

    Blimey. That sent shivers through me. In all honesty I can’t imagine a time when I will be happy with my children being home alone. I would hope I’m always there but know that they will be along eventually! x

    • April 2, 2015 / 2:08 pm

      It’s so hard. Part of growing up is learning these responsibilities and yet, we want them to be as safe as possible! Such a tricky one! Thanks for commenting!

  9. Rachel
    March 29, 2015 / 9:21 am

    I think to some extent this is culturally determined. People here in the Netherlands start to leave their kids alone at home for a short period at a much earlier age, anywhere from 6 to 9, I’d guess. Kids walk or bike to school alone too, but the parents make the call as to when they’re ready. My daughter biked to school without me starting at age 9. (The first time, I followed along in the distance sneakily to make sure she was following all the rules she’d been taught). My son, on the other hand, had a shorter distance to go and only one street to walk across, but I saw him across that road till he learned to consistently look both ways, which was when he was 10. When kids are 11 or 12 they start secondary school and it is just NOT DONE to escort them to secondary school, so they walk or bike or take public transportation on their own. So if they can do that on their own, they can be at home on their own, is the reasoning. So 12 seems to be the standard cut-off point, and it’s up to the parents to teach about safety and what to do in emergencies.

    • April 2, 2015 / 2:15 pm

      I have definitely heard about how things are done in other countries. I know someone whose sister moved to Switzerland and her 6 year old son was expected to walk to school on his own, involving getting buses! It’s a completely different scenario to here in the UK. I do agree that senior school age children is where it should start. We all need to learn how to responsible right?! Thanks for commenting πŸ™‚

  10. March 29, 2015 / 10:09 am

    Good post, its def got me thinking!!
    I think it should be more down to maturity than age in my opinion. But saying that I also wish they’d put a rule in place to use as a guideline.
    My eldest son is almost 11, and I wouldn’t leave him home alone yet. He’s due to start high school in a few months and catch a bus to the other side of town by himself and its already scaring the life out of me, I just don’t feel that he is ready. He may be ‘old enough’ for this, but i don’t feel he is sensible and mature enough yet!
    That mustve been so scary for you re. the burglar, but you know what? I think I’d react and feel the exact same way now, at 31! πŸ™‚

    • April 2, 2015 / 2:19 pm

      Oh completely! I would be the same now as I was then. I completely agree with the maturity situation, it’s easier to judge when you know the child but there should be an underlying age as a guidance! Thanks for commenting!

  11. March 29, 2015 / 4:25 pm

    It really depends for what I think. Nipping to the shops but only going for 5 minutes then I’d consider 10 to be ok. As for a period of time I don’t really know. I think I’d definitely consider it 12 and up. All depending on the child. Thanks for linking up with us on the #bigfatlinky

    • April 2, 2015 / 2:20 pm

      My thoughts exactly! It obviously depends on the child as well but I think we maybe need to trust our children a little more than we do! There is no accounting for what happened to me as a similar thing could have happened when walking to school! Thanks for commenting πŸ™‚

  12. March 29, 2015 / 7:38 pm

    Really thought provoking post Lisa. Sorry to hear about the burglary, I’d be terrified now let alone at 12!!

    I used to get left from eight, and put in charge of my 2 & 5 year old siblings, but my family was a highly dysfunctional one, and I’d hope I was in the minority to have experienced it. I’ll be supervising my own kids until they’re well into their teens! #sundaystars

    • April 2, 2015 / 2:21 pm

      Wow, that is young but as you say, it wasn’t quite normal. I’m assuming it has some effect on the decisions you are taking towards your own children. I definitely think there needs to be an age for guidance and for the safety of the younger children. Thanks for commenting!

  13. March 30, 2015 / 2:11 am

    Ok wow. My children are 8 & 10 and I was thinking next year I could maybe start work, put my 2 year old in chilcare and the bigger ones could come home to an empty house after school. As A child I was home alone for an hour after school from the age of 7 until my dad got home from school. I guess the reality is you just never know what can happen.

    • April 2, 2015 / 2:23 pm

      Absolutely and I think it really does vary depending on the child. I do think there are so many working mums now that it must be more tempting to trust the kids rather than pay for additional childcare! There definitely needs to be a guidance put in place though, for both the kids and the adults sakes! Thanks for commenting!

  14. April 2, 2015 / 11:10 pm

    I can understand your fears due to your history. Personally? I think it depends on each child and only the parents can decide if they are responsible enough. The trouble is children are legally allowed to walk home from school when they hit junior school age. So surely they should then legally be safe to be at home (which is usually safer than wandering the streets!)? My youngest is an August baby and has been walking the 15 minutes to and from school since he was 7 years and two weeks old, he doesn’t dawdle and is safe crossing the roads. But we live in a small, quiet village which makes a difference.
    I think those who are saying children shouldn’t be left alone until they are 15 are just being completely overprotective. At 16 years old those ‘children’ can leave home, get jobs, join the army, yet they are not responsible enough to be in their own home? Unless you have brought up your kids to be completely dependent on you they should be perfectly capable of looking after themselves years before that!
    Thanks for linking up to #SundayStars xxx

    • April 3, 2015 / 12:11 am

      I completely agree with you! I see my case as a complete accident if you can call it that. Nobody could have prepared for it happening. I still remember being left and definitely feeling like it was the right thing for my age. I see my nephew at that age now and he is perfectly capable to stay by himself- I think he feels trusted and grown up and therefore doesn’t do anything stupid!!!

  15. April 3, 2015 / 9:43 pm

    i think I must have been 15 the first time I babysat. I find myself wondering whether I would be happy to let a 15 year old babysit my little one.
    I was (or think I was) very responsible as a teenager, but still…
    I also remember the first time my brother and I were allowed to walk the half mile to the village centre all by ourselves. The freedom! Our parents must have spent the whole time we were gone slightly on edge! I think we must have been 12 and 8. I don’t think they would have left us home alone for longer than half an hour or so at that age though.

    • April 8, 2015 / 9:09 am

      Thinking about it, I used to babysit at that age too. I regularly babysat two children – one of which was a baby and on a couple of occasions three children, again, one of which was a baby! I can’t say I’d leave my boy with a 15 year old now. Funny how things have changed so much.

  16. April 5, 2015 / 10:23 pm

    Oh that one is so very hard to answer. Years ago I would have said 12 of course it’s fine and I was left alone at that age and even moreso I babysat other babies at 12 in my town. But I think areas matter too. I grew up in a small small country town in america where every neighbor knew everyone. Not saying nothing bad could have happened but that was the life we lead. We turned 12 we started to babysit if it wasn’t for our siblings it was for our neighbors kids. Now that I am a parent myself I can imagine letting a 18 year old babysit my kids let alone a 12 year old. Times have changed and areas too. I don’t know what age I will ever let my children be alone maybe never I am a paranoid one when it comes to that kind of stuff. How scary that happening to you. Bless you. It really is a question to think about. Thanks for linking up to Share With Me. Happy Easter! #sharewithme

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