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Go Ask Mom

Solo Mom: Home alone - when are kids ready?

Posted December 10, 2013

Stacy Lamb, organizer of Single Parents of the Triangle

In my last post, I wrote about my four-year-old wanting his own cell phone, and my thoughts on when my children might actually get one.

Everyone is different, but my answer is that the kids don’t need a separate phone until they are old enough to stay home alone. Until then, they use my phone when they need to make a call. This piece sparked quite a discussion among my circles about cell phones, but also about when is the “right” time to leave the kid(s) home alone.

I remember walking home from elementary school with other neighborhood friends, but I’m pretty sure my mother was always home when I got there – and if not, I’d go to another friend’s house until she was. It seems fewer kids walk to/from school now, but judging by the number of minivans at the bus stops, I don’t think even the bus riders are left home alone.

My children are 8 and 4, so for us the issue of staying home alone is not even open for discussion. I’ve been asked why I don’t go out for my runs like many others do, early in the morning, or even at night when the kids are asleep. My answer is that I am not comfortable leaving my children home alone (especially asleep), even if I’m just in the neighborhood. I get my runs in during lunchtime when I can get away from my desk, and I generally make it to the gym one night a week when my mother babysits.

I was personally surprised to hear that some parents leave their 9 and ten year olds home alone – for me that’s still too young.

Every family is different, but I don’t think my oldest would even want to be left home at this point. She’s very bright and very responsible, as far as kids go, but I also know she wouldn’t hesitate to try to cook something if she wanted to, or climb anything available to get something out of reach (at age 2 she got herself a Bandaid from the medicine cabinet by stacking a stool on top of a chair).

No doubt, if I left her in charge of her brother, one of them would be locked in a closet by the time I got home!

So for now, my dining out consists of kid friendly restaurants with the occasional (babysitter hired) date night. If I want to go for a run on the weekend, I take my kids with me on their bikes. This is time well spent together anyway – everyone can use some fresh air and exercise.

I don’t get out a whole lot, but my friends haven’t forgotten me yet – a group of them even surprised me with a babysitter and a night out for my birthday! The rest of the day was spent celebrating with other single parent friends and our children, so I got the best of both worlds.

Stacy Lamb of Apex is the divorced mom of two. She is an active member and former organizer of Single Parents of the Triangle. Find her here monthly.



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  • ezLikeSundayMorning Dec 11, 2013

    I share the opinion that we keep our children from maturing by hovering too much. I've only left my 9 year old home alone while I jogged around the block a few times, I passed by every 7 minutes.

    I'm more worried about the legal troubles if something did happen. I have complete confidence he could take care of himself and get help if needed, but once that help arrived, I suspect they would judge me harshly even if my son did everything right. Leaving him in charge of younger siblings is another matter and he's just not there yet.

    My neighbors leave their children to catch the bus on their own. The older two leave first and that leaves just the two (maybe 2nd and 3rd grade) for a little under an hour. They seem to do a good job and can count on us or another neighbor.

  • Taffy Dec 11, 2013

    It really depends on the maturity & common sense exhibited by the child or children.My mom & dad left us alone 1 night a week when they went bowling. I was in 6th grade & my brother was in 3rd. We stayed in their bedroom to watch TV and had special snacks.I started babysitting for neighbors at 13 during the day & early afternoon.It really needs to be examined by maturity, environment, length of time and whether siblings get along. Each family needs to make the right choice for them - not what any of their friends or neighbors do. Although sometimes I think we keep our children too dependent on us and thus unable to grow & take on more responsiblity.

  • mrschizzy Dec 11, 2013

    We didn't leave my son home after school by himself until he was 13 - which coincidentally was the first year of middle school for him. But he wasn't alone for very long - 2 hours at the most usually. He would get home around 4 and then one or both of us is home by 6 at the latest. We have not left him alone in the evenings, except for maybe a quick run to the store, so 30 mins or so. I don't like leaving him by himself after dark.

  • hihuwatlu Dec 11, 2013

    Totally depends on the child and circumstances. My daughter's school bus sometimes dropped her off 5-10 minutes before I could get home from work when she was around 9 or 10. We had close neighbors, who we knew, and many were either retired or stay at home moms so she could get help if needed. Other than that, she was probably 13 or so before spending much time home alone. Even then, she usually preferred to go with me wherever I went or go stay with a grandparent.

  • Solo Mom Dec 11, 2013

    Also, from the National SAFEKIDS Campaign (

    Developmentally, children are generally ready to be home alone around the age of 12 or 13. However, children develop at different rates, so use your own discretion, within the boundaries of the law, to determine your child’s maturity level and capabilities.

  • Solo Mom Dec 11, 2013

    Jennybrown - to answer your question, from the NC Dept of Health and Human Services:

    Although there is no age specified in juvenile code that addresses the age a child may be left home alone, North Carolina fire code (G.S. § 14-318) states that a child under the age of eight shall not be left alone without appropriate supervision due to the risk of danger by fire. Parents and caretakers must look at the child's maturity, the safety of the community, and access to emergency assistance. A child may be mature enough to stay alone, but not to care for younger siblings. If you are concerned that a child is left alone and is unsafe, call your county department of social services.

  • busyb97 Dec 10, 2013

    Believe it or not, but there is not a law with a minimum age.....a few years ago, we checked because our neighbors regularly left their then 7 and 10 yr old boys home alone. They would come play witih my boys, and then the little one would go home to cook something, etc. scared me to death, but fortunately, they hung around with my boys most of the time then, or would just play video games.

    Anyway, i think it really depends on each child. Every child's maturity is going to be different. There is not set age in my mind.....just like I think the same for a teens age to drive and when they "become an adult". That is just a number. Maturity and responsibility speak volumes.

  • jennybbrown Dec 10, 2013

    Is there a law in NC that states the appropriate age? I know in some states it's legal to leave a 13 yr old home alone.