When Is It Safe for Kids to Be Home Alone?

Here's how to get your child ready.
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Each year, nearly 7 million school-age children are regularly left home alone, according to a recent report by the Census Bureau. One reason for the large number of kids on their own: Kids these days are often taking on more responsibility at an earlier age, and as a result they feel they're old enough to stay home without supervision.

For parents, the decision can be a tough one -- one that may be subject to state law. Though the law varies from state to state, the minimum age requirement for unattended children is generally 12 or 13 years of age. The National SAFE KIDS Campaign, a national organization dedicated to child safety, recommends that kids not be left alone before the age of 12.

If you plan to leave your son or daughter home alone after school this year, it's smart to begin leaving them unattended for short periods. As they become more comfortable, gradually increase the time with subsequent outings.

To ensure your child's safety when she's staying home alone, the National SAFE KIDS Campaign recommends that you follow these safety tips:

  • Post emergency numbers in a visible place near all the phones in your home. Include: your child's doctor, the hospital, police department, fire department, poison control center and local EMS.
  • Ask your child which neighbors he'd feel comfortable going to for help if a problem arose (Be sure to choose someone who is usually around during the times your child will be home by himself). If the neighbor is willing to be help out, post her phone number near your home telephones.
  • Take a tour of your house and point out potential hazards to your child, such as electrical appliances and heating equipment. Discuss which appliances and electronic devices can and cannot be used when you're not home (i.e. microwave is okay, but oven is not).
  • Make sure your child is familiar with where the smoke alarms and carbon monoxide detectors are located. Also, be sure he knows your family's fire escape plan. Remind him to get out of the house immediately if an alarm goes off, and to call the fire department from a neighbor's phone.
  • If your child has your permission to play outside when you're not home, insist that he wears proper safety gear -- including a helmet -- while cycling, in-line skating, skateboarding or riding a scooter.
  • Prepare a snack or meal for your child in advance, preferably one that does not need to be heated. If your child must use the stove or oven, remind her never to leave a pot unattended while cooking and to check that the stove, oven or burner is turned off when she is finished.
  • Agree on a daily check-in procedure; set a time when you will call home or your child will call you. Tell him how he can contact you and what time you will return home at day's end. If possible leave your cell phone or beeper number so that he can hold of you in an instant, in case of emergency.
  • Establish house rules and make sure your child is comfortable with them. Some common guidelines: Do not answer the door, let the answering machine pick up the phone, no friends allowed in the house.


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