When Is It OK to Leave Your Child Home Alone? Here's What Social Workers Say

Leaving your kids home alone is a big decision. Social workers advise to wait until they're preteens.

Whether or not you feel comfortable leaving your child home alone often depends on your parenting style, as well as your culture. Leaving a young child unattended is often a matter of controversy for parents; some see it as teaching them to be resourceful and independent, whereas others view it as one of the many ways parenting has changed in recent years. Now, new research presented at the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) 2019 National Conference & Exhibition has identified the age at which most social workers agree it's acceptable to leave a child home. Their consensus? Twelve years old.

Researchers out of University of Iowa Carver College of Medicine in Iowa City, Iowa, surveyed 485 members of the National Association of Social Workers (NASW) who work with children and families, and found that over half believed it should be illegal to leave a child home alone for four hours or longer if they're less than 12 years old. More than 80 percent of social workers stated that leaving a child under 8 year old home alone constituted neglect, and around half said it was neglect if the child was 10 or younger.

Also, the social workers were "more likely to consider it child neglect when a child was left home alone if the child had suffered an injury," Charles Jennissen, a clinical professor of pediatrics at the University of Iowa Carver College of Medicine, said in a statement.

The study's authors note that previous research has shown that the lack of adult supervision has contributed to 40 percent of injury-related deaths of children in the U.S. Still, most states don't have set laws on the the minimum age a child can be left alone. The ones that do—Illinois, Maryland, and Oregon—place the ages at 14, 8 and 10, respectively.

Similar to the social workers' consensus in this recent research, the Child Injury Prevention Alliance states that "most children are not ready to stay home alone until they are at least 12 years old," and, even then, "should not be left alone for more than a few hours and never at night." The alliance also states that young children should never be left home alone, and that "children are usually not ready to watch other children until they are even older [than 12]."

They also advise parents to set limits and make rules about what children can do when left unsupervised. Kids should know how to get in touch with their parents and two other adults in case of an emergency, and parents should lock up anything they don't want their kids ingesting (such as prescription drugs or alcohol). Most importantly, parents should make sure their child actually wants to be left home alone, as feeling neglected or abandoned can cause anxiety and other issues.

And for more expert advice on what not to do as a parent, check out the 23 Biggest Parenting Mistakes, According to Child Psychotherapists.

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Diana Bruk
Diana is a senior editor who writes about sex and relationships, modern dating trends, and health and wellness. Read more
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