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Is Your Preteen Ready to Stay Home Alone or to Watch Younger Siblings?

Does the idea of leaving your preteen "home alone" for the first time bring to mind scenes from the movie of the same name? Do you picture marathon video game sessions, junk food parties, and toy tornadoes tearing through your house?

Trusting your kids with your home and all its contents is enough to give any parent pause, especially during that gray period between ages 9 and 12 when they're no longer babies but not yet full-fledged teenagers (hence the term, "tweens").

Your concerns are warranted, but there are also some real benefits to leaving preteens home alone, or letting them babysit for younger siblings. First, you're fostering a sense of responsibility. And second, you might actually be able to get out for a quiet, kid-free meal with your spouse.

So how do you know at what age it's OK to leave your tween home alone? And when are your kids old enough to start babysitting? Experts say the answers to these questions depend on your child's maturity and your situation.

Here are a few factors to consider before turning over the house -- and your other kids -- to your preteen.

Maturity Check

Most states don't have laws stipulating how old a child needs to be to stay home alone. So the decision is left up to the parents' judgment. It's pretty obvious to most parents that a 5-year-old is too young to be left alone in the house. But what about an 11- or 12-year-old?

Most experts say that by age 10 or 11, it's OK to leave a child alone for short periods of time (under an hour) during the day provided they're not scared and you think they're mature enough to handle it. But you may want to wait another year or two before leaving them alone at night.

Take these factors into consideration when making the decision about whether to leave your child home alone:

  • Do you live in a quiet rural or residential neighborhood?
  • Does the area have a low crime rate?
  • Do you have an alarm system? Does your tween know how to operate it?
  • Can your child understand and follow basic rules, like locking the door after coming inside and not opening it for strangers?
  • Has your child shown good judgment in past situations?
  • Do you have friends, family members, or neighbors who can get to your house quickly in case of an emergency?
  • Has your tween shown signs of responsibility in the past? Examples include finishing homework on time without having to be asked and doing chores around the house.
  • Is your preteen comfortable with the idea of staying home alone?

 

House Rules

If you've answered yes to most or all of these questions, your tween may be ready to stay home alone. Before you leave for the first time, establish a few basic house rules that cover different situations:

  • What to do if the doorbell rings
  • What to do if the phone rings
  • Whether it's OK to have friends over, and if so, how many friends can come over
  • What kinds of snacks they can eat
  • Time limits on watching TV or playing computer or video games, and a list of approved programs and games

 

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