When is it okay to leave kids alone in a public location? - Mothering Forums

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#1 of 31 Old 04-24-2014, 09:15 PM - Thread Starter
 
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Here's what happened.  My son is 8 years old.  His father and I split up several years ago, and DS spends almost half of the time with his dad and the rest with me.  Today was his dad's day to take him to school.  He arrived at the school 1/2 hour before the school is scheduled to open and found the school locked.  He called the staff member who opens the school (it's a very small school and we all know each other) and she explained to him that the school was not open yet and that she would be there in 15 minutes.  He left our son in the parking lot and went to work.  There was nobody at the school, our son does not have a cell phone, there is no public phone outside the school, he does not know anybody in the vicinity of the school and to get to the nearest store he would have to cross a busy street.  Also, the school is located 1/2 block from the busiest street in the city.  Our son waited alone for 15 minutes before that staff member showed up to let him in to the school.  I'm shocked and disgusted that he would leave our son unattended in public with no support system.  I want to write an email to him letting him know that what he did is unacceptable.  However, I don't know if I am going overboard.  I often see kids his age walking to and from school alone and am surprised that other parents allow this.  If I did, I would make sure that he had a cell phone and was fully prepared to be on his own... knowing all of the rules, etc.  Am I overprotective?  Was it okay for him to leave DS alone in a parking lot at 8 years old?  In Utah there is no minimum age that a child can be left at home alone, but what about in public???  Please tell me what you think.

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#2 of 31 Old 04-24-2014, 09:45 PM
 
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I would be ok with that, myself. He knew someone from school was en route and even if they were delayed other Moms would be arriving soon to drop off their kids. Even in the (very) unlikely event he ran into a problem of some sort there would be adults he's familiar with around to help within 15 min at the most.
Was your son all right with it?
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#3 of 31 Old 04-24-2014, 09:46 PM
 
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Ummmm not that young. I understandany people do but personally I wouldn't and I would be upset if my Husband/ Ex Husband did. So in short I agree with you.
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#4 of 31 Old 04-24-2014, 09:50 PM
 
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Alyssa! Hi from upstairs! :) I am incognito here but my son, age 9 had a similar experience today. Ugh. Let's talk this weekend. Sending you love.

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#5 of 31 Old 04-24-2014, 10:54 PM
 
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I think that's too young. Maybe I'm over protected but 15 minutes is a long time for anything to happen. It's even longer for the child if they were uncomfortable with it. I would be very upset too.

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#6 of 31 Old 04-25-2014, 04:52 AM
 
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Depending on the kid and the location, eight is completely fine to be alone in a public location for 15 minutes.  It sounds like in that location your son would have a difficult time getting help if he needed it, so that's a problem and worth being upset about, but not all locations are as isolated.  Even if you don't plan to leave him on his own any time soon, it's probably time to start having discussions with him about things like how to use a pay phone, how to get help if he needs it, making absolutely sure he has a few key phone numbers memorised (cell phones are nice, but they tend to get lost or run out of batteries, so memorised numbers are important), making sure he knows how to get around some key neighbourhoods, etc...  after all, he'll be going out alone soon, even if you convince his father that he's not ready right now.

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#7 of 31 Old 04-25-2014, 06:43 AM - Thread Starter
 
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Emma Goldman, once again, we're meeting up on Mothering.com!  

 

DS was not uncomfortable with the situation, but I am.  The closest payphone he could have used is on the corner of the two busy streets, one of which he would have had to cross.  He crosses this street often with me, but not by himself.  Yes, I agree that I need to have those conversations with him and some of them I have.  He has my phone number memorized, he just didn't have a way to call.  I'm upset that his dad left him without preparing him and giving him the support tools he needs to be alone in a public area.

 

Thank you for the feedback!  I appreciate hearing from all opinions.

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#8 of 31 Old 04-25-2014, 08:19 AM
 
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My son is an independent sort, but in the city,  i would not leave him unattended for that period of time, when outside, and vulnerable to anything that could happen. I believe that leaving an under aged child would be considered illegal where i live.

In  suburbia, the risks are even greater due to lack of witnesses.  I would feel safer leaving an older child unattended at home, where there are no random strangers with cars that can speed away lurking about. But outside a school? Anything could happen.

 

ps. I wanted to say, that your reaction is completely reasonable. I would be livid.... at least give the kid a cell phone if he is to be left alone, and certainly dont let him cross the street on his own without preparation.

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#9 of 31 Old 04-25-2014, 08:37 AM
 
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I probably wouldn't have left DD in that sort of situation when she was 8. For me the issue would be the not having anyone around if there was a problem. A lot can happen in 15 minutes, say they fall off playground equipment, decide to climb a tree, wander off.

 

I feel it's different to letting them play out with their friends, where if something happened the others can run and fetch me or another parent quickly. We have a bike path at the back of the house where the kids like to go and ride so my main concern is falling off. Even then she was nearly 9 when we felt comfortable with 5 -10 minutes at a time.

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#10 of 31 Old 04-25-2014, 10:32 AM
 
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No, and our school would not be ok with that either.  They are VERY clear that you can not drop your kid off and just wait for someone to show up. 

 

My daughter is eight and I would not be ok with that at all, even if the school would allow it.

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#11 of 31 Old 04-25-2014, 09:37 PM
 
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I would have left ds alone for 15 min in the situation you described.
8 yo are more capable than we believe they are.
As you said, many parents trust their kids to get to and from school by themselves ag that age. My own ds started going by himself at the bus stop at 7.
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#12 of 31 Old 04-25-2014, 10:30 PM
 
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I let dd walk to school alone at that age because there are many kids and a few parents out at the same time but I wouldn't leave her completely unsupervised well before school even starts. It is against our schools rules and I feel like that's completely different than sending them with a bunch of other kids two blocks to a supervised setting.
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#13 of 31 Old 04-26-2014, 05:03 AM
 
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I would have serious issues with this and I myself would call a parent Meeting to discuss it and how we could arrange for it to never happen again...example...if dad was going to be late for work then that day clearly isnt the best day for him to be dropping DS off...
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#14 of 31 Old 04-26-2014, 06:19 AM
 
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I have an 8 year old and I wouldn't worry about his safety in a situation like that.  I might worry that he would get bored and the 15 minutes would seem like a long time to him, unless he had a book.  If he had a book or some other entertainment he'd be fine.  It's a school that has a commitment to open at a certain time each day, so it's not like you have to worry that someone might not show up to let him in.  Even if he hurt himself, he wouldn't have long to wait until someone got there to help him.  Yeah, ideally he would have a cell phone with him, but what kind of emergency is really likely to come up in the next 15 minutes that wouldn't best be handled by just waiting until the people who work at the school get there?

 

I think 8 is old enough for a kid to start being alone and responsible for himself sometimes.  I'm not surprised that there are schools that don't allow this.  Schools don't want kids to climb up the slide or jump off the swings, either.  It doesn't mean those things are actually super dangerous.

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#15 of 31 Old 04-26-2014, 11:54 AM
 
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I think this may be one of those situations where neither person is right or wrong you just have different ways of handling the situation or evaluating relative risk. Perhaps in your ex's mind the consequences of being late to work (trouble with his boss or losing his job) outweighed the risk of the 15 minutes of your son waiting alone. That doesn't make him a bad parent, nor does it make you over-protective for not feeling comfortable doing it.

My husband and I don't always see eye to eye on parenting decisions. Usually when we're alone with the kids we do things our own way and if we're together we cede to the parent who was first in the situation. For example on vaccines, we both agreed to wait until 2 years old, but I wanted to completely abstain, while he wanted to vax the kids after that. Since I'm the one who takes the kids to the doctor he never fussed that they never received the vaxes. But in kindergarten dd needed her checkup and I had to work so dh took dd and he asked what he should do. My reply was that I would prefer her not to get any, but he is her parent and he needed to make the decision he felt was best ( he agrees with not doing them all at once so that wasn't an issue). My point is that we all have different opinions when it comes to assessing the risk of the situation and when you parent a child with another person you won't always be in control of how the other person chooses to parent. I imagine parenting with a person with whom you have chosen to no longer have a relationship makes this lack of control doubly difficult.

That being said I think it would be reasonable for you to request that if your ex finds himself in this situation again, you be called, so you can wait with your son or arrange an alternative mode of transportation to school. That does make more work for you, but it might be worth it to ease your mind.

One last thing I wanted to mention was that I think children with split households can sometimes benefit from a cellphone earlier than would be otherwise appropriate. Having the ability to contact one parent when staying with the other, or to call the other parent if they are in a dangerous or uncomfortable situation makes cellphones a valuable tool. They also allow the child to call in cases where signals may have gotten crossed and they are unsure (or the parents are confused about) who is supposed to pick them up. When my brother and his wife were getting divorced they bought their kids the kind of cellphone that has a few limited numbers preprogrammed into it so that they couldn't talk to their friends for hours, but they could reach either parent at a push of a button. If your son had a phone, he could have called you to talk for those 15 minutes and you'd know he was safe. If anything had happened in that time you'd be listening and know and could call 911.

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#16 of 31 Old 04-27-2014, 01:51 PM
 
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I dont see it as a problem, but I let my 6 year old play outside without me all the time. I dont think its something to freak out about, but it is something you should talk about because you know your kid, and the area you live best. 


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#17 of 31 Old 04-27-2014, 02:33 PM
 
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I work at a school and this is NOT allowed. Students cannot be on campus until they are supervised by staff. It's a liability issue because it isn't considered safe. We open the campus 30 minutes before school starts, so there is big window of when kids can arrive.

 

We do have students who walk to school on their own -- we also have crossing guards at the major intersections. Its pretty busy around the school right before school starts, so kids who are walking on their own are actually surrounded by a community of adults who are all sort of keeping an eye on them. It's really different than what the area around the school is like 15 minutes before anyone gets there.  (I'm one of the first people to the campus every morning, and I unlock the gates :wink.) Parents who arrive early keep their kids in the car and just WAIT. This is the rule right through 5th grade.

 

What you described wouldn't be allowed, and the parents would be contacted by the principal if they didn't take correction from the TAs, compass monitors, or crossing guards. We make it clear to parents that they are responsible for their child until we are responsible.

 

What was your ex in such a big hurry about that he thought dropping your son off was a good idea? Did he just screw up, or does he plan to make this a habit? I'd check with school and find out if they have a policy. It's one thing for your son to be dropped off early once and nothing happen, its quite another for your DH to think this is OK and do it all the time. If he can't safely drop your child at school at the appropriate time, he shouldn't have your son on school nights. There is ZERO reason for a child to be unattended and unsupervised when they could be with the other parent.

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#18 of 31 Old 04-27-2014, 03:02 PM
 
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I work at a school and this is NOT allowed. Students cannot be on campus until they are supervised by staff. It's a liability issue because it isn't considered safe. We open the campus 30 minutes before school starts, so there is big window of when kids can arrive.

 

We do have students who walk to school on their own -- we also have crossing guards at the major intersections. Its pretty busy around the school right before school starts, so kids who are walking on their own are actually surrounded by a community of adults who are all sort of keeping an eye on them. It's really different than what the area around the school is like 15 minutes before anyone gets there.  (I'm one of the first people to the campus every morning, and I unlock the gates :wink.) Parents who arrive early keep their kids in the car and just WAIT. This is the rule right through 5th grade.

 

What you described wouldn't be allowed, and the parents would be contacted by the principal if they didn't take correction from the TAs, compass monitors, or crossing guards. We make it clear to parents that they are responsible for their child until we are responsible.

 

What was your ex in such a big hurry about that he thought dropping your son off was a good idea? Did he just screw up, or does he plan to make this a habit? I'd check with school and find out if they have a policy. It's one thing for your son to be dropped off early once and nothing happen, its quite another for your DH to think this is OK and do it all the time. If he can't safely drop your child at school at the appropriate time, he shouldn't have your son on school nights. There is ZERO reason for a child to be unattended and unsupervised when they could be with the other parent.

Your post is reassuring. Is does strike me as bizarre that the father left this child unattended and that there is any doubt that he was in the wrong for doing so. Sort of like the weekend Dad who doesnt know what he is doing-dont leave kids unattended Dad.

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#19 of 31 Old 04-27-2014, 05:45 PM
 
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Your post is reassuring. Is does strike me as bizarre that the father left this child unattended and that there is any doubt that he was in the wrong for doing so. 

 

It strikes you as bizarre that some people might think it's okay to leave an 8 year old unattended for 15 minutes?  That attitude strikes me as bizarre.

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#20 of 31 Old 04-27-2014, 05:50 PM
 
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It strikes you as bizarre that some people might think it's okay to leave an 8 year old unattended for 15 minutes?  That attitude strikes me as bizarre.
I agree.
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#21 of 31 Old 04-27-2014, 06:29 PM
 
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It strikes you as bizarre that some people might think it's okay to leave an 8 year old unattended for 15 minutes?  That attitude strikes me as bizarre.

 

It's not normal to drop an elementary school aged child off at school when no one is there. 


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#22 of 31 Old 04-27-2014, 06:45 PM
 
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It strikes you as bizarre that some people might think it's okay to leave an 8 year old unattended for 15 minutes?  That attitude strikes me as bizarre.
Same here

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#23 of 31 Old 04-28-2014, 04:44 AM
 
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In my city the age that a child would be allowed to be alone at home or outside is 8. I know there are many, many children who are unattended way before this age and, of course, many families who are not comfortable leaving a child alone for many years after 8. 

 

I tend towards "over protective" and it's something about myself as a parent that I confront for the benefit of my child. I have decided that I would like my DC to have a level of independence, exposure, and freedom in line with most of her peers. My DH tends towards being quite lax. I let him push me and expand my ideas of what my DC is capable of. That's hard work...and something that is hard enough within a relationship. It seems really difficult to me to navigate once separated. You have my sympathies!  

 

I think if there are lots of kids walking to and from school in elementary, I would (personally) start to evolve my reaction to this. I'd start to ask questions about what sort of education these kids are getting that makes this a safe option for them. It may well be a cell phone helps and is something you can let your X know you'd like to arrange for your DC before he is left alone...  I agree with you 100% that there is a lot of ground-work that should be done before welcoming a situation like this. Whether it's "ok" or not, whether you are "overprotective" or not would not be my question. I'd be saying to X that you want your son to be prepared for being alone and that you want to be on the same page as X about these things.  It's only going to get more complicated as years go by. IME, the leap in independence at 11 (middle school) is HUGE.  You're going to want to be able to communicate about this and both of you should be willing and able to be flexible and trusting/understanding of eachother's views. Factoring both parent's views is the best way to go, IMO. 

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#24 of 31 Old 04-28-2014, 07:17 AM
 
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It strikes you as bizarre that some people might think it's okay to leave an 8 year old unattended for 15 minutes?  That attitude strikes me as bizarre.

It depends where they are left unattended. At home, maybe, outside a public school on the way it is described above, not so much. Not only that there is an issue of liability, and the Dad  should know that.  There are the school rules too... which is an added component.

 

In any case, you're preaching to the converted about independence in children so dont waste your breath.

 

Interestingly enough,  in Japan, children are encouraged to walk to school on their own, starting under age 8.  Boy would i love to let my kids walk to school on their own, and they are probably capable. Nonetheless, it is risky where i live. I would also be arrested if i let my kids do that.

Im not sure why it is less risky in Japan.

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#25 of 31 Old 04-28-2014, 08:09 AM
 
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Kids here often walk to school and play on the playground before the doors open.
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#26 of 31 Old 04-28-2014, 08:49 AM
 
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Kids here often walk to school and play on the playground before the doors open.

That is the same here, at least at the two elementary schools my DC has gone to. 

 

One thing that's good to keep in mind is that we have this big, international membership.  And even if all of us are in the States, we can remember that areas differ quite a bit. The OP is in Utah, which she says has no unattended minor age laws. My state has them (age 8) but, even still, there are children quite a bit younger who walk to school or are dropped off at school and left for a short while before opening. Others have mentioned that this is against the law or school policy where they live. The diversity is so interesting, isn't it?  

 

Then there is the question of how we interpret the norms of where we live. Even in my own immediate neighborhood, there is a huge difference in how our area is viewed - some thinking of our part of town as generally safe, others feeling like it is quite unsafe for children to be out alone.  

 

If were in the OP's position I think I would inquire at the schools about the expectations for children arriving early for school.  


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#27 of 31 Old 04-28-2014, 09:01 AM
 
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I think that in general, it is fine for an 8-year-old to be alone in public for 15 minutes.  Here's some detail on how we have gradually expanded where our son can go on his own.  What is upsetting about this situation is that it's new and your ex had never discussed it with you.  Since your son was not upset, I don't think it's appropriate to make a big fuss or say this must never happen again, but I think you should talk to your ex about how this took you by surprise and you want to work out with him what are the rules about where and for how long your son can be alone.  (For example, could he be alone in his dad's home for 15 minutes while dad does an errand nearby?  What is the time limit on that?  Is it only okay in the daytime?)  Agreeing that if he can't wait with your son he should call you would be reasonable.

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#28 of 31 Old 04-28-2014, 09:17 AM
 
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What is upsetting about this situation is that it's new and your ex had never discussed it with you.  Since your son was not upset, I don't think it's appropriate to make a big fuss or say this must never happen again, but I think you should talk to your ex about how this took you by surprise and you want to work out with him what are the rules about where and for how long your son can be alone.  

:nod

 

Yep!  

 

And, because this is only going to get more complicated as your child gets older. I've even made decisions myself that I later realized were not all that well thought out or where I realized time had gone by for my child and I hadn't reevaluated her readiness for this or that. 

 

For instance, I recently sent my nearly 13 year old daughter on a sleepover at a boy's house.  I just didn't think about it because that used to  be fine with us and it had been a couple of years since the subject came up. It wasn't until telling my DH were our child was that I realized that maybe it was time to thing a bit more about that question. My DH happened to be fine with it but either way I appreciated that the issue wasn't framed as "irresponsible vs. over-protective".  It's a process... 


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#29 of 31 Old 04-28-2014, 11:43 AM
 
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Can you call the school and ask what their policy is on this?  That way, you can approach the ex and tell him the school policy and the need to stick to it...  

 

School policy or not, If the ex is insistent that he will be dropping the kid off early, insist on a prepaid cellphone for the kid to reach others in an emergency. 


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#30 of 31 Old 04-28-2014, 05:21 PM
 
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Kids here often walk to school and play on the playground before the doors open.

 

Here too; it's encouraged.

 

Which is why we have campus monitors and TAs and crossing guards on duty 45 minutes before school starts. The kids are supervised, and they can't be on campus until they ARE supervised.  I suspect many parents don't realize how well their children are being watched -- we even have someone on the playground with a walkie talkie in case of an emergency.

 

I think that playing outside one's home unsupervised is different than showing up at school when no one is there, especially making a pattern of showing up and then hanging  out alone. The child would become a very easy target with a schedule like that. Even if the school is OK with it (which I doubt), I wouldn't be as a parent, and I suspect that a judge wouldn't be either.


but everything has pros and cons  shrug.gif

Linda on the move is offline  
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