How young is too young to be left alone? - Mothering Forums

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#1 of 13 Old 07-29-2014, 08:48 AM - Thread Starter
 
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How young is too young to be left alone?

I was reading this article about a 9YO left in a park while the mother worked. It made me really think about the precarious sitution single mothers or people living in poverty are left in during the summer months.

http://abcnews.go.com/Health/wireSto...ebate-24745800

I pay $60 per day for my 2 kids to attend summer camp while I work. Totally not doable for someone making minimum wage. But...I have started thinking about when I would like to start leaving my kids home alone for short periods of time (grocery store, gas station, etc...). My oldest will be 9 this year. Maybe in a year or two? I still feel like I am fortunate to be able to make this decision based on my kids' maturity, not lack of finances.


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#2 of 13 Old 07-29-2014, 11:43 AM
 
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It really depends on the kid! In the situation described in the article, I think the girl was fine. It sounds like there were other adults that knew her at the park on a regular basis during the day. It's not near ideal, but in the circumstances I don't think it was the worst decision.

I have four kids, so I haven't really ever been concerned about kidnappers. Even when they were quite little, I kept them under my direct eye because of cars or mischief they might instigate. For me, I started leaving them at home alone when I felt 99% certain that they would follow our rules without me watching them.

I started letting my two sons ride the city bus to school when they were 10 and 9, basically when I was sure they wouldn't fight with each other on the way, that they would consistently pay attention to the process, and that they could fix things if they got on the wrong bus or missed their stop.

Honestly, the sad thing is that would-be do gooders who harass kids about not being supervised are a significant danger to kids. Much more so than 'bad guys' on the street. Along with telling my kids never to go anywhere with anyone for any reason they might give, I coached my kids about what to do if anyone asks 'where are your parents'. They are to say I allowed them to play at the park, and that I told them to call if any adults bothered them, then call me right away. That makes that person look like a potential kidnapper, which is how I want my kids to regard someone who approaches them with those kinds of questions.

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#3 of 13 Old 07-29-2014, 09:53 PM
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It truly depends on the kid, the neighborhood, length of time, and other factors too. I started letting my oldest stay at home while I picked up my second from school when she was 9. (I just pulled her out to homeschool, my second was in kindergarten). This took about 20 min. tops. Later that year, we allowed her up to an hour without an adult. When we did this, we were reachable by cell phone and could come home quickly if needed. Additionally, we have great neighbors that would help if needed and both sets of grandparents live within two miles. We only left her for daytime hours. My younger two were left alone for 15-30 min. at age 8 for the first time. They weren't as skittish as my oldest, and they loathed the repeated drives to dance and back. The dance studio is close. However, my youngest has been left with her older sisters for a while now. My kids do well with each other--some families have kids that would tear each other apart if they were left alone together. My oldest babysits for one of these families. The two kids are great, and the older one is allowed to stay home alone. However, my dd comes if both children (or just the youngest) will be left. The parents don't trust them together.

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#4 of 13 Old 07-30-2014, 06:11 AM
 
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I leave my 13 old son home for hours if he doesn't want to go somewhere with me- like my daughter's horseback riding lesson. I will leave my 11 year old daughter home alone, but not for as long. She doesn't really care to be left alone for hours, though, she will opt to come with me. My 9 yr old? I'll leave her home to run to the grocery store for a few things.. or to pick someone up locally. But I wouldn't feel comfortable leaving her as long as I leave my 13 yr old son. If I leave them at home a while all together, I will usually let a neighbor know I am gone and then the kids know the houses they can go to if they need to. I also have a safety run down for them- no answering the door unless it's a few trusted people. No telling people on the phone we aren't home. Call me if you need anything or feel nervous.

I think it depends on your comfort level and that of your child's. Only my son really likes being left home when I go out. The other two tolerate it, but will opt to go somewhere with me (like grocery shopping for the week) over staying home by themselves. That said, if they are all together- which is most of the time, they are rarely staying by themselves-, I consider my son a babysitter (he agrees to it) and he "watches" his sisters.

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#5 of 13 Old 07-30-2014, 08:39 AM
 
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I just read the article - wow. I can't believe with all the truly bad parenting that goes down, they arrested a single mother for letting her child hang out at the park (which was full of other children, parents and volunteers) while she was working. We have a couple of parks in town here that are similar -- unsupervised children congregate there in the summer, and free breakfast and lunch are available. I actually think these kids are safer in public than they would be if they were hiding, and we aren't going to magically do away with the issue of childcare during the summer for families near or below the poverty line by criminalizing their parents.

At that age, my sister I were alone during the summer, and mostly it was boring. We watched a lot of TV, rode our bikes and played in the sprinkler. We were fine.

I feel very fortunate that I was able to be a with my kids and do fun and interesting things. I would have been equally fine with having them in a quality summer program. I don't have any judgment for parents who don't have those options. I would be holding it against them that they have less money than me, and that would make me a bad person. KWIM?

I think there is a difference between "what age is ideal to leave children for short periods of time?" and "when is a child so young that a parent should be charged with a crime for leaving them alone?" I don't think its ideal to leave a 9 year old for large quantities of time, but it isn't neglect either.

It also sounds like the mom has had a lot of problems in that past, but straightened her life out YEARS ago. I'm sorry that she is having all that dragged back up. I have a lot of respect for people who turn their lives around.

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#6 of 13 Old 07-30-2014, 10:19 AM - Thread Starter
 
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I guess the article bothered my because the mom was actually sent to JAIL for 17 days for leaving her 9YO unsupervised. The law in South Carolina (as well as CO) is very subjective and leaves it up to the parent's judgement. She still went to jail though. I think my oldest will be ok to stay home alone for short periods in the next year or two, but should I be concerned about legal repercussions??


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#7 of 13 Old 08-07-2014, 09:24 AM
 
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I think 9 is too young to leave alone. I was left alone at that age and looking back I know that I would have been safer and I would have done better if I had a caregiver. There was one time when I was molested by men on my walk home from school. Another time when I almost set the house on fire. And lots of times when my sister and I fought so hard someone got really really hurt. More structure would have helped.

Where I live now there is Summer daycamp available for ages 5-17 for $100 per week or less. I think that's pretty doable.
There are plenty of more expensive options but I know this one is available and it's pretty good, too. They do lots of fun things in a safe environment.
There's also the Boys and Girls Club and Big Brother/ Big Sister that can help with kids from poor families.

I agree that the mother should NOT have been put in jail. That's going overboard. She obviously just needs a little counseling in regards to planning out her childcare options and budgeting her income. She could also probably benefit from some financial assistance. We do not need to crowd our jails and prisons with poor parents. And we don't need to burden fostercare with these kids either.
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#8 of 13 Old 08-08-2014, 02:06 PM
 
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From the article:
Quote:
Nationwide, about 5 percent of elementary school-aged children living just with their mothers are left alone at some point during a typical week
I'm surprised it's only 5%. "Elementary school-aged" means 5-11 years old or so? Most parents I know have partners and even so are leaving their kids alone "at some point during a typical week" starting around age 8, and these are middle-class people. It's less a matter of financial desperation than of believing the children are competent enough to be alone, for short periods at first, and that it's a lot more convenient than arranging adult supervision for every little moment. For example, I have a friend who works outside the home and has a husband who works at home, a 4-year-old who goes to day camp, and a 7-year-old who entertains herself at home while Daddy works. Their typical daily routine involves the 7-year-old being alone in the house for 15-20 minutes while Daddy takes the 4-year-old to camp. I would bet she is safer there than riding in the car--car accidents are a leading killer of children.

My son is 9 and not keen on being home alone because he gets lonely, so we've only done it for 30 minutes or less when the one parent who's home needs to run an errand and he doesn't feel like coming along. However, he likes to go places by himself and has a 24-block area in which he's allowed to walk by himself as long as he tells us he's going and has permission for any businesses he will visit. During the school year, he's allowed to play in the schoolyard for up to an hour after dismissal and then walks home by himself. So far we are requiring him to be with us or a friend's parent to go to the parks, but within the next year I expect to be comfortable letting him go alone to familiar, nearby parks. We are beginning to consider letting him ride public transit alone on the familiar route. In our neighborhood we routinely see children as young as 7 going places alone or in small groups.

Leaving a child in a park for 5 hours every day seems a bit questionable, but it depends very much on the park and the child. Leaving a child to sit in a McDonald's alone for 5 hours every day is equally questionable, IMO: Her mother was working, not keeping a constant eye on her, and it's not unusual for unsavory characters to come into McDonald's or for people to harass other customers there. I think it's appropriate for child protection authorities to talk with her mom and see if they can find a low-cost summer program for the girl, but I don't think the park or McDonald's is anything like criminal child neglect. Same goes for leaving the child alone in her home for 5 hours, at 9 years old.

Marsupial Mom wrote:
Quote:
Where I live now there is Summer daycamp available for ages 5-17 for $100 per week or less. I think that's pretty doable.
For whom? Say your take-home pay is $7/hour and you work 40 hours/week. That's $280/week. You'd be spending almost 1/3 of your income on childcare! Where I live, a cheap two-bedroom apartment and frugally selected groceries for two people run about $175 a week, so if you were paying for that day camp you'd have $5/week left for all your utility bills, clothing, health care.... Not doable. When you consider that many low-wage workers are not able to get 40 hours/week of employment, and that most day camps operate only during "business hours" while many retail and restaurant jobs require evening and/or weekend hours, it's even less doable.

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#9 of 13 Old 08-08-2014, 06:42 PM
 
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I'm in the minority here, but I leave my kids home all the time! Probably starting around age 2 or 3 I'll leave them when I walk to the mailbox. Then I'll leave them when I walk with other kids to the school bus stop. Around age 5 they get left for 10-15 minutes when I drive an older child to school, or sports, or something close in town. I'll often be working in the yard or with the animals for an hour or more and that is practice for being home alone. My youngest is now 7 and loves to stay home alone. Maybe this has to do with having a larger household and enjoying the solitude!

I live in a well-to-do area in a town recently named (again) the safest in the state. And it is a safe state!

When I read that some people struggle with leaving a 12 year old alone I'm shocked. At age 12 my oldest was being paid to babysit. Clearly he is capable to caring for himself!

What if some thing goes wrong? Things do!! And they learn how to handle problems. Small problems at first, then larger, and larger still. It's called life skills.

The worst problem we've had was when the police did come to my house, while my children were home unsupervised. Two were playing house and one was teaching the other how to call 911. They thought they had a play phone, but it was the missing real phone. When a person answered, they panicked! The police stopped by, asked how old they were, and that was the end of it. The police never came in the house or notified me. They were 6 when this happened. I only know because of what my kids told me.

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#10 of 13 Old 08-08-2014, 07:37 PM
 
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Originally Posted by KSLaura View Post
I think my oldest will be ok to stay home alone for short periods in the next year or two, but should I be concerned about legal repercussions??
This is the worst thing about cases like this - the unequal application of the law (or lack-thereof). Our city has a new curfew law and the big concern here is that the law will be applied inconsistently.

My state gives a guideline, which is that kids old than 8 may be left alone at the parent's discretion. But, that is still open to interpretation by those organizations that look out for kids.

Unfortunately for the mother (and child) this family was probably a victim of some prejudice from the sounds of it. Would this have happened in the same town in a more affluent neighborhood? I doubt it.

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#11 of 13 Old 08-09-2014, 12:03 AM
 
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Was there a specific age cited by law in her state? Where I live there really isn't one- the closest I could find was part of the fire code recommending that children under 8 not be left alone for fire safety reasons.
That poor Mama...I wish I had the means to help her. The "do-gooders" frighten me here as well. A friend had a neighborhood friend call CPS on her because she let her 11yo ride his bike around the (safe, rural) area alone while she worked from home! The worker shook his head and said the call was ludicrous, luckily, but that was luck of the draw and he was still obligated to open a case and pry into her affairs. My neice had her landlord threaten a CPS call for leaving her sleeping 9yo in the care of his 14 & 16 yo sibs while she drove a half mile to buy medicine for the youngest! Two and four years from being full adults but she thought it was neglectfull for them to babysit for 20 mins?
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#12 of 13 Old 08-12-2014, 10:59 AM
 
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Originally Posted by EnviroBecca View Post
When you consider that many low-wage workers are not able to get 40 hours/week of employment, and that most day camps operate only during "business hours" while many retail and restaurant jobs require evening and/or weekend hours, it's even less doable.
Well, there are also discounts and subsidies and scholarships for low income families.

I know families struggle to make ends meet. But the answer is not to break the law and leave your child alone at a park all day while you work. The answer is to ask for help.

Quote:
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I'm in the minority here, but I leave my kids home all the time! [...]

The worst problem we've had was when the police did come to my house, while my children were home unsupervised. Two were playing house and one was teaching the other how to call 911. They thought they had a play phone, but it was the missing real phone. When a person answered, they panicked! The police stopped by, asked how old they were, and that was the end of it. The police never came in the house or notified me. They were 6 when this happened. I only know because of what my kids told me.
Well, my mom felt the same way and to this day defends leaving us alone. It was part of her parenting style - to teach us independence. Well, it worked but it came at costs. Like I said I was molested on my walk home from school and I once almost set the house on fire. I was and am a very responsible person. But accidents happen, particularly to people who are young and inexperienced.

I understand the rationale that statistically the kids are likely more safe at home alone than in XYZ situation. If true then I completely understand the desire to leave them alone. However, if something did happen then chances are the Dept of Family Services would get involved and very likely your children would be removed from your care for at least a little while. That's because the current standard is that parents should not leave children alone. It seems like a huge risk to take. This mother is just one example. Countless mothers around the nation have their children removed from their care and placed into fostercare because they left the children alone. Most didn't go to jail but they did lose custody at least temporarily of their children.

Quote:
Originally Posted by stormborn View Post
Was there a specific age cited by law in her state?
Here's a guideline from the government: https://www.childwelfare.gov/pubs/fa.../homealone.pdf
it's helpful at the very least for helping you determine whether or not something is likely to be illegal.
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#13 of 13 Old 08-12-2014, 12:18 PM - Thread Starter
 
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There was no specific law with regards to age for the woman in the article. The laws in most states are very subjective and rely on social workers to determine, 'neglect' for children left with inadequete supervision.

In our area, there aren't many discounts for low-income children. In fact, child care over the summer months can be difficult to find even for the more affluent. Even Boys and Girls Club here (the primary summer camp in town) costs a LOT of money). I just can't imagine how someone making minimum wage would be able to afford ANYTHING for childcare. And for some, leaving their child at a public park may be preferable to leaving them with questionable friends or relatives (who may be abusive).

I suppose I am just irritated with society for abandoning mothers with little or no resources and subsequently putting them in jail.

I guess I'm leaning towards 'trial-runs' of home alone time around the time when my oldest is 10/11.


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