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At What Age is it OK to Leave a Child Home Alone?

There is no legal minimum age in PA for children to be home without an adult.

Moms Talk is a weekly feature on all Lehigh Valley Patches in which local parents are invited to share opinions and advice on parenting issues.

This week’s Moms Talk topic relates to leaving children home alone:

A handful of states do have legal minimum ages for children left home alone, but Pennsylvania isn’t one of them. Many state agencies across the country have published guidelines on this topic, with 12 years old being the age most frequently recommended. Beyond that, there’s a fairly common sentiment that the child’s maturity should be what shapes a parents’ decision, not the child’s chronological age.

What are your thoughts on leaving children home alone? At what age would you be comfortable leaving your child at home without supervision? Does it matter if it’s day or night? Does the amount of time the child will be left alone come into play? Have you left your child home alone? What guidelines did you give him/her? How did it go?

Join the conversation. Each week our Moms Council members discuss these and other issues. 

Our Moms Council members include: 

  • Lisa Amey, of Upper Milford Township, is a stay-at-home mom to an 8-year-old son and a 5-year-old daughter. A past president of the MOMS Club of Emmaus and long time member of MOPs (Mothers of Preschoolers), Lisa is an Independent Consultant for Arbonne International. 
  • Lisa Drew, of Emmaus, is a certified nutritionist and personal trainer, wellness and fitness coach with more than 17-years experience. She is the mother of a 13-year-old girl and a 9-year-old boy.
  • Jennifer Elston, of Emmaus, has almost two decades of professional experience in child development and counseling. She is currently a stay-at-home mom to two beautiful girls. Together with her husband, Chris, she owns Christopher Elston Photography.
  • Jeanne Lombardo of Nazareth is the mother to a 10-year-old boy and a 5-year-old girl. She’s new to the Lehigh Valley, having moved to Nazareth from Bergen County, N.J. in January.
  • Lisa Merk, of Lower Macungie, is a stay-at-home mother of four boys – a 12-year-old and 6-year-old triplets. Lisa is a past president of the MOMS Club of Lower Macungie East. In her “spare” time, Lisa teaches piano to school-age children.
  • Megan Patruno, of Allentown, is a mother of three – an 11-year-old boy, an 8-year-old girl and a 6-year-old boy. Megan also works as an admission counselor for Muhlenberg College in Allentown.
  • Zoila Bonilla Paulof Bethlehem, is a stay-at-home mom to two girls – a 5 year old and a 14 month old. Zoila is a member of her local “moms’ club” and says she is “well-versed in the fun that children can bring.”
  • Beth Sharpless of Emmaus, works part-time in a local emergency department as a nurse and part-time from home as a customer support specialist. She has two children, a boy who is almost 2, and a 5-year-old girl. She says they love spending time outdoors and dancing. 

If you would like to become a part of the Moms Council and/or have ideas for future Moms Talk questions, please email jennifer.marangos@patch.com.

Jenae Holtzhafer July 31, 2011 at 08:44 PM
I think this is a very interesting topic, and agree that it's extremely dependent upon the individual child and their ability to handle emergency situations. I think it also depends on where you live, who your neighbors are, and how much independence the child has been given to date. If the child is educated and secure in what actions to take in case of an emergency, I don't know that a specific age (like 11, 12, or 13) matters. Our 9-year-old son walks to his grandma's house after school some days. One day she wasn't home when he arrived. He had never faced this situation, but knew enough to enter the house, key in the security code, and call me right away to let me know what was going on. I was so proud of him! I would have never imagined he would have handled that situation with such ease. That step gave him a huge boost into proving his level of responsibility and making smart decisions in a time of uncertainty. I remember being 10 years old and watching my younger brother and sister for a couple of hours while my mom would run to the store. I know times have changed, but I do believe a lot of it has to do with the child's upbringing and previous opportunities to make independent decisions. I'm not ready to let my son stay home alone for any length of time, but I think we'll play it by ear and look at his abilities vs. his actual age as we progress into this "gray" area of independence.
Tara Zrinski August 01, 2011 at 12:48 AM
I was curious about this topic myself and called Children and Youth to see what their recommendations were. I couldn't even think of leaving my kids, age 10 and 11, home alone even to go to the store, but, I know parents who do. It really has to do with the maturity of the child, the trust of the parent in their child's skill to react in a crisis and the level of responsibility that a child can assume. Some ground rules need to be established. It is really determined on an individual basis. http://bethlehem.patch.com/articles/home-alone-for-the-summer
Jennifer Marangos (Editor) August 01, 2011 at 02:14 AM
Lisa -- I am really glad you raised the point about a house full of kids because I think that the age my older child will be ready to be left home alone will be one thing and the age he is ready to be left at home with his younger brother will be quite another!
Blessy Smith August 04, 2011 at 11:33 AM
I started to leave my son when he was 10 years old. For me it is not about the age, but it is about the maturity. I can also conclude based on my experienced with my son that you can feel relax and comfortable to leave your child home alone if you are going to provide a safety solution that they can be used in case of emergency. I am thankful to have this safety solution that I found here http://www.emergencymgmt.com/safety/Smartphone-Panic-Button-911-Emergency-062911.html you can also check out their site: http://safekidzone.com/
Cheyenne October 28, 2011 at 06:17 PM
I ran across this discussion when i was trying to find out at what age other parents thought it was ok to leave your children alone and found it very interesting. I am a mother of 4 my youngest 2 then 7,8,9. My children are extremely responsible they do their own laundry clean house. My ex husband started leaving them alone when my oldest was 5 which i didn't approve of and still don't but, my 9 year old has a cell phone and we test ran with her just going to the grocery store and she's fine. Granted we have gone over every possible scenario and both neighbors are close friend so if she was to need something she could go to their house. But, i really think it depends on the child. I wouldn't leave her for more than an hour or 2 which i work not 10 min from my home and definitely NEVER would leave her to watch her 2 year old sister as hes gets into everything. But i'm extremely proud of my kids. I'll be watching over the next few years to see if they develop any delinquent behaviors i certainly hope not but, i am having security cameras installed in the mean time just so i can check in via my cell phone and know for sure everything is fine.
JuliannaSmith November 26, 2011 at 07:40 PM
I think 12 is an appropriate age, although it depends too on the maturity of the child. A mature 11 yr old may be more responsible than an immature 13 yr old. Parents shld use their judgement. The idea of my children being harmed or lost is not something anyone wants to consider. I found an article by anationofmoms about a service that can protect your family via your cell phone. And, at the bottom there is an opportunity to enter a drawing for 6 months of that service just by liking them on Facebook. You might find it interesting: http://anationofmoms.com/2011/08/protect-your-family-giveaway.html
crystal November 18, 2012 at 09:21 PM
I figured i would allow my 13 year old go to the gas station get a drink and read his book at the table there for let 30 mins. Or so it was crazy the lady at the store over reacted. I was 5 mins. Tops down the road the cops show up with my son and were very rude. Omg it was crazy i think they didnt believe him i was down the road or something then had to cover how they all over reacted now they r calling cys on me for allowing him to do that.
Paula November 18, 2012 at 10:07 PM
I am just curious, legally, is there a specific age requirement for allowing children to go somewhere alone? Or to be home alone? Say a serious accident happens and police arrive at the home-what age is permitted to be home alone without the parents getting into legal trouble? They go to bus stops alone everyday-noone is fined . What is the difference-gas station or a bus stop (some can be pretty far from your home)?

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