One question frequently asked by parents is “How old should a child be before he can be left home alone?” Often, I’m asked this question when holidays are coming up and parents will be at work, but children won’t be in school. The question is asked even more frequently as summer vacation approaches.
Of course, there is no simple one-size-fits-all answer. This decision is complicated because much depends upon the individual child and also family dynamics. A parent has to consider not only whether his or her particular child is “old enough,” but is ready enough to be left home alone. The issue becomes more complicated if there are younger siblings. Is the oldest child ready to stay home alone and to be “in charge of” the younger children?
Some states have laws specifying an age (e.g., ten years) below which it is illegal to leave children alone. Other states do not set a specific age, but rather, consider the maturity level of the child. In Michigan, there is no state law specifying how old a child must be to be left alone. However, Michigan’s child support laws are also used to regulate the share of child care costs that a non-custodial parent must pay. According to that law, no child care costs have to be shared after the end of the summer when the child becomes twelve.
The State of Michigan Child Protection Handbook discusses "Improper Supervision" and states: “According to the Child Protection Law, there is no legal age that a child can be left home alone. It is determined on a case by case basis but as a rule of thumb, a child 10 years old and younger is not responsible enough to be left home alone. A child over the age of 10 and under the age of 12 will be evaluated but the case may not always be assigned for a CPS investigation.”
Does that mean that your 12-year-old is old enough to be left alone?
Does it mean that a 12-year-old can or should be left home alone with younger siblings? The real issue here is readiness. Is your child ready to stay home alone?
Assessing readiness. Click here for checklists and other information to help you decide whether you should leave your child home alone.