Back to School: How young is too young to stay home alone?

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NORFOLK, Va (WAVY) — Where will your children be after the final school bell each day? Many will go home to empty houses, but what is the law for leaving your kids home alone?

Back to School Guide on hrScene.com

Actually, there is no such law in Virginia. Parenting experts and pediatricians, however, say elementary school aged children should never be left alone.

As for middle schoolers, Community Outreach Program Director at Children’s Hospital of the King’s Daughters, Sam Fabian, told WAVY.com there is no magic age. Every child is different, so when deciding whether or not to leave them home Fabian suggests you ask them first. 

“Say, ‘Hey, how do you feel about after school if you have to stay home for 30 minutes or an hour after school what do you think about that?'” said Fabian.

The American Academy of Pediatrics says children ages 11 and 12 should not come home to an empty house unless they show unusual maturity for their age.

To assess their readiness Fabian advises you ask how they would respond to different situations that might arise such as:

  • A knock at the door
  • Something breaks
  • They smell smoke.

“You may work 30-40 minutes away; you want to make sure you also have an adult close by in an event your child needs an adult immediately,” she said.

If alternate adult supervision is not available, parents should make special efforts to supervise their children from a distance. Children should have a set time when they are expected to arrive at home and should check in with a neighbor or with a parent by phone or video chat.  Then set the ground rules,  especially concerning computer and cell phone use.

“That’s just as if you’re letting them go out into the community unsupervised  and so it’s really important for parents to have those parental controls on the computer,” Fabian told 10 On Your Side.

Experts also say whatever you do, don’t force a child to stay alone.  It can do psychological and emotional harm if they are not ready.  If you’re worried about the cost of child care, there are programs available through local schools and non profit community groups.

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