Home Alone: How Young Is Too Young?
When I mention to parents of younger children that I sometimes leave my nine-year-old daughter home alone, they often react like Kevin McCallister in the movie Home Alone - their jaws drop, their hands slap their cheeks, and a deep and horrifying shriek bursts from their lips.
Or at least that’s what seems to be happening in their heads as they look at me in horror.
In Home Alone, Kevin is only eight years old when he is left to fend for himself for several days, and I don’t remember anyone calling social services on his parents. Yes, it was only a movie, but I do believe that some children are perfectly capable of handling themselves in a real-life home alone scenario at that age if properly prepped.
When I was in grade four (the same age as my oldest daughter) I was a latchkey kid. I walked or rode my bike almost 2 kms to and from school each day, had my own house key, and felt completely comfortable preparing snacks, completing homework, or playing quietly until my parents came home from running errands or finishing up work at the end of the day.
That was before tracking devices, cell phones, and pagers, and I fared just fine.
Earlier this year I realized that I was approaching the home alone milestone and thought I’d do some research. My daughter was asking for more independence, and I wanted to know if there was a legal age limit for leaving children at home unattended.
I was surprised to discover that while Manitoba and New Brunswick have laws stating that children can’t legally be left alone until the age of 12, there is no law across the other provinces that stipulates how old a child must be to stay home alone. The Canada Safety Council advises parents not to consider letting a child stay home alone until at least the age of 10, and that children younger than 12 shouldn’t be left in charge of younger siblings, but emphasizes that “age alone does not determine whether a child is capable of being left alone.”
I agree wholeheartedly. I’ve met teenagers who still don’t seem responsible enough to be left unattended, and I’ve met children as young as seven years old who seem mature enough to handle the responsibility of being left unsupervised for short periods of time.
Leaving a child alone for the first time is scary - regardless of age, but I think that it’s an important step to take, and a chance to teach children important life skills.
We’ve been easing into it - leaving my daughter home alone intermittently. I bought her a fabulous book by American Girl called A Smart Girl’s Guide: Staying Home Alone, which she read from cover to cover before her first solo experience, and we’ve discussed important precautions along the way. I think with the proper guidance, we can teach our children to manage on their own, and trust that they’ll be ok - when they’re ready to take that step.
Bianca Bujan is a mom of three, freelance writer, and marketing consultant.