Home Alone - Feedback Friday

Leaving your children unattended is a topic that has been springing up all over the internet and television recently. Dr. Phil addressed it by sharing this story of a mother arrested for leaving her child in the car while she stood outside.

Anna Kournikova's 5 year old brother fell out a window when his mother recently left him unattended for almost an hour to run errands, and Her Bad Mother confessed doing it in her recent post Home Alone.

After researching online for state by state guidelines, I learned that most states have not addressed an specific age, but those that have list ages ranging from 8-14 - a pretty big range!

Now, each of these examples shows a difference in degree and intent. Is leaving a 5 year old home alone for an hour while you run errands the same as leaving a sick child inside the house while you run next door to pick up your preschooler? Is leaving a child alone in the parking lot of Walmart while you shop the same as jumping out for a quick second to put money in the Salvation Army bucket 2 car lengths away?

Should there be a zero tolerance policy regarding this practice? Does age play a factor, the distance away? Are you within eyesight or have you driven away in your car? Should the personality of the child be considered?

I began leaving my oldest son home alone for about 15-20 minutes at a time when he was 10. Now, at the age of 11 he can stay alone for about 1 1/2 hours during the daytime and he views this as a reward for good behavior. He loves to stay home alone and now even watches his brothers for a short period of time. They feel so independent and work hard to earn this reward. Is this neglect?

What about gardening when your infant is fast asleep inside? Running to the mailbox on the corner? Waiting at the bus stop for your older children? Leaving your kids in a locked car when you ran in to pay for gas? I've done all of these things when my children were very small. Am I neglectful?

When I read Her Bad Mother's "confession" about running across the street to pick up her preschooler I started to wonder. Does degree and intent count for anything in this matter or is it an open and shut case?

Come on, it's time for feedback!



  1. This is something I've given a lot of thought to. As a professional elementary school counselor who dealt with REAL neglect on a daily basis with students, I take issue with the overreaction of these cases. I had students roaming city streets unattended at 11pm who hadn't eaten since school lunch, and I had a very, very difficult time getting help and services for them. Child Protective Services would often claim that "cultural" issues needed to be taken into consideration. However, I fear that if I were to leave my children unattended while running into the post office the same "cultural" courtesies would not be granted to me.

    There are many children who are grossly neglected and who deserve better. There are also many parents who are doing the very best they can but lack the financial resources and social support needed to provide continual and constant supervision.

    I have often wondered, what if something horrible happens in the 20 mins I'm upstairs in the shower? Will they say while talking about me on the 5'oclock news, "stupid woman who left her 5 and 3 yr old unattended...what was she thinking?" Being a mom 24/7/365 is tough. By grace, we get through it with our kiddos safe. For those of us who have little social support outside of ourselves, we need to show grace to other moms who truly are doing the very best they can.

  2. Wow....you just love opening those cans of worms ;-) I agree with Beth..so many variables and so much grey area in this topic. I resisted leaving my boys home alone and the ONE time I did, I get a frantic phone call saying a strange man was looking in the window!!!! Turned out to be the electric meter reader guy...but they did not know that. That was the last time until they reached their teens ;-)

  3. I live in the great state of VA taht of course has no limit set. My daughter is 10 and next year she will be in Middle School. I work full time and after 5th grade there is no child care provided by the school or anyone else, so she will be 11 and be foreced to be home alone anywhere from 30 minutes to an hour and 30 minutes. Not my preference, but what else can I do. I have it set up for her to go to my parent's house and they have a big dog and my step mom gets home an hour before me. We are starting now to teach her how to be respnsible when she is alone. Leaving her for brief periods of time, and teaching her how to use the microwave etc...my child is so sheltered at 10 I was washing clothes!

  4. it took us a long time to leave our kids...but i think they looked at it as your kids do......they loved to be at home and "in charge". it just depend on the kids i think....are they able to be in control without supervision!?!? but this is a very very interesting question!!!!!

  5. Oh Man-

    This is a question that has haunted me my entire career as a Mom.

    I look forward to the responses. I have a feeling there are more Moms out there like me than I know.

    I definitely think the whole answer hinges on your child's comfort level, and their maturity.

  6. Geez! I leave my daughter in the house when I go get the mail, because we are in Michigan, and it is cold, and it is snowy. Is that child abuse, too? I've also gone out and gardened, etc... with the monitor on while my baby was napping upstairs. I don't personally believe that this is child abuse. And that mom on Dr. Phil(I read the page) who said she wouldn't get out of the car even to put a letter in the mailbox right at her front fender was lying through her teeth. I don't leave my 2 year old in the car for any reason that puts me out of sight of her, but I will pull in the driveway, get out of the car and get the mail, and then get back in the car and park. I don't leave my daughter in the car in public places simply because I don't feel comfortable leaving her somewhere without me because of outside variables, just like I don't go into a store or gas station and leave my car running, because I don't know who is in the parking lot. However, I was babysitting for other people's children at age 12 and was very responsible. Although that could bring up the fact that some lady was just fined for babysitting for an hour after school one day a week without a daycare provider license...

    I think there is too much focus on things that should really be left alone and not enough focus on things that NEED focus, like actual child abuse.

  7. This is a tough one. I often leave my 3.5 year old sleeping while I run two houses down the street to get my daughter off of the bus. I have also left him in the house sleeping to go next door and get my daughter from the neighbor's house. I NEVER leave them in the car alone, ever. I just can't do it although my mom used to leave the 3 of us in the car while she got groceries (just a few things never a to of stuff).

    I think my parents started leaving me home alone when I was 11 or so, just for short periods of time, but they were never very far away. This was in the time before cell phones so if I had a problem, I would have had to go to the neighbors, not call my parents.

    I am not sure when we'll start leaving our kids home alone, but it won't be until they are tweens and are showing that they can be responsible to be left alone, that they know who to call if there is trouble, etc.

  8. Wow this is fun - kinda.
    I have not left my kids alone until they are at least 13. Weird but I figure if you are old enough to babysit at 13 then you can stay home. I have one in college and one in high school then two in prek and 1st. I have left the little ones with the bigger ones when I run errands in town. But if I have to be more than 20 minutes away I don't leave the little ones - they go with me.

    I know we all do it different but I think it just comes down to what is legal and what your child is comfortable with. Some people such as working parents sometimes dont have a plan or option for the 'tween" age bracket and that is sad as most of them are still so young and naive. You do what you can.

    Here in NC it is illegal to leave a child under the age or I think it is 8 in a car alone. A friend of ours lived on base and was the school crossing guard at the school on base and had her little boy in the car right there while she crossed kids and was given a $500 ticket and a court date for it. So, guess it is different everywhere. I feel it was fine she was right there.
    Our current neighbors leave the kids alone in a locked house at night while they go across the street to drink with neighbors- that gets me. I mean we live downtown - cars have been broken into and how do you justify the beer when your kid wakes up and is terrified in a house alone.? Just me though.

    Guess we all do what we feel is right but sometimes we dont' look at it through the eyes of the child- do we ask - how would I feel being alone if I were 8? It is a much scarier world now. It also depends on how comfortable you are with your neighborhood and surroundings. Would I be okay to go to the end of the street to pick up a kid off the bus while the little one was at home- here yes. Would I be okay to leave my kid in the car to pay for gas- heck no..

  9. I Don't have kids myself, so does what I say have any weight? probably not. I was once a child though...
    I believe it has to do with the child. Some kids are born more responsible than others. I think giving children independence can teach them responsiblity. If you have to be with your child constantly and smother them to ensure their safety you will have to do this their ENTIRE LIFE because they won't know how to do it on their own. I had the best parents a gal can ask for! Its all because of them that my 6 siblings and I are all responsible and dependable adults. When my parents left on a trip to Egypt for 2 weeks and left my 17 year old sister in charge of her 6 siblings I don't think it was neglect. We LOVED this time as just siblings. We were able to take care of each other and take on all the chores and I actually think it made us appreciate what our parents did for us!
    We were left alone for a few hours during the day if mom had something to do. Did we get hurt sometimes? YOU BET! Were we disciplined when mom got home and found out about our bad decisions? Yes. This taught us how to make our own decisions based on the consequences.

  10. Well, just last weekend my little 6 year old was sick, my husband was out of town and we were completely out of toilet paper. So I left my 8 year old home with my 6 year old cuddled up watching a movie while the baby and I headed to target to pick up a few things. I think it completely depends on your kids. Last summer I would leave my 8 year old home while the baby napped when I went for 20 mins to go pick up my son from golf lessons. Rule is ~ no phone, no door ~ I don't care who it is friend or not. She has my cell number and calls me if she need me. Me leaving the kids home alone happens very seldom, but it has happened.

  11. I've said it before, but I think society needs a good dose of common sense.

    At least in my mind, there's a vast difference between running outside to get the mail while you're child is unattended momentarily inside and leaving your child alone to go shopping/partying/whatever...

    Yes, things can happen - even in a few moments left alone, but then again things can happen while you're standing right there! I've had my son fall right in front of me (in what seems like slow motion at the time) and was unable to stop him.

    That said, I wouldn't leave a child unattended for any period of time in what I thought would be an unsafe situation (e.g. the bathtub or parked in a car in a public place).

    As for leaving them for an extended period of time, it really does depend on a number of factors: the child's age, maturity, length you'll be gone, etc... I'd say early adolescence (12/13).


  12. I think a lot of it depends on the situation as well as the child you are leaving alone.

    I have left my children in the house to run out and check the mail as well as to go outside and work. BUT, I would never leave my child to run down the street to the bus stop (as some of my friends have done.) I feel like I need to be in hearing and sight distance because of the chance of a fire or abduction.

    Now as far as once they get old enough to leave them home alone and go run errands, that depends upon the child. My 5 yr old for an hour?!? No way! To me, that is way to young, IMO. I think there are probably children that could be left alone at home for 15-20 mins around age 8 or 9yrs, but it depends a great deal upon the maturity of the child.

    I'd rather be called a paranoid parent then for something to go wrong with my children.

  13. I started babysitting when I was 10. Parents would leave me with 3 kids sometimes. I always had an adult that was very close by to call if I ever got in a jam but I never had to.
    I think it all depends on the child.

  14. I think it's a lot better when there are siblings involved. My little brother and I started staying at home alone when I was about 11 years old (he was 8). We took care of each other while we waited for our mother to come home from work. The idea of throwing wild parties or otherwise misbehaving never really crossed our minds. We usually just ate macaroni and cheese while watching Nickelodeon. I'm not saying that it's okay to leave small children unattended for long periods of time, and I do think there are situations where the parents are being neglectful. But in my mind, it's usually pretty harmless. This is coming from someone with absolutely no parental experience, so keep that in mind.

  15. I think there are definitely different levels of severity. But 5 years old?? Good grief.

  16. ummmm.......mine were home alone when I ran into you at Walmart today!!!! Probably eating whatever junk they could find and playing xbox!

  17. My husband and I have debated this. The military says we can't leave a child under 8 unattended. If we do security forces (the cops) will be called. He asked the higher ups in his office then they called around trying to find out if leaving our one year old (now 3) in the car while paying for gas was against the rules or not. We never got an answer. A lady left her toddler and infant in her car while she went into the post office. SF were called, statements taken, and she faced some kind legal action. With this in mind I would drag my one year old out of the car, into the crazy strong and cold wind of England so I could stand in line outside and pay for my gas.

  18. Well I must be the worst mother in the history of the world because I leave my (twin) babies alone in the car all the time! I mean how am I supposed to get/return the grocery cart or get them both in the house at the same time. I physically could not carry them both and return the cart at the store. Also, I have to leave at least one in a locked car in the driveway while I put the other in the house. I cannot believe that woman was arrested for leaving her kid strapped in it's carseat to make a donation. That is absolutely ridiculous!

  19. It's a hard call. I never left my kids alone for ANY amount of time when they were young (under 7 or 8). I might leave them in the car for maybe 30 seconds, but only if they were in my view the whole time. Otherwise they came with me.

    The story that always got me a neighbor 3 houses down had her car stolen right out of her garage after grocery shopping - thank heavens she had decided to put the baby down for a nap before getting the groceries or they would have had her baby too. I never forgot that.

    My 11YO son has to stay alone for about an hour after school now. I hate it, but we didn't have another option. But we make him bring in our large dog and lock all the doors.

  20. This is such a tough and touchy subject, and I have no answers. But I know regret is so much worse than the extra effort it takes to unload all the kids and take them into the walgreens with your for a gallon of milk. then again, maybe the gallon of milk isn't worth the risk.

    as a result, we don't get out much. and we go without milk, sometimes, too.

  21. Great topic! I follow the parenting philosophy of every child is different and capable of reaching milestones when they are ready.

    In any case, I believe a lot of preparation, communication, and trust is needed. We are taking baby steps with my 11-year-old - it's awesome to know that I'm not the only mom who deals with the working mom guilt of not being home when the kids get home from school...

  22. We can leave our kids at home alone, but it depends on their ages and how responsible they are to be left. I am a single dad, and I leave my son at home alone when he was 10 years old now he is 11, but I must say he is responsible enough to handle emergency situations but I provided him with Safekidzone mobile security application that has a one click panic button that will simultaneously notify me, family members and 911 authorities if an emergency occurs and asks for an immediate response. Life saving protection http://safekidzone.com 


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