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Are Your Kids Old Enough to Be Home Alone?

The school year is starting. You're scrambling to put after-school or childcare plans in place when your "tween" daughter tells you that all her friends' moms are letting them stay home alone after school this year. "Why do I still have a babysitter?" she asks. Or worse, she says, "You're making me miserable!"

No Magic Formula

Photo of a tween girl.Sound familiar? Like most things with "tweens" and teens, there are no set rules for deciding if your daughter is ready to be home alone. Asking yourself the following questions and talking to your daughter is one way to find out:

Although you may worry at first, staying home alone is a normal milestone in your daughter's development. It's a sign—to both of you—that she's growing up.

How to Prepare
Decided to let her stay home alone? Setting some guidelines with your child will help both of you feel better.

  • Make sure your daughter checks in with a trusted adult immediately upon arriving home. Set up a system so that you (or a backup) call to check in.

  • Agree to rules and consequences about visitors, homework, computer use, and household chores.

  • Make sure a list of emergency phone numbers—including 911, poison control, and contacts (like your work phone, relatives, trusted neighbors, etc.)—is posted near all phones and that she knows when and how to call. Include directions to your home from the local hospital or fire house.

  • Practice what to say if the phone rings. Or, get an answering machine or "Caller ID" to screen calls. This way she knows who is on the phone and whether or not she should answer it or let the call go to voice mail.

  • Practice what to say or do if someone knocks on the door.

  • Show her how the door and window locks operate, how to lock and unlock the door, and how to carry her key safely. Have a backup plan if she loses her key.

  • Keep all firearms, poisons, and hazardous materials locked away and out of reach.

  • Know for sure that your daughter can get home from school or after school activities safely. Discuss what to do if there is a last minute change in plans and that she is never to accept rides from strangers.

  • Talk to your child about trusting her instincts. If anything makes her feel uncomfortable or uneasy, she should call you or a trusted neighbor immediately.