By Pam Phillippe
Who gets decide how old is old enough to leave a child home alone? According to the Charlotte County Department of Children and Families, that decision is left to the parent’s discretion. For a parent, that can be a major decision. Make the wrong decision, and your whole world could be turned upside down. Leaving a child alone is not a decision to be taken lightly. You, as the parent, are still legally responsible for anything that happens to your children, or that your children do.
How does a parent make a good, reasonable decision about leaving their children alone?
You must first determine if your child is willing to stay alone. Some children, even teenagers, are uncomfortable on their own. If your child is willing to be left, you must decide if he or she is mature enough. There are some twelve year olds that are mature enough to be left for a short time, and there are some eighteen year olds who are not. This is a parent’s decision, not the child’s.
The length of time you’ll be gone, and the time of day, should help you decide if you can safely leave a child.
Once you’ve decided to leave your child home alone, you must make sure the child has the right information and tools needed to be safe and happy.
You should locate a “safe neighbor” or “safe place”. If your child gets home after school and notices the door is unlocked, or something’s out of place, he or she must have somewhere safe to be able to call you.
Teach your children how to answer the phone without letting the caller know that they’re alone. Make sure they know not to open the door to anyone.
Set limits on where they can go in the neighborhood. Many parents do not allow their children out of the house after they’ve gone in the first time.
With your child, create a schedule of what he or she is to do while they are alone. Make homework a priority. Allow time for hobbies or telephoning friends. If the schedule is done together, the child is more likely to follow it.
Teach your child how to use kitchen appliances safely. Young children should not be using major cooking appliances, so make sure they know how to use the microwave, or maybe a toaster oven. Keep healthy snacks on hand that the child has helped you pick out.
4-H had several projects that your child can complete at home, fulfilling their need to be creative and productive. For more information on these projects, contact the Charlotte County 4-H office at 941-764-4345.