Helping our kids feel independent and develop autonomy during Covid has obviously been hard. We are alone, together. Up next in the post-Covid emotional roller coaster is the oh so fun ‘separation anxiety’ segment of this ride making the move to Oregon harder (what with the rental house + new school + making new friends). But these kids are craving independence and at 5 1/2 and 7 1/2 we are starting to trust them (as much as I think you can). They seem to be making good decisions without us – we can overhear them, we get a sense of it all. So we decided to let them have the house to themselves while we went on a “date”. We talked about it all week, they had to show us extra good judgement, show us how they would call us in emergency (we would give them one of our phones as we don’t have a home phone) and promise to just make themselves sundaes and watch a parent approved show.
They were ABSOLUTELY giddy with excitement and couldn’t stop talking about it the whole week. They are such a team and nothing makes us happier than them plotting without us – not against us but with eachother. I’m a big free range parent advocate (for our family, you do whats best for yours) and after years of “helicopter deprogramming” Brian is now, too. I’ve read a lot of articles, listen to podcasts, etc, about treating kids older than they are when it comes to responsibility – giving them more than you think they can handle, (or than is convenient to you) which helps them grow their confidence and independence. One thing I chant internally all the time that I learned from a child psychology podcast (as you do) was “competance = confidance”. Remember that one – I didn’t coin it but of course that makes sense. It’s the same as us – as grown-ups. Achieving makes you empowered to try to achieve more and thus you feel proud of yourself = confidence. I can see it with all the more complicated chores that we do around the house. It’s a battle, truly, but they feel so good after they wash, dry, fold and put away all their laundry and I’ve even heard them tell their friends on the portal about their laundry – so proud of themselves. Listen, we have lots of problems, and we don’t push our kids academically (um … they are still being “homeschooled”) and often I worry that we don’t know how to discipline because we are both so soft, but yes I do ask them to perform life tasks beyond their years including cooking, cleaning and now babysitting themselves. We all have our strengths and weaknesses. I’m still learning my totally weird parenting triggers, patterns and quirks and some are NOT GOOD (like since I was raised/ingrained to never yell I end up getting so frustrated that I’ll start crying and throw a stuffed animal SO HARD in a way that I think disturbs us all, including the animal and then I have to apologize and we all cry and its SO DUMB). We ware a product of our parenting and environment. Everything we do and learn beyond that or against that is really, really hard work.
Anyway, it was a Sunday night and they finished their chores and bath so they are allowed a big old sundae after dinner while we watch a movie. We told them that we’d be back in 2 hours. If they needed anything they can call us obviously. They thought we were going to this lake viewing area that is walking distance from our house, with a glass (or two ) of wine. BUT the truth is that it was kinda cold and Brian and I just wanted to watch a grownup movie in bed together (not like that, I think we watched two episodes of Lupin . So we said goodbye, then snuck around the side of the house, took the back stairs up to our bedroom, took off our coats and laid down. Then we heard screaming …
… LIKE A FRAT PARTY. They blasted the music. They were dancing while making sundaes. They were squealing in delight or more likely the primitive sounds of the first feeling of independance. I still remember my first car ride to the beach with 16 year old friends – I could still describe the way the wind smelled. They took like 50 photos with my phone of their sundaes (I get that) until they settled in to watch Onward. We heard them let the dogs out over the next two hours and heard their dishes clank in the sink when they were done. Brian and I kept looking at each other with that knowing glance that only parents do when reflecting on the collective joy and relief that is parenting. We didn’t mess it up and IT WAS SO CUTE.
After 2 hours we put our coats and shoes back on, walked around the house and came through the front door. Their movie was over. The dishes were in the sink, not the dishwasher but pretty close! We praised them a ton for how responsible they were, how much we now know we can trust them again, etc, etc. It was honestly such a WIN WIN. While we weren’t at a restaurant there was something really seedy and special about us just watching a movie in bed at 6pm on a sunday without them knowing. Perhaps we needed to feel a little independent and autonomous, too. Funny how that works.
They are begging to do it again and while I don’t think I’m ready to actually leave them while we go to dinner (especially without a home phone) we might try a trip to the market, or both of us take the dogs for a long walk. Baby steps – for them and for us. All in all I’m excited to get a home phone, teach them more about strangers and answering the door (or NOT!) and going on an actual date. But for now, the walk, the drive, the fake bedroom movie session did something for all of us that I think we needed during quarantine and we will absolutely be doing again.
Now I know a lot of you are going to say that you left your kids at a young age in the 80’s (we were left all the time), but with the rise of helicopter parenting (due to the media and societal pressures) it’s not so common practice now (don’t let me get started on this). I know that it absolutely depends on your kids maturity and frankly where you live (up here we feel super super safe where we might not in a big city). So I’m curious about current parents and how old your kids were when you started leaving them alone? But from that positive experience we are pretty into giving the kids more freedom when they show us they can handle it….
Opener Image Credit: Photo by Sara Ligorria Tramp | From: Keeping The Good Of Last Year: New Family (And Kid-Only) Activities – Plus The Value Of “Me” Time
Good for you! I always imagined letting my kids stay home alone when the oldest is of phone-owning age. For now, our kids, 8 and 5, are allowed to take walks around the block together. As children, my brother and I were home alone all the time due to having a single mom with 2 jobs while attending grad school. I always say that made us more ready for independent life than any of our friends.
Great way to test the waters! Unfortunately my two boys (8 and 9 – with ADHD) definitely cannot be trusted home alone yet. Or at least, I’m not ready to trust them! But we let them walk to school and back alone, and my more responsible youngest has walked to the supermarket to buy something alone a couple of time recently. Parents know what their kids are ready for.
No shaming here. This is such a cool idea and I can’t wait to try a close by version of this with my kids- maybe in the yard- but I encourage you to look at your endangering/neglect laws in your state and see if this is a violation of that. In my state, someone was arrested for a criminal offense for leaving their kids alone at home (oldest kid was older than yours) for one hour.
I love the idea of giving all independence possible, but it does seem to me that kids under at least 11 should not be left alone. They can handle regular things fine, but if there is a fire or accident or some other disaster, they’re too young to handle it. We’ve been talking about leaving the kids with an 11 year old neighbor and hanging out down the block but I wouldn’t go farther away than that because of potential emergencies- unlikely to happen, but catastrophic if they did.
Where does the random number 11 come from?
Children of the past did an incredible amount and were fabulously independent.
Instead of catastrophising, planning and explaining how to deal with things should unexpected events happen will instill confidence and self-esteem. They learn to be resourceful and proud of themselves.
My friend’s 8 year old does more than my partner’s 15 year old sister who will enter adulthood incapable and unable to look after herself and leave her vulnerable to the big bad world.
I don’t know how this person picked 11, but I took a child development class and kids do not have abstract thinking or advanced problem solving skills until age 12. So I would probably not fully leave them alone until then. This kind of experiment while the parents are home and able to monitor seems like a good way to start to teach independence though.
I don’t see a problem with leaving kids younger than 11/12 home for shorter periods of time.
My mom did it frequently while going to the store quickly for milk. We had many neighbors that knew us and would watch out for us, who we could ask for assistance in a true emergency.
It’s scary to give children independence but I’m so glad Emily wrote this article because it ends up being a disservice to children to deny them responsibility and trust.
To piggyback off Jess, yes to starting to teach independence in creative ways! I think most parents can find ways to do this, whether or not they actually are totally alone. Our family just got done renovating a house while living in a trailer on the property. We would leave the kids alone in the trailer while working on the house that was literally across the driveway. It’s incredible how much independence our 7-and under kids felt and how much responsibility they took on in that time. I LOVE the secret movie watching that Emily and Brian did.
There are times when kids have to be that independent from the earliest age. But if they don’t HAVE to be, give them the feeling, the responsibility, in ways that allow for extra protection.
You are absolutely right! It comes down to brain development. They are too young to understand consequences in the same way a 12 year old does. A boys brain doesn’t get that development until even older! The saddest thing is that a white family can discuss this free range idea while black mothers are arrested for it!
Sad, but true, Lynne.
Thank you for saying this. I actually work for the Child Protective Services agency in my state and the disproportionate number of families of color who enter the Child Welfare system for reasons such as this is truly ridiculous. What’s more, the lack of available and affordable childcare forces many low income families to make decisions like this not as a fun experiment of granting their kids autonomy, but in order to work, pay bills and put food on the table. There’s such a range of what kids are capable of, what’s culturally appropriate, what society deems safe… the fact that the state has once-size-fits all rules is ludicrous. Don’t get me wrong, protecting children from true neglect is of utmost importance, but we have really gone beyond the pale with these laws and our uneven enforcement of them.
12 is just when critical thinking begins, but it is by no means fully developed. I also believe that with a set of clear rules and procedures, kids younger than 12 can begin to develop independence. Child development gives averages, so looking at individual children’s readiness is essential.
I picked 11 because it was a lot older than 8 – there’s no magic number. I talk to my 6 year old about what to do in case of a fire and other potential emergencies, but I’m a catastrophe there’s no amount of practice that prepares you – and a 6 year olds life experience probably isn’t enough to stay calm and make sure her little sister gets out. There’s a big different between responsibility and independence and dealing with rare, intense, and life threatening events.
The American Academy of Pediatrics list 11 or 12 as the appropriate age to leave a child home alone and for no more than 3 hours. It comes down to brain development. Some states have laws, such as Oregon, where it is 10 years old. So Emily should definitely be aware of that after her move.
11 may not be conservative enough in some states. It is important to know your state’s laws and the definition of neglect in your child protection code before you make any decisions about leaving you child home alone.
While there is certainly room for policy debate, not knowing this information could lead to problems if you leave your child alone and there is an accident or neighbors report an issue.
I’m all independence for children but you must know your state’s laws. Where we live it is 12 years old.
In Maryland it is illegal to leave children under the age 8 at home alone and in Oregon the age is 10 or younger.
I assumed they picked 11 because the state of Oregon (for better or worse, not stating my pov on the topic) has a law restricting parents from leaving children under the age of 10 unattended. I’m not sure if length of time is a factor but you can read about it online, it’s ORS 163.545.
I thought the Henderson’s date night sounded like a lot of fun for everyone! We went on our first real date after getting vaccinated (our oldest is driving age so no babysitter required) and it was such an odd mix of feelings. Who knew doing such normal things would feel so strange post pandemic!?
I think it really depends on your kids and how you prepare together. As a child of the 80s, my sister and I were left home together during the day starting around 7 and 8 (always as a team, we were very responsible together.) We had a really good relationship with a bunch of our neighbours who were home during the day. We actually did have a kitchen fire once, and we followed the plan exactly as we were taught, we left immediately, went to the neighbors, who called the fire department, no serious injury or property damage resulted. Everything was fine. I’m not saying every parent is going to be comfortable with this, but the right kids with the right temperament can be trusted. I think it does help when it’s siblings close in age who behave like a team, collectively they can be more responsible sometimes.
I was babysitting (even at night!) by 11…and that wasn’t even that long ago. I even babysat a 3-month old baby for short periods of time (1-2 hours, parents were within walking distance) when I was 10. I agree not all 10 or 11 year olds are ready for that (I teach 5th graders, and there are some I would definitely NOT leave alone…and others that I would trust to watch my own kids), but some are.
I was 10 when I started babysitting other kids (in the early 90s)! And I was a great babysitter! Honestly, it depends on maturity of the child…but their maturity also comes from the responsibility and trust you give them. So I think it’s great that Emily is starting this early.
Yes, I was babysitting at 11, in the 90s. It’s crazy to me now! I generally did fine, but that’s like my dad saying he was fine not wearing a seatbelt when he was a kid. (In both situations, nothing serious happened — we were just lucky.) I won’t hire a babysitter under the age of 16.
I don’t think there’s a hard and fast age at which a kid can be left alone. It depends on so many variables, including yes, as others have noted, race/class.
I was babysitting my neighbors’ infant in the 90s the when I was 11 too. For about 3 hours, the parents were not in the area, but my mom was (usually) across the street. To the extent I am overly protective of my kids now, it’s because of current social norms and laws that weren’t around when we were kids. In a related topic, I think we have lost a lot by kids no longer exploring their surroundings without parental supervision. As kids, we would be gone for hours and come back for dinner, and we learned a lot of independence and problem-solving skills that way.
Ha! We definitely want our son to be independent- but he doesn’t want to!
Your describtion sounds super cool and fun and like a great way to boost their egos. Way to go!
What are the podcasts that you mentioned here?
I’d love to get info on the podcasts too!
It’s so interesting to me how perspective changes things – NYC dweller here, and my 11yo has been staying alone for periods for a year or two (and sometime with either/both of her younger siblings, often due to COVID logistics). I feel way safer doing it in a city – she’s surrounded by neighbors, and could very easily find someone to help if needed. Definitely NOT saying one location actually IS safer than the other, just interesting how to a city person the less people in the “country” might seem less safe – for example, I have purposefully trained her to walk on the bigger, more crowded streets if she’s walking alone.
Agreed! I’m currently in the suburbs and childless, but I would definitely feel safer in the city than in the country. As a former New York City dweller, I agree! Neighbors definitely look out for each other. Even if they are the biggest jerk, their presence is part of your safety net somehow.
Yes I completely agree! I used to nanny in NYC and parents would leave their kids alone all the time. One parent said she’d leave her toddler napping and take the baby monitor to a cafe next door. I think especially in buildings with doormen, parents can feel like they have a built in security guard.
OMG this!! I grew up in the middle of nowhere and would always PANIC when my parents would leave me alone. I felt so isolated. Now, as an adult, I live in the city and I feel so much better about leaving my kiddo. It also helps that a few of our neighbors are in the medical field and would be able to help immediately in case of an emergency!
I love this idea and needed to hear it. You inspired me this morning to let my 7 year old make breakfast for her and her brother. Baby steps.
So cute! Our kids are 9 and 7 and we leave them home alone frequently, usually for 2 hours or less but running our own business during Covid sort of forced us to at times. We live in a great historic pocket where our kids bike and roller blade and roam the streets! You definitely know your own kids and know when it’s right and if they can be “trusted”! Good for you guys!
What a great idea! We are just getting to that point with our 8 and 5 year old too. Feel like in the next year it will be time. One thing I try to keep in mind is… would I want the responsibility put on our 8 years old if something happened to his younger sibling while in his care.
Good for you! I’m also very anti-helicopter parenting and strongly believe that there’s going to be a fairly useless generation of adults soon because they were never taught competence at a young age. My kids are 8.5 and 7 and we’re at the stage now that my husband and I are comfortable going away from the house for 30 minutes at a time (typically to take the dog on a walk or run to the grocery down the street). By next year, we’ll probably be comfortable leaving them for an hour and possibly squeezing in a date lunch! The kids are fine…we do the same thing as you and leave one of our phones with them, they know not to answer the door (or even look out the window), and we have very close relationships with all of our neighbors in the cul-de-sac, so the kids know where to go in case of an emergency. A lot of adults nowadays seem to grossly underestimate a child’s capabilities (and obviously, there are plenty of children who are NOT ready to be left alone, and that’s fine), but it encourages me when I see other parents letting their kids develop their own… Read more »
I agree. We set very clear boundaries with our kids for when they are home alone and we developed relationships with many neighbors. They know they could run in any directions and quickly reach a trust eat adult.
I’m currently taking classes at our local community college. I was shocked my first semester when I saw how codependent so many of my classmates were. I can only imagine how lost they would have been had they gone away to college. I don’t think people consider that in 4 yrs ( from 12-13) that child that they are afraid to leave alone in their own home will be out navigating the wide world independently.
I enjoyed reading this and firmly believe in doing what works for you when it comes to parenting. There’s truly no exact right way to do it. It’s right if it works for you. Growing up, my parents didn’t really ponder whether my sister and I walking to school would make us independent. It’s just something we had to do because parents had jobs to go to, and the school was close by so didn’t make sense to send someone to walk us. Similarly, they didn’t let us cook dinner or even a snack, as we had a cook for that. Depriving us of that privilege of cooking didn’t cross their mind, nor did it make us less independent or confident. I truly think we tend to overanalyze and doubt our instincts when it comes to parenting, especially given the myriad of parenting advice literature available. Technology is great and parenting advice, books, podcasts are great. It’s good to glean the wisdom of all of these but we shouldn’t let any of it direct our parenting or misdirect what we instinctively know will work for our own unique family.
Loved reading about their excited squeals. I once read that our best memories from childhood rarely involved parents being present. Ha! It’s so true though. I have very fond memories of trips as a family, but when I think back about the best times with my friends, there were no parents to be seen. You are teaching them so much and inspiring me to teach my own kids laundry skills!
I think age 9 for quick trip to store, 10 for an hour or so, 11 for a date. Every kid is different of course. Fun fact. A lot of states have child protection laws on when you can leave kids home alone. Surprised to see California has none but the states we’ve lived in 10-12 was the range. https://apps.washingtonpost.com/g/page/local/latchkey-children-age-restrictions-by-state/1555/
Yes, this was a little shocking to me at first because I live in Illinois and our law is 14! But it’s against leaving them home for ‘an unreasonable’ amount of time, or in an unsafe weather environment, etc. That said, we have let my oldest ‘babysit’ my youngest for 1-2 hours after school until we get home from work, starting at age 11. I wouldn’t consider myself a helicopter parent, but maybe more conservative in this regard because of the law.
Wow, 14! It definitely made us a little more conservative too. I didn’t even know it was a thing until we had over a dozen snow days one school year and the school sent a reminder. I’ve always been able to work from home as needed but that was a challenging winter for a lot of parents.
What kills me is that the 14 year old who is finally able to stay home alone for the first time in Illinois will have his learner’s permit to drive a car a year later. The next year he will be alone in a car he is operating. How is that doing a service to anyone, Illinois? I was at the local pool with my friends with no parents at that age and I biked home alone afterward. I moved to a big city when I was 19 with no qualms. Kids need to test their wings now and then for sure!
I wonder when that law was passed. I grew up in Illinois in the 70s. Us kids definitely had a lot of time alone without parents/baby sitters at younger than 14. I even babysat younger kids when I was 12.
I’m not a parent but my first thought after reading the blog was wondering if its even legal.
Portland parent here…in Oregon the legal age is 10. Emily, do what you will with that information. I’ve left my 9 year old and sometimes with the 9 year old, the 7 year old for quick daytime errands. There’s a 3 year old in the mix, and I would never make the older two be responsible for her alone at this point, so I haven’t really had the chance to practice leaving the other for longer chunks of time because if I get care for her, then it’s essentially care for all three.
We just moved to a house with a park down the street. We bought high powered walkie talkies, and we’re letting the older two ride their bikes in the neighborhood and go to the park alone, using the walkie talkies to communicate with us. They have to be a team, and we know the neighborhood well. This independence is making them giddy, similar to what you described, Emily.
Also Portland, OR here and the minimum age requirement is often a conversation between our parent friends. I know people who have done it during the day, like when one kid had to play soccer in the rain and the 8 year old refused to leave home so the parents left said 8 year old home. They know their kids, and what they can handle responsibility wise, but it’s definitely on their minds the whole time that what they are doing is actually against the law. Again, we’re in a quiet neighbourhood where people keep an eye out for each other (sometimes a little too closely) and I do sometimes wish we could give our older child a little more freedom/responsibility during the day, but I’m just too much of a rule follower. I know these laws are put in place with the idea of keeping kids safe, but I do wish they were more guidelines than actual punishable laws. Utah introduced a law a few years back about free range kids and letting them walk to and from school on their own etc. and from memory part of it was to protect children, and their parents, from having the… Read more »
I remember reading a story about a woman who was arrested because she left her kid in the car while she walked 100 feet away to put something in the mail box or something like that. She could see her car and probably was in voice range of the kid but was arrested. I was shocked. It makes me glad I’m not a parent in these days. If you want to be a free range parent it seems like it comes with a lot of risk.
Thanks for posting that link. Very helpful! And I’m glad to see my state has no minimum age.
This trend of parents being afraid to leave their kids alone drives me a little crazy because it definitely reflects privilege that is rarely directly addressed – I was raised by a single mom with 4 kids in the 1990s/2000s (31 now) so there were plenty of times that I was left home alone or in charge of my 2 years-younger sister. Since my mom had to work, I also routinely rode the metro in downtown DC by the age of 10 (I grew up in the DC suburbs, but frequently had camp or after school activities in DC – I always saw other kids taking the metro home from/to school on weekdays too). And my mom started traveling on business/leaving me and my younger sister alone for a few days by the time I was 14 (my older siblings were out of the house by this time). Kids can be trusted with more than you think so it’s great you’re getting them acclimated to you being gone at such an early age!
Interesting, I work in the field of social services and the post actual made me think about the impact of privilege but in a very different way. I adore the blog and Emily opening her life to us but it is a very privileged lifestyle and framing this as progressive and anti helicopter parenting is a very privileged view on this. For families who don’t have the means for childcare and do the same of of necessity I think they would likely be judged very differently.
Emily and Sarah, this is a great point you’re making. If a white, middle or high income family leaves their children home alone, it’s seen as fostering independence. If a poor person or brown person does it, it would be considered neglect or endangerment of the welfare of a child. Here’s an Atlantic article related to this point that I think about often:
I think this ALL DEPENDS on how safe and healthy the family structure is – and there are some lines to not cross. My story is a counterpoint and probably part of the backstory of how helicopter parenting styles got started. Sorry in advance if it is too serious or detailed! I was born in 1968, I was alone with my siblings a lot in the 70’s and 80’s – but my siblings had issues and my family was in a nasty divorce mess and I was a parentified child. I didn’t have a childhood because I had too many emotional and physical adult responsibilities. Partly cause I was the girl so my sexist family / culture expected me to do all the work for my brothers … I THOUGHT I could handle it and at the time I WANTED to do all that work to please them, ignoring my own needs. These were needs which I didnt even know I had at at the time ,because I had not been raised to have any needs. A lot of my pals were the same, left alone and seemingly ‘ mature’. By the time I was 13 I was over it… Read more »
KK, I’m sorry to read of your experience and fear that these scenarios are far too common.
Thank you for bringing up a very important issue.
Thanks! Hope its helpful, it took me years to figure out, I wouldn’t wish it on others LOL
Oh my goodness, I laughed so hard at these pics and their expressions! This is awesome. Great parenting!
I found this so interesting as I genuinely read this article expecting it to be a belated April fools. I’m from England so perhaps different cultures (and I’m of the Maddy generation) but it hadn’t even crossed my mind to leave my 10 and 8 Yr old alone in the house nor do I know anyone else who does. But it’s opened my eyes to thinking about what independence I could give them.
I think there is a cultural difference, I’m from NZ living as an expat in the Middle East, lots of my friends are British and I think I picked up a lot of helicopter from them as I had my kids here. Definitely in NZ I see my friends kids are much less supervised. I left my 10 and 8 year old alone for the first time a few days ago and when I ran that past friends my American friends thought it was ok while my British/European were more cagey.
I started coming home from school by myself around age 10. I think I was left alone as early as 8 years old a couple times for an hour here or there (in the 90s) and if you feel you can trust your kids and they will feel this responsibility to be trusted being home alone I think that’s great! (And genius) I hope I can do the same one day…although my 3 1/2 real old is the sneakiest child alive…as was I.
Loved this. There is a fabulous book on all of this and the how tos: Hunt, Gather, Parent: What Ancient Cultures teach us about Raising Children. The title didn’t do it for me but her interview on NPR sold us. Really helpful. I feel like I must spread the word on this book because it will do such good for us all.
“How to Raise an Adult” by Julie Lythcott-Haims is great, too. It’s the anti-helicopter parenting manifesto and also talks about the roots of the recent backlash against leaving your kids at home alone.
Just came here to say, make sure you check your state laws. Many states have laws of when a child can be left alone. If yours does, and your child is younger than the age and left alone, CPS can get involved and things can go south.
Agreed. This post is 100% is missing this. It is reckless to have a post like this up without even a mention of legality.
Several people have posted this, but fail to acknowledge that she didn’t leave her children alone. She was upstairs…Is there some law about being in a different area of your home?
Right, and their original plan had been to simply walk to the park down the street. They weren’t driving a half hour away for anything. 😶
Yes! If you do the research, you will note neither CA nor OR have laws regarding specified age for staying home alone. However, OR has a child neglect law that state a child be 10 or older to be home alone.
My concern would be what would happen if one of the children choked on something they were eating (Sundae.) would they know what to do?
Americans biggest fear in life seems to be that children choke on food and no one that’s around knows how to perform the famous heimlich maneuver. This fear controlled society is the reason for many problems in this country.
California is great. In Illinois the minimun aga a child can be left home alone is 14. I don’t undetstand how this happened.
This is so different to my country! It seems that in Germany the minimum age is only 3 years for 15 minutes unattended at home. If children are around 6 or 7 years it is 1-2 hours and if they are 10 years old more than 2 hours is allowed (always depending on the child).
Those laws make much more sense, especially when school aged kids return from school earlier than parents. I don’t know why IL made it this restrictive. It used to be 12 yo, which is too old as well.
Just because California doesn’t have a minimum age, it does NOT mean you can legally leave kids home at any age- it just gives the police/court/jury discretion to decide what is reasonable vs criminal. My state doesn’t have a minimum and I know people have been arrested for leaving kids alone who are a bit older than this
I live in IL and looked up the law a couple years ago because I’m a parent. I understand that IL says you can’t leave children under age 12 for more than 24 hours. It is perfectly legal to have a 13 year old babysitting for an evening or a 12 year old coming home alone off the bus after school.
My kids are 16-21 now. I think we left them home alone for more than 15 minutes at about 9-10. They did play outside with their friends around the neighborhood and go trick or treating on their own from about 3rd grade, so it is all baby steps. We still get someone to stay the night with our HS junior if we are out of town, whether that is one of the older siblings or an aunt/grandma. She can drive now, so maybe we’ll loosen that up next year if we ever leave the house. 🙂 The older kids have gone off to college and had fun and managed themselves fine, so I guess we instilled confidence and competence in them.
This is great. Get an Alexa and they can call you on that. We just left our 6 and 9 yo home for an hour alone. We were 2 miles away. We often go on 20 minute walks with the dog They were on iPads the whole time. It was a win win. My 9 yo walks home from school on the days the 6yo stays late. She loves the independence. And as for helicopter parenting- I had to stop letting them walk home together as they’d fight and friends would see them walking and get concerned. Yay for independent kids.
Delightful and inspiring! My dudes are still very little (no one is leaving my two year old alone, clearly), but this opened my eyes to thinking about them being alone SO much earlier than I would have thought about. What a great goal to work toward. And I was also worried for you in the comments that people might be unkind or judgey, and more pleasant surprises down there. It’s great to hear so many good thoughts on kid independence! Thanks everyone for widening my mind about how I want to parents as my kids get older.
Mine are 8 and 6. It also never occurred to me to leave them alone yet. We live in an urban suburb and I don’t know any parents that leave theirs alone yet, but they may just not talk about it. My biggest fear isn’t strangers, but fires. Two elementary boys in my city died when alone getting ready before school (toaster fire) while mom ran quickly to the store. I think maybe at 9 I will consider it.
We must live in the same neighborhood as I posted the same story of the boys. I’m in GPP.
I spent my entire summer vacations home alone starting at 9 years old. I wasn’t allowed to go outside (apartment dwellers, so no yard), but books, tv, video games and a good imagination kept me occupied. It never occurred to me that was abnormal. It’s amazing how many kids grew up the same way to be parents who wouldn’t dream of doing such a thing.
But do we want kids to grow up left alone inside an apartment all summer long? Maybe we’re just trying to do better by our kids. My generation grew up without wearing seatbelts, while we lived to tell the tale, I now hope all kids safely wear seatbelts.
Such a fun idea!! Just a heads up…it’s still illegal in Oregon to leave kids alone under the age of 10. I can’t remember how old Charlie is. Anyway, just throwing that out there but I’m all for independence!
Mom of 5 now ages 12-24 & very much NOT a helicopter parent but have to say that kids need to demonstrate the ability to know what to do in the unlikely event of an emergency. Under 10 they really don’t have that cognitive ability. If there was a fire would they be able to get out & actually be able to make the decision not to try to get the dogs out too? If they were being silly & one of them got hurt would they try to fix it themselves or do they have the ability to know the situation requires a call to 911? One thing we did do as the kids got older & we would leave them with younger siblings is to pay ALL the kids so they would all have a incentive to work as a team & have things run smoothly.
And as many have stated, lots of states have rules as to ages kids are allowed to be home alone & also when they are considered old enough to babysit other kids. Check your your local rules.
So funny! Good for you! Not exactly the same but we have a small cafe near us that has great dinner specials and I remember going and enjoying a really nice meal with my husband and feeling like we were on a real date….all while my kids were sitting behind us at the next two-top table! We started doing these little “dates” where the kids had one table and we had our own. They were young and well behaved and we did many times over the years. You do what you can! They have great restaurant manners now! Enjoy!
Such a good idea!
So cute! I’m glad you all enjoyed yourself and had an empowering experience.
I don’t think I’m a “helicopter parent,” but I don’t know that anyone knows what that actually means, aside from a buzz word that vaguely means a parent is overprotective. I think no matter how many times you say “you do you,” your position is basically, “parents can do as they please, I guess…. even weird and dumb helicopter parents.” I think it’s important not to generalize and to remember that all caregivers are operating without a handbook, and are doing the best they can while being informed by their own experiences, trauma, childhood, culture, and the learning they’ve done as adults. A close friend had very firm “free-range” beliefs for her own kiddos and was peeved that a neighbor would come over for play dates and his parent always insisted on staying with the kids while they played in the backyard. That parent sensed the tension and mentioned that their older child experienced a traumatic event while playing unsupervised, so they changed their behavior. I’m not catastrophizing or telling you to not do what you’re doing, but I would caution against gross generalization.
You bring up an interesting point! “You do you” works in a bubble and unless your kids have zero friendships outside the home, you will be constantly navigating how to deal with different parenting styles even when they are teenagers.
I think it’s important to be an open communicator with other parents about expectations so no one feels uncomfortable. When they are young, be transparent at a play dates about what the kids will be doing including whether or not they will be supervised and by who. If in doubt call the parent and ask, or don’t do it. I found out the hard way that some parents will not like the idea of your oldest keeping an eye on their kid while you run down the street to grab some snacks at the market.
So well said! Helicopter parenting is a useful term to speak to a greater shift if our society, but is just as useful at shaming parents as any other parenting stigma. Every parent is a mix of strengths and weaknesses, which are usually just formed by our past experience. For example, my kids have been privileged to always have access to a couple of acres of land for their yard. We joke about how our two year old seems to have no sense of distance from his parents because he’s always been able to be an acre away from us and it’s never been a big deal. But I also experienced a few emergencies and even moments of abuse that happened when I was unsupervised as a kid. Is that the worst case scenario? Yes. Is that likely to happen? No, not really. But as a parent I’ve found myself accused of being both negligent and a helicopter parent, depending on the circumstance. I loved this post and always enjoy learning from your parenting experiences, Emily. Maybe just be careful about those labels like “helicopter parents” or even (from a couple years ago… sure stuck with me) “garbage parents.” I… Read more »
There were a couple of bad things happening near me when I was 4-6. One boy set fire in my basket. At a different time there were 2 young adult men (complete strangers) with puppies coming into my building as I was playing with friends in a common area. I lived on a first floor, screamed,my mom opened the door, strangely they never came back. Each incident caused me not wanting go out for a few days (it felt like 2 weeks at least, but mom remembers days).I think it is so important to be in tune with kids. But making assumptions and doing too much will hurt them too. If a child wants their mom to be there ehile they play then I understand. But if they feel courage and confidence I don’t think it’s fair for the parent to make an assumption that the child can’t handle the situation. Of course you have to take into account the neighborhood safety, neurosiversity, and all that, but it might be healthier if moms met for coffee and let kids play outside and come in when they need health than just going there and watching. Kids need some privacy too.
I can say that what happens to you as a child can inform how and when this independence happens for your children. I had ultimate freedom in the 70’s but we had the most horrific thing that could happen to a child happen to a best friend that lived in my neighborhood. I won’t go in to details but I am sure you can imagine. And that this event shaped who I am as a parent. I do fight it. And I do still give her independence and I do know what happened was a one in a million incident- but calling everyone who takes it slower a helicopter parent isn’t really fair. She is runs around the neighborhood with friends, does sleepovers and is a confident great kid. We just now at almost 12 are going to start leaving her home for a small period of time. This is a good push, thank you! Truthfully, I am terrified!
OMG> i TOTALLY needed to read this! i’m a complete helicopter parent due to my own anxiety, traumas, and reading too much horrible stuff in the news. we know way too much nowadays. but i really want to change that because my kids are older and i know that this is just hurting them because they need to learn independence and competence. my sister and i watched ourselves at a younger age than my kids are when my mom was a single parent. but i’ve always been way more concerned. anyway, my kids are almost 11 and 8. i am totally going to try this. it will not only build their confidence, but my own confidence in their independence. great post! and yes, totally still trying to figure out my weird triggers too.
I started leaving my kids alone during COVID. They are 7-year-old twins. I didn’t want to risk taking them to public places like the grocery store and I had no help. I have a security system in our house so I could check on them through the cameras. We have a home phone so they could call me. They know not to answer the door or open the doors. We also live in a very safe neighborhood. I felt very comfortable. I would also alert a friend that I had left the kids so if something happened to me while
I was out, they would know to go get the kids.
It’s also cultural! Why Japanese Parents Let Children Ride Trains Alone | Fatherly
My heart stopped when I read “Then we heard screaming…” !!! Soooooo glad all was well : )
Lived in Japan. We saw this all the time and it was perfectly normal. I was amazed and impressed.
My dad tells me stories from growing up poor in the Bronx that he would ride the subway alone starting at 3 years old in the 40s and 50s… My husband and I aren’t that loose with our kids, but our work meant that we sometimes had to leave our kids home by themselves starting about 6 mo ths ago for up to two hours. They are 10, 9, and 6 and so super capable and independent. We also are in a safe neighborhood with neighbors who know us and our kids incredibly well. This IS privileged!
With us it was a more gradual approach, our time outside the house grew longer as they matured. Maybe starting with us doing yard work while they watched a show, for instance, when they were really little. Over time they learned about safety, how to use the phone, etc, so we could pop out to the market quickly. Once they were around 7 or 8 (they are 11 and 13 now) we could leave one by themselves while I ran the other to a sports practice in town. So it was never a huge deal and when we progressed to date nights where they put themselves to bed (I think we started that when my oldest was 11 or 12) it was a natural progression. It’s funny and interesting to see different perspectives, when I was reading about your experience and the kids screaming, I thought you were going to say you were surprised they weren’t taking the responsibility seriously and it didn’t work out. The phone was for emergency use! Maybe I’m no fun, but I don’t want my kids to think us being away means it’s time to party. They have fun together, but it’s not a raucous… Read more »
I would leave my 8 year old home alone, but Oregon has a somewhat vague child neglect law. We have a ton of neighbors close by and would probably go somewhere close. I love how you set them up to feel they are on their own. So cute!
163.545 Child neglect in the second degree. (1) A person having custody or control of a child under 10 years of age commits the crime of child neglect in the second degree if, with criminal negligence, the person leaves the child unattended in or at any place for such period of time as may be likely to endanger the health or welfare of such child.
(2) Child neglect in the second degree is a Class A misdemeanor. [1971 c.743 §174; 1991 c.832 §2]
Thanks for the post. Where I live (Ontario), it is actually illegal to leave a child under 10 alone. And I believe they must be 12 to be left with a younger sibling. This is just simply not done here. It isn’t a matter of “different parenting techniques/values”, but a matter of having your kids potentially taken away from you for negligence.
I’m unsure what the laws are like in the US, but perhaps this post is missing some kind of mention of checking to make sure this is legal before leaving your children unsupervised?
California doesn’t have a minimal age. Maryland has 8, Oregon 10, Illinois where I live has 14. I think safety is important and all kids are different, but I think those decisions should be left to parents. You are correct, the legal system can give you lots of problems and it can leave you bankrupt.
This is an interesting topic for sure! I think kids need opportunities for independence. 100% agree that competence = confidence. Our story: we are an Army family & chose to live on base for the first time. All of my kids have benefited from living here simply due to their ability to be independent. My girls, now 13 & 12, started biking to the gas station to get slurpees & gum when we moved here. They have to speak up, be polite, know how to count change etc. Kids their age play manhunt after dark. My boys, ages 6 & 8, roam the neighborhood & woods, and are gone for hours at a time. There are no fences, but our neighborhood looks quite different from the one surrounding it, and that visual difference is enough to limit their movement naturally. They bike to school 1 mile away by themselves in the mornings, joined by a other kids (“the bike gang,” I like to call them). The other parents are like us: they let their kids roam and there are so many kids playing outside. I can tell esp with my boys, how “big” they feel bc of their independence. Anyway,… Read more »
There are some state laws on this issue so it’s also important to be aware of those. Range from no limit up to 12.
I love this and your kids are so cute! But just a heads up, there are laws that vary from state to state regarding on what age you can let your children stay home alone. There are incidences of nosy neighbors calling CPS and parents have risked losing their children. (Didn’t this just happen with a single mom leaving her 10 yr old home alone with a younger sibling at a hotel because the mom needed to work and couldn’t find or afford childcare?) Not saying that the nosy neighbors and CPS are in the right, I definitely believe children need more independence and less helicoptering, but it is something that should be considered and researched.
I like the idea of giving kids independence, but it’s important not to romanticize the past. My siblings and I had a huge amount of freedom at a very young age. Some crazy stuff happened. Once my sister put leftover takeout pizza, still in the cardboard box, in the oven. I tried to tell her, but she was older and wouldn’t listen. That was fire #1. Another time, we decided to make French fries, but got distracted watching tv. That was fire #2. Another time my brother locked me out. After knocking and knocking, I decided to try the window. I pushed too hard and ended up breaking it, causing a gash on my wrist that needed stitches. My brother bribed me with a French silk pie from Bakers Square not to tell. Good deal, so I never got those stitches. I lost feeling in my pinky for years. Another time, I was walking outside and a man in a car asked me for my phone number. He was an adult so I gave it to him. That started months of him calling me while masturbating. I didn’t know what was happening at first, and then I was too embarrassed… Read more »
My heart goes out to you. I experienced a horrific sexually abusive phone call when babysitting at the age of 12, during which I was threatened into doing abusive acts to myself. After that there was a long period of time where a man (not likely the same one though I didn’t know this) would call and say obscene things to whomever answered the phone. I’m sure that compounded the earlier trauma that I’d been through. The original trauma still affects me in a very real way and I’m almost 50. I agree that kids need more freedom and also agree that some really bad shit happens. As parents we just have to do our best to navigate both of those realities. But despite all that I just shared, I think this post is great and so fun and I am – as always – inspired to get my kids doing ALOT more stuff on their own, from chores to the more fun stuff in life.
I am so sorry that happened to you.
MKP I am so sorry that happened to you. I was sexually assaulted by a man whose kids I had just babysat. I was a young 15 and he and his wife were good friends with my parents. Even at 15 I did not know how to handle what happened. I knew to push him off of me and run, but I did not know to tell my parents, let alone the police. I just refused to ever babysit for his kids again or be in the same room with him. Even as my mother demanded that I babysit for her friends again, I kept the secret. In fact I never told my parents what happened, which meant that my younger sisters eventually babysit for the family. The man formed a close friendship with my sister, which I assume means that he assaulted her, too, but groomed her into thinking that she was special to him. I feel ill writing this. I hope you’ve had therapy and help to deal with your trauma. It doesn’t make it go away, but it helps work your way to remissions in the PTSD. I think it’s important to think of all the things… Read more »
I’m so sorry this happened to you and I’m so glad you’ve sought therapy.
I love what you said at the end–if you, as a parent, are not ready to have the tough conversations and your children are not ready to hear them–it is too soon to leave them alone.
As a social worker, I worked for the state with juvenile sex offenders–kids and teens who abused other kids and teens, so please remember it is not just adults that we need to worry about. If an older kid is overly interested in hanging out with/babysitting/pays special attention to younger kids–this is a warning sign.
I vividly remember when my mom left me home alone to go to the grocery store when I was 9. A mature 9, I should add. It was awesome until my 3rd grade “boyfriend” showed up at the door with his mom to give me a Christmas present. I opened the door and when I told her my mom wasn’t home I could see her doing her best to remain calm. I’m shocked child services didn’t end up knocking an hour later (my mom would have been home by then). 😂
I think one of the biggest things to leaving kids home alone when they’re young is amazing neighbors. If kids have an out to go to a close neighbors house i think it can add confidence on the kids and the parents.
Great parenting, Emily and Brian! I love it. Your kids will only benefit.
Instead of an actual land line, we got a flip phone for our kids at that age. It was set up as a pay as you go phone, so it only cost about $109/year total. Yay for free range parenting!!!
I love this idea. I think my 8 and 6 year old would actually really shine in a scenario like this but sadly we have a 2 year old and he is too large to be lifted by the 8 year old so not really a crew we can leave. Also we live in NYC so another added layer. I do think it depends on the kids through. I have a brother who is two years older and I remember my parents paid me $1 a day to watch my 2 year old brother when I was 7 while they painted the house. By the end of the week I had him potty trained! But my mom asked me to check in on my older brother too that week and make he sure ate— ha.
Check out Gizmo Watch for kids. It gives parents the ability to track kids’ location and call them and kids can call numbers approved by parents but have no internet access. Also, it is harder to lose because its on their wrist. It is nice for if they walk home from school or are outside playing in a larger lot you can call to tell them time to come in.
I gotta say, the thought of a 5 1/2 and a 7 1/2 year old, if they were REALLY left home alone for 2 hours, scares the crap out of me. I love the trick you played to make them THINK they were on their own, I dunno how you pulled it off! We (four girls) were allowed free range of our 52 acres but we always knew mom was not leaving the property. We rode bikes and hiked and screamed like banshees and fought and played and grew. Fast-forward many years, I’m a single mom who decides her 13 year old son is ready to be home alone for the first time (after all, GIRLS his age are babysitters by now!). I take a 5-hour work shift, have set up for a couple of friends to ‘drop in’ to use our workout room as a tiny check-in on him. All goes well, he is so puffed up and proud – he calls his gramma (his dad’s mom) and tells her he is home by himself while mom’s working……. and she calls CPS. You never ever ever want this happening to you. You will be not be treated with respect.… Read more »
I left my six year old in the house while I took my seven year old across the street to the bus stop. He came out and stood on the porch just as a cop drove by. She stopped and asked him what he was doing. (I’ll never understand why she stopped). He told her that he was home alone…I was less than 20 yards away but I was off of our property. The cop called DSS on me and while it eventually amounted to nothing, I did spend the day being yelled at and explaining myself to the social worker at my daughters school. Humiliating and scary.
and if you listen to the podcast Do No Harm you’ll realize this could have resulted in your kids being taken away from you for years.
I found the helicopter parenting comment a little offensive and clueless. It’s really not helicopter parenting to not want to leave a 7 and 5 year old home alone. It’s illegal in some places, including Oregon FYI. My parents weren’t overprotective at all but we definitely weren’t left alone at a young age in the 80’s and neither were any other kids I knew.
I agree about the comment. I am so uncomfortable with the thought of leaving a 5 and 7 year old at home. The kids could have heard them upstairs and really gotten scared thinking someone broke in. The whole thing made me cringe.
I think kids DO come with a handbook: it’s what your childhood was. Seems like so many of us are busy either trying to replicate our childhoods or rejecting them and doing the exact opposite. I always wonder if our childhood experiences really affect us that much or is it more how those experiences interacted with our inherent personalities? In larger families, kids raised the exact same way often turn out so differently.
In Maryland a child can’t be left home alone until they’re 8 and a child can’t be responsible for another sibling until they’re 13 so it’s good to check the local laws. On a different topic, you must have amazing soundproofing in your bedroom.
For those interested – Some thoughts on childhood independence. https://podcasts.apple.com/us/podcast/lenore-skenazy/id1439283728?i=1000489935540