When Are Children Old Enough to Be Left Home Alone?

Updated on March 06, 2008
S.W. asks from Littleton, CO
9 answers

Well, this has bugged me for a while... My neighbors leave their two children home alone a couple of times a week for a period of an hour or more, but never more than 2. The children are 7 and almost 10. I have that inside gut thing that doesn't want to pry, but also wonders if I should do anything...I've offered to them that the girls can come to our house if they would like, but they never take me up on the offer...their mom is kind of bothered at any indication that she might possibly doing something not right as a parent, and I don't even know if it's wrong anyway. I've looked up the state recommendations since my husband and I actually argued over when the children could be left alone and 12 was the minimum with very short errands only and being aware of the maturity level of the child. I can tell you that the mom, who is a nurse, would sleep during the day only to have her youngest roaming the street by herself as early as age 3. I've stepped in a few times and I've taken care of her, but I think the mom is bugged by me now. Even if I should do something, what in the world would it be?

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So What Happened?

Thank you so much for all your responses. I researched the subject last night and read many things concerning this issue. There are only two states who carry laws concerning this and both stick to age 13. Mostly, it is recommended that a child not be left until the age of 12 and definitely not in charge of anyone younger, but still taking into consideration the maturity of the child along with check lists as to what to do to best ensure the child can safely be left alone. I've read more things that say it is just not a good idea, but nothing that constitutes latchkey children as being neglected. This has definitely helped me concerning what I will choose in the future for my own children. Based on everything I've read and the responses I've received along with talking with my husband, it seems that although I do not agree with any child being left alone earlier than age 12, what is happening with my neighbor does not constitute a call to child protective services. I know from my own experience as a child I was left alone at age 12 regularly and did not like it...I was always scared but never would admit that to my mother...I thought it was just how life was supposed to be since she made that decision. Based on my own experience, I can also see that I will not assume my children are ready to be left alone simply based on their age. I will continue to keep watch (my daughters are the same age and in the same class and share outside activities with them, that is why I am so aware of what is going on). I will continue to offer my help and will continue to let the children know they can come to me for help. I do not like what I see, but I also recognize that it doesn't make me right and I do not agree with what I see, but I also recognize that is simply my opinion. Thanks so much for your help. As far as my gut feeling goes, it was a discomfort that concerned me, that my gut was telling me to check more into this rather than just let it slide. I've done that and if more needs to be done in the future, I will take action.

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answers from Denver on

If my children showed responsibility, and knew what to do in an emergency situation and had numbers to call I wouldnt have a problem leaving my kids home for a brief time at that age.

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answers from Denver on

Colorado does NOT have a law stating when children may be left home alone. Colorado does have laws regarding child employment (C.R.S. 8-12-105(3)) which limits work at different ages, as well as the types of work and number of hours worked by minors. This law specifically allows babysitting at age 12, although it does not prohibit it at younger ages. Additionally, work done for ones parents are exempt unless the parent is being paid for the child's work.

The Mile High Chapter of the American Red Cross has a wonderful babysitters boot camp. Participants must be at least 11 years old.

This being said, the determination is really based on the maturity of the child/children. Your neighbor may be making decisions based on necessity, or perhaps she feels her children are mature enough to handle the responsibility. I think what you are doing is kind and helpful. Keep telling them you are available if needed.

1 mom found this helpful


answers from Pocatello on

It totally depends on the maturity level of the kids. There are some 10-15 year olds I would NOT trust to leave home with my kids, yet there are 10-15 year olds I would trust. My guess is if these kids are used to fending for themselves they are probably mature enough to do it relatively safely. It is sad that there are kids out there who are ignored so much, but all we can really do as neighbors is just that...be good neighbors and it sounds like you already are. Think about all of the consequences before you call the authorities...I can only think of a negative outcome with that. The parents would have a nightmare of a legal battle, be put on social services lists, etc...and you would end up being enemies instead of being able to help out at times. If social services decided to temporarily take their kids-in my opinion that would cause more trauma to the kids than the situation they are in. I would guess that the mom is a little defensive because deep down she feels guilty for neglecting her kids. I don't think 10 is too young to leave a child at home for a short errand...but where we live our city ordinance I think is 11 to stay home alone, 12 to babysit. Good luck! Amy

1 mom found this helpful


answers from Salt Lake City on

I remember when I was a kid, while I was very mature for my age, my parents would not let me babysit until I was 12. Even then, they preferred that it be somewhere fairly close so that in case there was an emergency or I needed something, they could get to me in a hurry. If it were just the 10 year old home alone, while I don't like the idea, its better than being home taking care of a 7 yr old. I don't think a child as young as 10 should be left in charge of a 7 yr old.

You have to follow your gut. If you don't feel it is right, if for no other reason that to put your mind at ease, you need to look into it. For example like one mother posted, call non-emergency police and annonymously ask questions.

You will feel better knowing that you have at least done that much.

1 mom found this helpful


answers from Denver on

I completely agree with you. 10 and 7 are FAR too young to be left at home alone. I found out a few months ago that my ex-husband was leaving our 7 year old daughter with his girlfriend's 10 year old girl. I was horrified and immediately put a stop to it.

I don't know about the situation of your neighbor, but I think it's always far more important to err on the side of caution and address a situation in which you feel a child may not be safe. Trust me when I tell you that too many bad things have happened to children because other adults didn't want to "interfere" with someone else's parenting style.

And those who will encourage you to "look the other way" probably do so because they don't want their own parenting scrutinized.

I for one applaud you for taking notice and for looking out for the wellbeing of those kids.

P.S. In response to the woman who responded to you... know that a LOT can happen in 1 hour. Way more than you'd ever want to think about happening to your kids.

1 mom found this helpful


answers from Denver on

If you truly feel the kids are in danger and this is a constant then maybe it is a good thing to report her to child protective services. The fact you have offered to watch them is great. Some kids are very mature at 10, but not left with at 7 year old too. I would say it depends on if you feel they are not mature and could be in danger. That is scary this woman slept while her 3 year old was outside so she sounds like she is not all there anyway!!
Maybe as a good neighbor make sure the girls have your phone number in case of an emergency and maybe check on them when you can. It is hard as CPS can be harsh and if it is a situation where the girls are responsible then it is hard.
My friend actually lets her 9 and 11 year old walk home after school and wait for her to get home at 4:00. They are very good boys, get their chores and homework done before she gets home. So it is hard....you are good to be concerned though, more people need to be proactive for the children!!!

1 mom found this helpful


answers from Denver on

The last I knew, the CO law stated a child must be 12 to be left home alone. I also grew up in a neighborhood of police officers, and they asked me to babysit starting at age 10. My mom never allowed it. I'm grateful.

I still have connections with many of the officers for whom I did end up babysitting. My understanding is since you know, you are legally responsible for not reporting her if something were to happen to the children. You might call the non-emergency police number and ask anonymously and if you are responsible, you can report her anonymously as well. I actually called about something today, just asking questions, and the officer I spoke to never even asked for my first name let alone any other personal info. I can say the anonymous thing works well. A few years ago I called to report drug activity and when we moved out of that house, we were still friendly with those neighbors, so I'm sure they never knew it was me. GL You're in a tough position.



answers from Denver on

I think that you are a good neighbor, and that you should just let the mom know that if there is a problem that the children can call you they ever need anything. 1-2 hours is not really a problem I don't think. Now, if the mom had let her three year old roan the streets and you did nothing (That is when you should have called the authorities;) Why would you bother with children 10 and 7?
Sounds like you have a lot of time on your hands; Maybe you should start a neighborhood watch program in your area.




answers from Salt Lake City on

I started allowing my daughter to stay home alone for short amounts of time (1/2 to 1 hour) while I ran an errand or went to the church around the corner when she was 8 years old. Now she is 10 and I occasionally have her babysit for up to 2 hours. I try to have a neighbor lined up for her to call if there is an emergency. I have a 4 yr old and a 21 mo old. My understanding (while I have not found any official info--I have looked) is that kids can babysit siblings starting at age 10. Now, if I am going to a theater, further from my home and will be gone for more than a couple hours, I get an older girl to babysit, or take them to my granny's. One time my dd did watch my friends' kids, as well as my own, at our house while we were at the church for a couple hours. When we got home around 9pm, she had my baby in bed asleep, my 4 year old in pj's and all the kids in the living room laying on the couches, she was holding my friend's 2 year old, and had all the lights out so they could rest. We were amazed! I think she did better with all 5 kids than she does with just my 4 year old (due to occasional sibling rivalries). I think I started babysitting my siblings at a pretty young age for short periods, babysitting neighbor kids when I was 11, although I was not allowed to charge til I was 12 (and then I could only charge 25 cents an hour). lol. I seem to recall taking a babysitting class in 4-H at age 10. Of course, times have changed.
I will say that I agree with the mom who said to call non-emergency authorities and just ask questions, and keep letting the mom and girls know they can always call you if they need help. If you think the mom will be defensive, just tell the girls when you see them outside playing or something. Just keep being a good neighbor.

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