It’s glaringly obvious to say that no baby or toddler should ever be left alone or even out of eye shot. Yet, what about when our children reach that awkward tween stage? Most parents confess to allowing their 12-year-old to stay home while they do the weekly shop. Others feel it’s acceptable to leave a responsible child alone overnight. Is this right? Is this safe? And what are the legal implications?
Quite simply, in the eyes of the law there is no legal age to leave your child home alone. In countries like the USA there is strict guidelines on when it’s acceptable to leave a child for any extended period of time. Yet, in Ireland the legislation regarding this topic is somewhat ambiguous and detailed information is more than scarce.
The basic understanding is that, a parent should not leave a child alone in a situation that is likely to cause them harm. These regulations caution parents to use their own judgement when deciding if their child is mature enough to be left alone. After all, in some households the maturity of a 12-year-old can far exceed that of a 15-year-old. Even still, should harm come to the child through accident or injury, charges of neglect can possibly be held against parents.
Before leaving any child home alone there are important factors to question.
- What will they do while they are home alone?
- Will they feel safe?
- Could they harm themselves in the kitchen or on the cooker?
- Does your child even know what to do in the event of an emergency, a burglary or an injury?
Not every child posses the cool cunning of Kevin McCallister. When faced with a dangerous situation they’ll often be scared beyond belief and act accordingly.
The increasing number of phone calls to Childline from teens who have been left at home alone would suggest that, while they plead for this responsibility, they aren’t prepared for it and often don’t want to appear childish by admitting to feeling unsafe.
Many children have been left home alone without incident throughout the decades but the real question is, as a parent, at what age are you willing to take that risk?