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4:16 AM Tue, Nov. 20th

Column: When are children old enough to stay home alone?

Catherine O'Hara (as Kate McCallister) appears in Home Alone (1990), as the on-screen, panic-stricken mom of Macaulay Culkin's character who she left at home while the family went on vacation. (Twentieth Century Fox/Handout)

Catherine O'Hara (as Kate McCallister) appears in Home Alone (1990), as the on-screen, panic-stricken mom of Macaulay Culkin's character who she left at home while the family went on vacation. (Twentieth Century Fox/Handout)

Raising our future leaders is never a simple endeavor, especially during school breaks.

I recall for years each summer my wife and I had to figure out where our daughter would receive “care.” That ranged from babysitting to activities. Some summers we enrolled her in YMCA programs, for example.

While many people look forward to the day when their child(ren) start school, many more look forward to when the child can stay home alone during breaks.

So many people, however, have different definitions and values as to how old a child needs to be to stay home alone.

Only three states currently have laws regarding a minimum age for leaving a child home alone. Illinois law requires children to be 14 before being left alone. In Maryland, the minimum age is 8, while in Oregon, children must be 10 before being left on their own.

Arizona has no such law. I would call that leaving the decision up to the parents.

Children between the ages of 7 and 10 are not generally ready to self-supervise for an extended period, but in a routine and predictable environment, such as just after school, they can manage, according to the U.S. Department of Child Welfare. Children 12 and older should be judged on a case-by-case basis but should not be left alone overnight.

Thus, parents must decide — to list just a few — if little Joe or Mary can make the proper choices of what to do with their time; and know to stay away from certain things or places in the house, an important one being the stove in the kitchen. Improper use of a microwave can be disastrous in itself. (Keep in mind, Arizona Department of Child Safety could have something to say on this too.)

Naturally, my childhood was different than that of my daughter’s — and kids today have new and even different challenges and choices.

One is how they spend their time. My generation had “pong,” but did not have technology per se (smart phones, game devices, etc.). I either built things like blanket forts or played in the backyard or the basement. The laundry chute from the first floor down was a great hiding place, pirate’s den and escape route. I suppose I watched TV, but we had — what — four channels?

Youth today could go hours upon hours in front of a game console, if you throw them a bag of Cheetos and a couple sodas. Plus, nowadays they have cable, Direct TV, the internet and Netflix for binge-watching (not saying this is a good thing!).

What remains is whether Junior knows when and who to call for help in an emergency. That becomes even more tenuous when they are home alone during a major incident, such as the Goodwin Fire — which resulted in many pre-evacuation and mandatory evacuation orders.

I received at least six calls this week from children, asking if Prescott Valley (or their town) was going to have to evacuate. I could hear the fear in their voices.

That brings us back to making proper choices and knowing when to seek help. This is also when mom or dad needs to take an unplanned vacation.

I think we left our daughter home alone at about age 12. What do you think? When did or would you do this?

Follow Tim Wiederaenders on Twitter @TWieds_editor. Reach him at 928-445-3333 ext. 2032, or twieds@prescottaz.com.