What Age Can Kids Stay Home Alone? Parents Weigh In

Parents share their take on leaving kids at home unsupervised—and the majority agrees on this sweet-spot age.

Many parents find themselves wondering at what age kids can stay home alone. But, there are two questions parents must consider: When is it legal, and when is it suitable for your child? Knowing what the law says is the minimum age is a good starting point, but parenting advice is always helpful. Here, we break it down and share popular opinions from parents.

What U.S. Law Says

While your child's maturity level will help determine if they're old enough to stay home alone, some areas do have minimum age laws. Three states legally require kids to be of a certain minimum age to be left on their own for some time: Illinois (14 years old), Oregon (10 years old), and Maryland (8 years old).

Most states, however, have no law specifying an age minimum. Instead, many offer a list of recommended ages and suggested guidelines to help you make an informed decision based on behavioral and environmental factors. So technically, if you live anywhere other than Illinois, Maryland, and Oregon, it's up to you (and your child) to determine when to start letting them stay home without you or a babysitter.

What Parents Think

A 2022 survey of more than 2,500 U.S. parents conducted by SafeHome.org shows that the majority of parents believe 12 is the minimum age kids should be before staying home alone. Some survey respondents (43 percent) stated that only teenagers should be home alone. However, the type of neighborhood made a difference in answers, with those who live in urban areas apt to leave kids as young as 10 or 11 home alone.

Questions to Consider Before Children Stay Home Alone

Before leaving your child home alone, consider these essential variables unique to your situation. (Find more information on your state's specific laws and guidelines by contacting your local child protective services agency or visiting its website.)

  • What is your child's physical and emotional maturity level? Children of various ages will have different maturity levels, but even kids of the same age can vary in capability.
  • How comfortable are your children with being left on their own? Before they're left home alone, children need to be comfortable with the idea.
  • How long do you plan to leave them alone? Think about the time your child will be alone—an hour, a few hours, the entire day, overnight, etc. 
  • Are there younger siblings to consider? If your child(ren) will be required to look after younger siblings, this adds another layer of responsibility to account for.
  • How safe is your neighborhood? The general safety of where you live can affect your decision.

Tips for Leaving Kids Home Alone

If you're nervous about leaving your kids home alone, the best way to ease anxiety is to make your home as safe and secure as possible to give yourself (and your family) peace of mind. Try these tips:

  • Make a list of emergency contacts. Write down emergency phone numbers (911, poison control, etc.) and a few (trusted) people your kids can call in an emergency.
  • Show kids how to lock all the doors and windows. This is important for staying safe inside the house and for emergencies. 
  • Remind them not to turn on the oven or stove while you're gone. Avoiding fire hazards is best; leave prepared food instead or ask them to eat food that doesn't require heating up.
  • Get a trusted neighbor to check in on them. Ask someone your kids already know or are familiar with to check in on them while you're gone.

If you have no choice but to leave (of-age) kids unattended for long stretches of time, it may be worth investing in a home security system, especially one with video capabilities.

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