Leaving your child home alone can be unnerving -- and sometimes illegal. Laws in most states are pretty open regarding this issue, which can make matters more confusing. On top of that, you also have to consider that each child is different. Just because your nephew can stay home alone at the age of 9 doesn't mean your child can -- it all depends on the maturity and training each child has.
According to the Child Welfare Information Getaway, only the states of Maryland and Illinois have specific laws regarding how old kids can be before they can be left on their own at home. In Maryland, kids must be at least 8 years old, while Illinois has a minimum age of 13. Rules are complicated, though, and are affected by how long the kids are left alone, the maturity of the child and other factors. For example, leaving a 13 year old -- or younger -- kid at home alone for more than 24 hours is considered abandonment in Illinois. And yes, you could go to jail for it.
Although most states don't have set guidelines, some welfare organizations offer suggestions regarding age. For example, Safe Kids USA recommends 12 as the age where most kids could be left home alone. However, they are quick to add that some 11 year olds might be mature enough to stay home on their own, while some 13 years old might not -- so it's important that you use your judgement when making the decision. The Kids Health website recommends not leaving kids younger than 10 home alone.
Age and Maturity
Children mature at different speeds, so there's no set age at which all kids could safely stay home alone. The Child Welfare Information Getaway recommends checking on a few things before deciding if your child is able to stay home on his own. For starters, a child who's going to be alone needs to understand safety. That means knowing he can't use the stove, open the door to strangers or put himself in danger in other ways. You also need to know your child well to make sure he'll follow the rules. If you think your kid is going to open the door and go play in the yard -- even though you told him he couldn't leave the house -- then he's not ready to be left alone.
Aside from the child's maturity, you also have to consider external factors when deciding whether your child is old enough to be home alone. For example, if you live in a safe neighborhood and are on friendly terms with your neighbors, your child could always pick up the phone and call a neighbor for help if he gets frightened or has a problem. If you live in a dangerous neighborhood or you don't know anybody around, leaving a 10 year old home alone might not be a good idea.