March 14, 2005
How old is old enough?

Atrios has a couple of questions:

If you leave your child of age X alone for an afternoon and she manages to injure or kill herself, what is the minimum X such that you won't be arrested for some sort of parental negligence? What is the minimum X such that Nancy Grace won't try to destroy your life on national TV?

And, has X changed over the past 20 years?

For what it's worth, to the best of my recollection I was 12 the first time I was left alone in the house for any length of time - I believe I was home sick from school. My mom was a stay-at-home, so as I remember it, I was left alone for an hour or two so she could run her usual errands. I was a pretty decently behaved kid to begin with, and with a fever and a TV in the room, I was highly unlikely to cause any problems.

I have no clue if it's different today. You'd think after a couple of generations of latchkey kids, this would not be a big deal, but pendulums do swing and there's nothing like a little demonization of "unfit" parents to make us all feel smug and superior. It's a little premature for me to say what we'll do with Olivia, but I can say that the 14-year-old girl across the street has already babysat for us, and I don't think there's anything that society as a whole would consider unusual in that. What do you think?

Posted by Charles Kuffner on March 14, 2005 to Society and cultcha | TrackBack

It depends upon the child and the situation. Parents have to use common sense and unfortunately, not all do.

My twelve year old is fine to stay by himself for a bit while I run errands. I also lay down rules and if the rules aren't followed, he won't get to avoid the market next time. For him, that's a powerful incentive. I don't know if my younger ones will have a level of maturity and responsibility when they reach that age that will make me comfortable enough to leave them. Time will tell.

I read somewhere sometime (maybe in a Dr. Brazelton column) that babysitters could be as young as 12, if that person was responsible enough. I don't know if I would go for one that young, but I have used a babysitter before who was 14, and she was great. The kids were sad when we returned home!

Posted by: Anne on March 14, 2005 6:16 AM

As a datapoint -- our daycare stops providing after school care for children when they turn twelve. So I have always supposed that a twelve-year old child is generally considered to be mature enough to be a latchkey kid. Luckily we won't have to find out for another six years or so.

Posted by: David on March 14, 2005 9:59 AM

I think as a society we're tending to shield kids more and more from responsibility.

As a result, I think many kids are less able to be trusted on their own "holding down the fort" until a more advanced age.

I'm not sure it's a good thing.

Posted by: Tim on March 14, 2005 10:41 AM

My ten year old has not been home alone yet. She has come home from school and found my wife en-route from a dentist appointment and let herself in the house and spent maybe 25 minutes alone in the house. But that was an exception. I think 12 is a pretty good age to allow this but Anne point out every child is different and each parent needs to consider their own personal situation. As to a 14 year old babysitting, i think 14 is probably prime babysitting age. Old enough to have some responsibility but young enough where babysitting is still a viable option unemcumbered by other distractions.

Posted by: Chris on March 14, 2005 10:53 AM