You’ve decided your teen is mature enough to stay home alone after school. But you still worry about what could go wrong.
It’s widely accepted that teens 13 and up are able to stay home alone after school.
“Being trusted to stay home alone can be a positive experience for a child who is mature and well prepared,” according to the Children’s Bureau of the U.S. Dept. of Health and Human Services.
The agency notes that while the responsibility can boost confidence and promote independence, it can also introduce real risks.
“No matter how responsible a teenager is, or how comfortable they feel being alone for a few hours, there’s a lot to consider,” said Brooks Michael, an adolescent health educator for Carilion Clinic’s Adolescent and Student Health Services.
How do you create a safe and low-stress environment for your son or daughter?
One of the first things to do is set ground rules. Ask yourself:
- Should you let their friends come over?
- Can they be trusted to cook?
- Should they do homework or maybe light housework before you get home?
- How much screen time is ok?
Once you have determined what you feel comfortable with, discuss the rules with your teenager. Michael suggests you follow these safety practices:
- Ask them to call you when they get home
- Have an emergency plan so they can react quickly if there’s a fire or an injury
- Post a list of emergency phone numbers, including 9-1-1, your work and cell numbers, and those for neighbors, other family members and trusted friends
- Store your medicines in a locked cabinet
- Make sure potentially dangerous items like guns, razor blades, knives, scissors and power tools are locked away
- Consider what potential poisons may be in your home and secure items like pesticides, lighter fluid and even detergents
- Have flashlights with fresh batteries available
- Make sure your smoke and carbon monoxide alarms are working
Teens should always keep their location private on social media and mobile apps.
Also, talk to your teen about privacy issues and how not everyone is a friend. Have them agree to:
- Refrain from telling people they’ll be home alone or sharing that fact on the Internet
- Always keep their “location” private on social media and mobile apps
- Take a message because you are "busy" rather than telling callers that you are not home
- Never open the door to service or delivery people or other strangers
It’s a learning curve, for sure.
"Don’t worry if it takes time for you both to feel comfortable with the whole process,” said Michael. “It’s a rite of passage for both teen and parent. As time goes on, you’ll feel more secure about having your teen at home, and they’ll develop a confidence and emotional maturity that will serve them well in life.”
After all, isn’t that what any parent would want?