Many parents don’t think twice about leaving children home alone for a short time once they reach a certain age or letting them baby-sit for a few hours. But an incident last month in Plano, Texas, sparked important discussions about how old children should be before they are allowed to stay home alone or baby-sit.
In mid-August, Shykeema Polk, 13, was home baby-sitting her 6-year-old sister when she heard a crash of glass. She saw a man throwing a brick through her back door, according to a report in The Dallas Morning News. She then saw another man; the two were breaking into the house.
Shykeema said she instinctively grabbed her sister and the telephone and locked herself and her sister in their parents’ bathroom. She called 9-1-1 then called her parents.
Police quickly arrived and arrested the two intruders. Shykeema and her sister were fine, aside from being deeply shaken. But if Shykeema hadn’t acted with such a level head, the situation could have turned out much worse.
So, when can a child be left home alone?
In a few states, laws govern that question. But not in Oklahoma or in Texas. Neither Oklahoma law nor state Department of Human Services policies specify at what age a child can stay home alone or baby-sit. However, DHS has some guidelines.
If a child is left home alone at age 6 or younger, parents could be charged with neglect, depending on the circumstances, said Mary Leaver, DHS agency spokeswoman. And in many circumstances, children older than 6 should not be left alone. But each case is examined individually.
When trying to determine whether your child is old enough and mature enough to stay home alone, ask yourself these questions:
→Does my child have the maturity (regardless of age) to be left alone?
→How long will my child be left alone?
→Will my child be alone during the day or at night?
→Does my child have immediate access to an adult?
→Does my child know how to respond to an emergency?
→Will my child be caring for other children?
→Does my child know how to properly use household appliances?
→Will other children be visiting the home?
→Will I know my child’s whereabouts at all times?
→Is my child comfortable being left alone?
Here are some specific recommendations from DHS based on a child’s age:
→Preschool and kindergarten:
Children younger than 6 should never be left alone without adult supervision.