A question every parent faces at some point is “What age can kids stay home alone?” When my oldest was getting to that age, I realized quickly just how difficult it was to know how to figure out a good, safe age that kids can stay home alone.
What age are kids allowed to stay home alone?
Remember the movie “Home Alone” where 8 year-old Kevin is accidentally left home alone while his entire family goes on a holiday vacation to Paris?
While the movie provides a lot of laughs and outrageous situations that Kevin somehow instinctively knows how to handle, real life is certainly much different!
First, before you (and your kids) are ready to have them stay home alone, utilizing an excellent babysitter will allow you to get away when you need a date night, need to go to an appointment, or just need some self-care time.
Next, when you do start leaving them home alone, use these essential Stay Home Alone Rules to keep them safe while you're gone.
And, please, be sure to teach them these 6 essential things to prepare them to stay home alone!
However, when it comes to knowing when to start leaving your kids home alone, the answer to this question is not as easy to answer as you might think. Only three states (in the US) have laws about the legal minimum age when kids can stay home alone:
- Illinois: 14 years old
- Maryland: 8 years old
- Oregon: 10 years old.
When my oldest was 9 years old, letting him stay home alone wasn’t even on my radar. I knew that neither he nor I were ready for that quite yet. And to be honest, I thought it wasn't probably illegal.
But, we had some friends who were starting to let their kids stay home alone for short periods of time to teach them how to do it safely.
That made me start looking into the legal age for kids to stay home alone in my state (Colorado) for some guidance.
I was shocked to find that there was no law regarding a minimum legal age for kids to stay home alone.
There are fairly extensive laws about ages with regards to car seats, curfews, obtaining a driver’s license, getting married, and getting jobs.
But no laws, no guidelines for leaving a child home alone!
Parenting Was Different When I Was a Kid
When I was 10, I started staying home by myself (and watching my younger sister shortly thereafter). By the time I was 12, I was babysitting other people’s kids.
Now parenting is seriously different than it was when I was a kid.
My sister and I were encouraged to spend the majority of the day outside without needing to check in. We hardly spent time watching tv (we didn't have cable), and we definitely didn’t have video games.
Now, more parents than ever are helicopter parents – not judging in any way – I think it feels like a much scarier world out there than it did when I was a kid for many reasons (I’m not going into those right now).
As a result, leaving kids home alone is scarier and parents are more hesitant to do it.
The other challenge is that there is no clear guideline (from a legal standpoint) for parents on when it’s ok to leave your kids home alone, because (at least here in the US) each state has different laws.
To help eliminate as much confusion as possible, I am sharing with you the laws regarding leaving kids home alone in every state.
Again, only 3 states with laws specify a minimum age for leaving kids home alone. For the other states, consider any provided guidelines to be more like suggestions.
Here we go!
The state has not set a minimum age for children being left home alone. Neither has it set a minimum age for babysitters.
Refer to Alabama’s child neglect law, which is defined as “negligent treatment or maltreatment of a child, including the failure to provide adequate food, clothing, shelter, medical treatment or supervision.”
According to the state’s Office of Children’s Services, Alaska does not have a law that outlines when it is safe to leave a child unsupervised. At the same time, parents and people who care for children should use sound judgement. Depending on their age and their development, a child who is left home alone too long or too often may be in danger.
The Arizona Department of Child Safety states that Arizona's statutes (laws) do not designate an age when a child can be left alone. “A parent is responsible for the decisions he or she makes about their children being left alone. The law does require however, that the Arizona Department of Economic Security, Department of Child Safety (DCS) investigate reports of neglect which include failure to provide supervision that places a child at unreasonable risk of harm. Leaving children alone is included in the category of supervision.
DCS will take a report when a child, who is not capable of caring for him or herself or other children, is left alone. When calls come into DCS, specific questions are asked to help determine if there is a problem for the child. These may include: Does the child know how to reach the parent? Does the child know how to get emergency help? Is there a neighbor to go to? Is someone checking in on the child?
Parents must use good judgment about their children's capabilities, as they are ultimately responsible.“
Arkansas does not have a legal limit on the age at which a child can be left home alone.
Some public schools have rules about what age they’ll allow a kid to get off the bus without an adult present, and for many, that age is 9 and up, according to the University of Arkansas. Also, many child welfare experts suggest age 12 as a minimum, safe age for being left for more than an hour or so, while children 9 – 12 may be alone for an hour or less.
Finally, there are no regulations about leaving children in charge of siblings or others; however, it is not advised that an infant or toddler be left in the care of a sibling under the age of 13.
No age is specified by California law, but the state offers a checklist of questions for parents to go through before determining if their child is ready. Here is a small sampling of the checklist:
How would your child handle:
- Strangers on the telephone or at the door?
- Being locked out of the house? Fire?
- Arguments with a sister or brother?
- An insect bite or a skinned knee?
Colorado laws don’t specify an particular age when a child can begin to stay home alone. However, the state offers the age of 12 as a guideline around the age at which it might be appropriate for a child to be left alone for short periods of time.
No specific law or guideline is specified by the State of Connecticut, but the state’s Department of Children and Families notes that “experts believe a child should be at least 12 before he is left alone, and at least 15 before he can care for a younger brother or sister. These are the minimum ages. Not every child is ready then.”
The website is also a great resource for parents, pointing out things to consider when deciding whether to start leaving kids home alone. You can also find suggestions of rules to put in place as well as things to teach your child before leaving them.
According to the Delaware Division of Family Services, “It is best for parents and guardians to take in consideration their child”s comfort level, abilities and overall behavior and to talk to them about potential dangers (fire safety, what to do if someone comes to the door, etc.) before making the decision to leave a child home alone.”
The Florida Department of Children and Families states Florida law does not have a hard and fast rule about when children can be left home alone, but instead expects parents to take all of the circumstances into account when deciding what level of supervision is needed.
The site also refers to the National SAFEKIDS recommendation of 12 and offers a checklist of questions for your assistance.
According to the Georgia Department of Human Services, there are no specific laws regarding the age at which kids can be left home alone. However, there guidelines to follow:
- Children eight years or younger should not be left alone
- Children between the ages of nine years and twelve years, based on level of maturity, may be left alone for brief (less than two hours) periods of time; and,
- Children thirteen years and older, who are at an adequate level of maturity, may be left alone and may perform the role of babysitter, as authorized by the parent, for up to twelve hours.
No definitive law or guideline exists in Hawaii; however, the site states that “17 percent of kindergarteners through eighth graders spend time after school in self-care at least once a week.
Although the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends adult supervision for children until about the age of 11 or 12, for many families this isn’t possible.”
Idaho lacks a specific law, guideline or mention of the issue on government websites, although King5 News points out the fact of no established law on the Idaho books.
Of the three states to have a minimum age law, Illinois’ law is considered the strictest. The Illinois Department of Children & Family Services site states “under current state law, parents can be charged with neglect for leaving children younger than 14 unsupervised “for an unreasonable period of time.”
Parents can be charged with child abandonment if they leave children under the age of 13 alone for 24 hours or more without supervision by someone over the age of 14.”
Indiana has no specific law or guideline.
The organization Prevent Child Abuse Indiana states, “There is no right answer for every child. There is no magic age when a child suddenly becomes responsible and mature,” but they offer “ways to evaluate your child’s capabilities in order to make a more informed decision.”
Iowa has no law or guideline. The state’s Department of Human Services states, “Iowa law does not define an age that is appropriate for a child to be left alone. Each situation is unique.”
Kansas doesn’t have a clear law regarding minimum age for leaving kids home alone. However, the Kansas Department for Children and Family offers the following guidance on their website:
“Young children from 0-6 years should not be left alone for even short periods of time. Children 6-9 years should be left for only short periods, depending on their level of maturity … Children 10 and above probably can be left for somewhat longer periods …”
There is no law or guideline in Kentucky. According to WeHaveKids.com, Kentucky’s Child Protective Services has stated that if you leave a child under the age of 11 you may be investigated for child neglect.
The state doesn’t have a law or guideline on a minimum age at which a child can be left home alone.
Maine does not specify an age at which a child can be left home alone, leaving the choice up to parents’ and guardians’ discretion.
Maryland’s law states that no child be left alone under any circumstances if the child is under the age of 8.
It does say that a 13-year-old may babysit a child under the age of 8. A person who violates this law is guilty of a misdemeanor and upon conviction is subject to a fine not exceeding $500 and/or imprisonment not exceeding 30 days.
Massachusetts doesn't set a specific age at which a child can be left home alone. In the state, such issues are decided on a case-by-case basis.
In Michigan, while there is no legal age that a child can be left home alone, according to the Child Protection Law, it is determined on a case-by-case basis.
Minnesota law does not specify an age, just guidelines to consider prosecuting child neglect.
It is advised by the state's attorney office that children:
- Under 7 should not be left alone
- Ages 8-9 should not be left unattended for more than two hours
- 10-13 should not be left alone for more than 12 hours
- Ages 14-17 should not be left unattended for more than 24 hours and must have adequate back up adult supervision.
There is no minimum age law in Mississippi. It is left to the parents' discretion.
There is no minimum age law in this state. It is left to the parents' discretion.
There is no set law or guideline in Montana, which leaves the decision up to parental discretion. The Montana Department of Public Health and Human Services states that, “There is no magic age when children develop the maturity and good sense they need to stay home alone.”
Nebraska has no law that states a specific age. However, guidelines suggest to wait until the child is at least 11 years old before determining whether to leave the child home alone.
Nevada has no set guideline or law. According to We Have Kids, state law leaves the decision up to the parents’ discretion, and the mindset or maturity of the child is taken into consideration. Nevada's definition of child neglect. “NEGLECT: Abandonment, failure to provide a child with supervision, food, education, shelter, medical care, etc.”
The state doesn’t have a law or guideline regarding the minimum age at which a child can be left home alone, leaving it up to parents’ discretion.
In New Jersey, the law does not prescribe a certain age at which a child may be left alone, according to the New Jersey Department of Children and Families. The state believes, “Some children may be capable of being alone for short periods of time (to enable their parent to go to the local market, convenience store, etc.), but should not be alone for long periods of time.”
The state doesn’t have their own law or guidelines, leaving it up to each city or county to decide. For instance, in Albuquerque the minimum age for a child to be left alone is 11. Check with your local city for their laws.
The state of New York has no law or guideline, leaving it up to the parents’/guardians’ discretion and encouraging them to “make intelligent, reasoned decisions regarding these matters. New York Child and Family Services suggests no earlier that 12 or 13 years of age should be left alone.
While North Carolina has no set law or guideline, the state's fire code G.S. 14-318 explains that if you leave a child under the age of 8 alone without supervision, this is a fire hazard and you will be found guilty of a Class 1 misdemeanor.
North Dakota does not have a set law, but guidelines from the Department of Human Services has their own policies and guidelines. Children:
- Ages 0-8 must not be left alone under any circumstances.
- Ages 9-11 should not be left alone for more than two hours. They are also not allowed to be left home alone after dark and should not be in charge of caring for other children.
- Who are 12 years or older may babysit but only after completing an approved child care training course.
- Under the age of 15 should not be left alone overnight.
Ohio seems to not only lack guidelines but to have seemingly conflicting suggestions.
According to this state's child endangerment and child neglect laws, as was cited by the case workers mentioning the age restriction, (ORC 2919.22(a) Endangering children.) parents are prohibited from leaving a child under the age of 18 unsupervised. If you leave your child who is under the age of 18 home alone then you are “violating a duty of care, protection, or support.”
Also refer to ORC 2151.05 Child without proper parental care. An individual case worker and prosecutor may or may not use this law against you.
The Oklahoma Department of Human Services site notes, “There is no law or policy in Oklahoma for how old a child has to be in order to be left alone.
Here are the recommended guidelines for parents: Infants and children under 6 years of age should never be left alone without adult supervision.”
Oregon does not have a law specifically stating the exact age when children can be left home alone. But Oregon's child neglect laws state that a child should be 10 or older.
The Clackamas County website explains, “Oregon’s child neglect laws indicate a child should be at least ten years of age or older. Child neglect in the second degree is defined by a person having custody of a child under 10 years of age and, with criminal negligence, leaves the child unattended at any place for such period of time as may be likely to endanger the health or welfare of such child.“
There is no set law or guideline regarding the minimum age at which a child can be left home alone in Pennsylvania. No guideline is given for a minimum babysitting age either.
There is currently no law or guideline. The state leaves this decision up to parents and guardians, although officials within the state agencies caution “a parent must consider the child neglect and endangerment laws since the parent or guardian is responsible for the child until he or she becomes a legal adult.”
There is no law regarding the specific age at which a child can be left home alone in South Carolina.
According to the Children’s Trust of South Carolina , “A child younger than 9 years old should not be left home alone, even for a short period of time. At approximately 10 years old, a child who is responsible may be left for 30 minutes, but no longer than one hour. During this time, the child should be able to keep in contact with a parent.”
South Dakota doesn’t even mention a possible minimum age at which a child can be left home alone in South Dakota.
Fortunately for parents, the South Dakota Safety Council recommends not to, “expect children under the age of 10 to be able to take care of younger siblings and don't leave children younger than age six in the care of older siblings.”
Tennessee’s State Court site states, “There is no legal age for children to stay at home alone. Parents are advised to use their best judgment, keeping the child's maturity level and safety issues in mind.
Younger children have a greater need for supervision and care than older children. Obviously, young children under age 10 should not be left without supervision at any time. In most cases, older teenage children may be left alone for short periods of time.”
The Texas Department of Family and Protective Services site explains, “Texas law doesn't say what age is old enough for a child to stay at home alone. However, adequate supervision is critical to keeping kids safe. An adult caregiver is accountable for the child's care and inadequate supervision can be a type of neglect (neglectful supervision).”
They ask parents to consider a variety of factors, such as a child’s emotional maturity, and hazards and risks in the neighborhood, and whether they are able to contact a parent, when deciding whether or not to leave a child home alone.
The state of Utah passed the Free-range Parenting Bill in 2018 and is believed to be the first such law in the US.
The bill exempts various activities children can do without supervision from the definition of ‘child neglect’. Thus, permitting “a child, whose basic needs are met and who is of sufficient age and maturity to avoid harm or unreasonable risk of harm, to engage in independent activities.”
Those activities include
- letting children “walk, run or bike to and from school
- travel to commercial or recreational facilities
- play outside and remain at home unattended.
The law does not say what the “sufficient age” is.
Under the law, state child-welfare authorities can no longer take the children away from their parents if their kids are caught doing those various activities alone, as long as their kids are adequately fed, clothed and cared for.
The state of Vermont has no guideline regarding the minimum age at which a child can be left home alone.
The Vermont Department for Children and Families states, “There is no universally accepted age when all children can stay home alone safely. Caregivers must consider a child’s physical, mental, developmental and emotional maturity and needs, and their willingness and comfort with being alone.
They need to be sure children have the skills and maturity to handle unsupervised situations safely. Caregivers may consider leaving a child unsupervised once they have reached the developmental maturity of 11 years of age and older. “
The Virginia Department of Social Services site states, “Virginia state statutes do not set a specific age after which a child legally can stay alone. Age alone is not a very good indicator of a child's maturity level. Some very mature 10-year-olds may be ready for self care while some 15-year-olds may not be ready due to emotional problems or behavioral difficulties.”
They note that “in determining whether a child is capable of being left alone and whether a parent is providing adequate supervision in latchkey situations, child protective services (CPS) will assess several areas,“ such as the “child’s level of maturity,” “accessibility of those responsible for the child,” and “the situation.”
According to the Washington Department of Social and Human Services, there are no laws or rules about the best age to leave a child home alone.
Here is more detail from the site: “most authorities agree that leaving a 12 year old home alone for an hour or two is acceptable but someone this age should not be responsible for other children. In general, children under the age of 10 should be not be left on their own, and babies and younger children should not be left alone even for a few minutes.”
West Virginia does not have a minimum age law for leaving kids home alone, nor does it give a suggested age.
There is no law or guideline in Wisconsin regarding the best age to leave a child home alone. However, various state and city agencies seem to believe 12 is an acceptable age. The Wisconsin Law Library website offers some local and national resources for parents.
Wyoming doesn’t have a law regarding the minimum age at which a child can be left home alone, although state agencies seem to think that 12 is an appropriate age.
When Do I Start Leaving My Own Kids Home Alone?
I didn't start leaving my oldest home alone until both he and I were comfortable doing it for short periods. And I was glued to my cell phone in case he needed me!
He was around 11 when I started leaving him home while I went to the gym or the grocery store.
Now his younger brother is begging to get to stay home by himself. Unfortunately, he's more impulsive and less trustworthy, so he won't be staying home alone until he's 17.
Truthfully, my middle son has just started staying home with big brother for very short periods of time. An example being when my husband has to leave but I'm still about 10-15 minutes away. We will keep doing things like that, gradually increasing the time.
We will also continue to have situational discussions and rule reviews (what would you do if ______ happened?).
When we feel he is ready to start staying home completely alone here and there, he'll have his chance. But for now…staying home alone with big brother feels pretty special to him.
And it definitely makes me feel quite a bit better!
Help For Parents Not Quite Ready to Leave Kids Home Alone Yet!
Additional Resources for Parents
While the National SAFEKIDS Campaign recommends that no child under the age of 12 be left at home alone, age-specific regulations vary fairly widely from state to state.
Given how hazy (or even nonexistent) the rules are in most states, parents who want to be on the safe side should consult their local courts for recommendations before leaving their kids home alone.
Tell us in the comments below: When did you (or do you plan) to leave your kids home alone? What are some of the uncertainties or struggles you have faced around letting them stay home alone?