We Are Both Right

Is 11 Too Early to Be Home Alone? My Son Says Yes.

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I don’t know if it’s Super Bowl Sunday that has me contemplating commercials more deeply, but there’s one I’ve seen a few times now that makes me stop and think.  (And it has nothing to do with squealing pigs.)

This one starts off with a man sitting in his office, his eyes trained on the computer screen.  He’s smiling — which is the first clue that he must not be working. 

And it turns out he’s not.  Because on the screen, he can see a full-color video of his son coming home from school, entering through the front door of their house with a backpack slung over his shoulder.  The son glances up for a second in the direction of the video camera, and nods to his dad, as if to say: “I’m here, I’m OK. (Now leave me alone).”

I need to find out where I can get one of those.  And how old that kid is.

My oldest is only eight, and I’m thinking about the day when he won’t be eligible for our town’s after-school program.  Two years from now.  Of course I can think about plenty of other things to worry about between now and then.  But I’m a mom and that’s my job.

Briefly, I dabbled with the idea that he would be OK staying home at that point.  I think I was 10 or 11 when I started staying home after school with my younger brother and sister until our mother came home from work. 

We were pros at hiding out from surveyors, UPS delivery men, gas company personnel, and anyone else who appeared at the front door.  Skirting around windows on our knees and heading into the basement until they stopped ringing the doorbell — directives led by yours truly, paranoid me.  We’re all still alive, and in the process became rather skilled at making grilled cheese and Rice Krispie treats.  So I have some faith in the abilities of a pre-teen to survive the after-school hours. 

It’s just that now it’s my baby who has to be the responsible one.  Right now he’s also the one who forgets to close the refrigerator door.  The kid who loses coats.  The child who leaves on the light in our minivan every day (which I discover around midnight while closing up the house).  The one who didn’t even hear the doorbell ring fifty times when my husband and I got locked out a few months ago. 

So we won’t be leaving him home alone as soon as we thought. When I ask him, he says he will be ready when he’s 12 — maybe. 

What I didn’t realize was that even if he (and I) thought he could handle it, I could have been breaking the law if I left him home alone too soon.  Did you know that some states have laws about the age a child must be to stay home alone?  I didn’t until just now.   

I found out that my state doesn’t have a minimum, but even if it did, I still think a lot depends on the child and your surroundings.  Let’s say the bus stop is on a busy roadway.  Or the neighborhood is iffy.  Or your door has a trick lock that means he might not be able to get in if his wrists aren’t well-trained. 

Lots to think about besides just age, including where I should have those video cameras installed.  Maybe besides the front hall, I might feel better having a few more — in the kitchen, family room, his bedroom, and maybe even the bathroom.

So while I’m trying to sort this all out, anything else I should consider?

A few weeks ago I might have been leaning toward letting my son stay home alone sooner rather than later.  Then I read Amanda’s post.  He definitely doesn’t know what to do when the toilet overflows.

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