Home Alone 2017

By Pam Henderson

While students are jumping up and down at the announcement of a Snow Day, the day off of school leaves parents scrambling to figure out what to do with them. Most grown-ups don’t have the luxury of a Snow Day. I know that when that cancellation call comes at 5:10 am, my jealousy sets in and I’m left wondering why I didn’t become a perpetual student.

Sometimes, the anticipation of a snow event gives parents time to plan ahead. Yet, here on the south shores of Lake Michigan, weather has a mind of its own and that early morning call-off leaves parents with their first worry of the day – what to do with the children.

For working parents, a Snow Day means more than calling home at noon to make sure your children are out of bed and have remembered to take out the dog. You might be grappling with whether or not your children are old enough to stay home alone.

Granted, all of us could probably mention the names of a few adults who should not be left home alone. When it comes to our children, though, we have a legal responsibility to keep them safe. Leaving children alone can boost their confidence and independence; yet, it can pose real dangers, too.

So, what is the legal age in Indiana that children can be left alone? It is not a clear cut answer.

Indiana does not dictate a magical age that states when children are old enough to be left home alone. Instead, parents must determine their children’s capability, comfort level and maturity. No two children are alike in this regard, so what worked for one child may not work for another.

Whether or not to leave your children home alone is a dilemma that should not be taken lightly. It’s natural to think that our home is the safest place in the world for our children. Yet, the Safe Kids Campaign reports, “Every day, six children die from an injury in the home, and 10,000 go to the emergency department for the kinds of injuries that commonly happen in homes.” Preventable injuries, including bathtub drownings, burns and smoke inhalation, poisoning and suffocation happen every day in homes across the country.

The Child Welfare Information Gateway, encourages parents and guardians to consider these questions:

You might also consider the number of children left unsupervised. Children who appear old enough to stay home alone may not be ready to supervise younger siblings. At the same time, younger siblings may not be ready to be supervised by older siblings. Brothers and sisters have a way of challenging each other’s authority. Also, consider the neighborhood circumstances and whether your children are left alone at night or during the day.

Whether to leave your child alone is such a tricky dilemma. You can talk until you’re blue in the face about what to do in the event of an emergency and even have practice runs such as a fire drill at home. Until that moment of an emergency, though, you really don’t know how your child would respond. I know that every time our weather radio blares a tornado warning, I still have a moment of panic.

To “test the waters,” consider running some quick errands while giving your child a chance to prove his or her maturity and to boost both of your confidence levels.

When you finally take the leap of faith to leave your child alone, consider these tips:

As much as your children might be craving independence, they still need you. As they get older, there is more peer pressure, more exposure to things to which you may not want them exposed. Take the time to talk with your children about how things are going and compliment their responsible behavior.

If you are still are not feeling comfortable with leaving your child alone and trusted family/friends are not available, look into what opportunities the community has available. Some youth organizations have supervised programming available on a drop-in basis.

Check out the home alone brochure on the Indiana Department of Child Services’ website at https://www.in.gov/dcs/files/Home_Alone_Brochure.pdf.

We laughed when Kevin was left home alone in the movies. Within 90 minutes, he learned how to buy a toothbrush, order a pizza, disguise Michael Jordan as a guest at a party and fend off burglars. In real life, though, it wouldn’t be so funny.