I reckon every parent in the land has watched the film Home Alone, visibly amused by the antics of the mischievous Kevin McCallister but equally concerned at what this cute, but slightly unpredictable, boy is going to do next.
How old was Kevin when he was accidentally left home alone? 8, 9, 10? Of course it's just a film and we know that no mother would really leave her child 'home alone' for this length of time. Isn't it against the law anyway?
If you search online for information regarding the legal age to leave children without any adult supervision, it's very sketchy. Believe it or not, there is no law in place here in the UK and at the moment, parents can use their own judgement as to whether or not their child should be left at home. Opinions on this vary widely. I know children who have been left at home during the school holidays, from the age of 10. Then there are others who are still being 'baby' sat at age 14.
About three years ago, I went looking for information to assist me in making a decision about leaving my (then) 11 year old at home while I nipped to the shop. Let's face it, it really is not always practical to bundle all three children into the car to make a mad dash to the supermarket for forgotten ingredients! I was surprised to find nothing other than the following guidelines, issued by The National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children (NSPCC):
· children under 12 are rarely mature enough to be left alone for a long period of time
· children under 16 shouldn't be left alone overnight
· babies, toddlers and very young children should never be left alone.
Being a person who likes to abide by rules, the absence of any law, makes it difficult for me on so many levels: 1) it gives me yet another parenting decision to make in an already over-crowded brain; 2) it throws up something else for my children to argue with me about; 3) it leaves the OH and I with yet another 'grey' area that we have differing opinions on.
A recent opinion poll, carried out by The Time, showed that 2/3 of parents would prefer there to be a law in place. And why not? There is a law governing us parents on every other aspect of bringing up our children, it seems ludicrous that there is currently nothing in place regarding this matter!
Our eldest is now 14 and yes, I am happy for her to be home alone for a period of time and even to be in charge of her siblings for a few hours (assuming we are not going far and she is able to get hold of us at any time). But despite having been cajoled into leaving him alone for 15 minute or so on occasion, I still feel that at 10 years of age, our youngest is not old enough to be left alone in the house. A quarter of the parents surveyed would disagree with me, as would my husband!
What do you think? What age is it ok for a child to stay home alone? Would you like to see stronger laws in place on this matter?
This post was originally published over at www.3childrenandit.com