Online Parenting Tips – When is it OK to leave a teen home alone?

Online Parenting Tips: Finding Work/Life Balance

One of the (many) parenting challenges for the working single parent is the thorny question of ‘when is it OK to leave a teen at home alone?’  What’s reasonable? What’s legal? And most importantly, what’s safe?

Like many single parents, I hold down a full-time job, to support my little family. I’m enormously fortunate to work for a company that actively encourages flexible working, including the option to work from home when required. But, there are days when I need to start early/work late, particularly when attending out-of-town meetings.

I love my job. It’s stimulating and it’s a big part of who I am BUT I know I’m not the only parent to have found the transition from the comfort blanket of a primary school offering  breakfast and after school clubs (chargeable of course!) for my son to the ‘freedom’ of secondary school daunting. Suddenly there was no childcare available for my 11-year-old, and I wasn’t comfortable that he was ready for life as a big city latch-key child.

And it’s not just school. When is it OK to leave your child home alone full stop?

To pop to the shop for a pint of milk? To meet a friend for a coffee and sanity break? To go for a run to let off steam? Is it OK to leave them or does that automatically qualify you as ‘bad parent’? When does it start to become acceptable? How long is too long or too late?Teen parenting challenges - when is it OK to leave a teen home alone?

Astonishingly, despite some quite horrifying cases of neglect and accidents, there is no legislation to help and guide parents in this area – it’s completely grey. The only consensus seems to be that under 5’s should not be left alone at any time (doh!) and that under 16’s should not be left alone overnight. Apart from that, the view is that common sense and knowledge of your child should dictate your actions.

Of course, everyone has an opinion! From the older family members who look back with rose-tinted specs to how they raised their kids ‘back in the day’ when kids had much more freedom than they have today, to the über protective mammas whose little darlings are never left alone for a moment.

So, it’s been a case of trying to chart the right course. As with so many things, we started small. I was honest with the boy about why I might sometimes need him to be at home on his own, encouraging him to we talk openly about how he felt about this. If he’d been at all apprehensive, I would have had to accept that he simply wasn’t ready yet. Once I was confident that he was comfortable with the idea of being home alone on limited occasions, we agreed some simple ground rules together so he and I would both feel completely secure.

My commitment to him

  1. My phone is always with me, charged and on.
  2. You will always know where I am, who I am with and will have contact numbers.
  3. No matter what, if you call me and need me, I will come home. You are my number 1 priority. Always.
  4. I will tell you when I will be home, and will always keep my promises about the time I will be home.
  5. There will always be someone else you can call in an emergency ‘just in case’. Our ‘panic list’ is stuck to the fridge!

His commitment to me

  1. I won’t answer the doorbell – unless it’s a pre-arranged visit, it’s safer to ignore the doorbell.
  2. My phone will be with me, charged and off silent.
  3. I won’t do any cooking (there’s always plenty to eat in the fridge)
  4. No visitors unless pre-arranged. It’s great that he has lots of friends and that they regularly come round to our house. But, when I’m not home I can’t take responsibility for other people’s kids, so I only allow them to visit if their parents know I won’t be home. And the other kids need to know and accept my rules!
  5. No going out unless pre-arranged.

teen parenting challenges - when is it OK to leave teen home alone?

We’re still juggling and adjusting. I still phone him to check he’s up if I’ve had to leave for an early meeting. It was a challenge at first to explain to a big, strong rugby-playing 6 foot lad why he needed a ‘babysitter’ for those rare occasions when I have a night out or when I’m away overnight on business! But I’ve been lucky enough to have a good friend (CRB checked!) I can call on who is very happy to play Wii games and talk Physics until bedtime in exchange for a few ‘beer tokens’.

As with so many teen parenting challenges, it’s been a case of trial and error. I don’t think I’ve always got it right and I often feel guilty. I’ve always erred on the side of caution (far too much according to the teen) but my son’s safety and happiness have been my guide.

What’s your experience of teen parenting challenges? Were you ever happy to leave your young teen home alone? I’d love to hear your online parenting tips.




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