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September 08, 2008

Ages & Stages: How Young is Too Young?

The other day, our little guy was begging me to see a PG-13 movie. He is only 8, so my immediate response was, "No way." But, then I thought about how I allowed him to watch Revenge of the Sith, which was also PG-13. (Like many boys his age, he's a die-hard Star Wars fan.)

This was the first week of school for many, which means another year older for the kids, who'll soon be pushing for more independence. So where do we draw the line in order to stay consistent? And how do you know when your child is ready, or mature enough?

What are your ages and stages for letting your kids stay home alone? Go for sleepovers? Bike to a friend's house, or take public transportation un-chaperoned? And, if you have more than one child, are you consistent when applying your age limits? 

Our Senior Editorial Director, Felice, just faced this dilemma with her 10-year-old son. Felice and her kids live in a quiet, upscale neighborhood about a mile from downtown Boston, but too close for comfort to the universities and major arteries. While her younger daughter is still in extended day through her school, Felice was nervous about letting her son turn "latchkey" for another two years (Safe Kids USA urges parents not to leave any child under 12 years old home alone.)

Luckily, she found a happy solution through Care.com: a thirty-something "minder," who can be her son's surrogate "older brother," picking him up at school, hanging out with him for a few hours, and driving him to sports practice, all while not making her son feel like he's in need of a babysitter.

Check out these topics and sources for more information, or join the conversation by posting a comment! We'd love to hear your experiences and your "rules of thumb" for ages and stages with your own kids (or those you care for.)

Latchkey Kids / Staying Home Alone

While SafeKids.org urges parents not to leave any child under 12 years old home alone, many of us do allow our children to go latchkey for a few hours between school and the end of our workdays, or when we need to run errands. For each of us, it's a subjective and deeply personal choice that we make as parents based on the resourcefulness, maturity, and comfort levels of our own kids.

If you do decide to let your child stay home alone, go over these safety tips from the National Crime Prevention Council (home of McGruff the Crime Dog) with them first:

  • Be discreet: Don't let anyone know that you're home alone.
  • Lock up: Learn how to properly secure your home so you can get out, but no one can get in.
  • Know the numbers: Review the emergency contact list and know how and who to call in case of an emergency. Choose a nearby neighbor as a "safe house."
  • Communicate: Check in with your parents when you get home, and call for permission before leaving to go to the park, biking with friends, or to another friend's home.
  • Be alert: If something looks suspicious when you get home, like a broken window or the front door is wide open, don't go inside. Go to your safe house.

Check out this MSNBC article with Dr. Ruth Peters, one of America's favorite advice columnists, a regular contributor to The Today Show, and a clinical psychologist by training, for more tips on raising latchkey kids.

Slumber Parties

Slumber parties (or sleepovers) are as American as apple pie, and just as hard to do really well. According to AZCentral.com, home of The Arizona Republic newspaper, slumber parties are most popular among kids 8 to 14 years old, although they can begin at younger ages and stretch out until college.

So, how do you know when your kids are ready to sleep over at a friend's house? And what should you ensure before they go?

  • Start with family members. Your children will be more comfortable at their cousins' house, or with their grandparents, than at another family's home, allowing them to ease into sleeping apart from you. It also allows them to learn to shake up their nighttime routines.
  • Know your child. Some kids are ready for sleepovers earlier than others--there isn't one true age to begin hosting or sending your kids off to slumber parties. Make sure that they are polite and respectful enough to abide by another family's rules, and that they are confident enough to make it through the night without your support.
  • Know yourself. How comfortable are you with your child sleeping over at another home? Make sure to do your homework before the night of the event, ensuring that the other parents will be home, confirming details about activities, any group excursions, and timing for pick-ups in the morning. Review "the rules" and emergency information with the other parents, and make sure you trust them and their judgment.

What are your family's rules, ages and stages for allowing kids to stay home alone? Slumber parties? Biking to a friend's house un-chaperoned, or taking public transportation?

Share them with the Care.com community by posting a comment!

Cheers,
Sheila

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Comments

Luis

As a father of a seven year old, I must tell you: if you watched the film and you think that it would really affect his perspective on life, then just have a conversation and ask him about the film. Talking to him you would figure out a lot of things about his views. Sometimes you have to cross "the line" so your kid can have a real view of the world. Communicate with him so you can help shape that view, do not block it! The world is what it is.
Too young? Well, you are the parent, no one knows your kid better than you,don't draw lines you can't explain.

Laura

As a parent of three, ages 17,10 and 9, I often wonder myself when to let them do things on their own. My 17 yr old has special needs, but they are mild so it was hard for me to let him do things. My 10 yr old is searching for independence and we are letting him do little things such as ride his bike with a friend to the ice cream shop or to the gas station. He still can't go fishing with a friend by himself because I feel they need to be supervised. We also got the restricted cell phones for our two youngest to use to keep in touch with us in case of emergency.

Mary Lanzo

Determining the right age for children to watch certain movies is often very dependent on the child. That said, does anyone have a recommendation on the right age for watching the Harry Potter movies?

amanda

Well... as a mother, it's your kid, it's your decision, whatever you feel is right. Me.. ha, my kid will not be left home alone until he is 19, because I don't need trouble. Sleepovers, well... depends on the parents. Bike to a friend's house? Why bike, I can bring him. And the whole transportation, I say no, ask daddy. I'm a very strict mother, because I grew up not too long ago, and I know what it's like.

Jonetta

As a former latchkey kid myself and single mom of a seven yr old boy. I see him becoming a latchkey kid too. It all comes down to how much you trust your child to do as you tell them. I have left my son home alone for 5-10 min while I go to the apartment office, to check the mail, or even to make a quick trip to the corner store. I make sure to explain the rules to him. He's not to open the door to anyone and he knows not to cook anything. Like everyone else has said, you know your child and your childs maturity. Only you can decide what is best or what responsibilities your child can handle.

Elisha

My question is what is the "legal" age for children to be home alone after school in Oklahoma? My children are very mature for their age but they're only 9 and 8.

Tina

When we were growing up, they did not have PG 13 when I was that age. So a lot of the movies today that are PG 13 were PG movies back then or were rated R if it was real nudity and very bad language. We as parents want the best for our children so we need to know if the movie is suited for him or her before they see it. If my parents or friends see the movie before my child wants to see that movie, I would asked if it is good for her to watch it.
With latchkey kids, a parent has to know the laws first in their state on what age is it considered to be OK to leave them home for a couple of hours. It depends on the maturity of the child if you can trust them to listen and behave while you are not there.

Gina

My sons are 11 and 7 and I will leave them home alone for a couple of hours even if it is to go out to dinner with my husband. You have to know your children and know if they are responsible enough to handle ANY situation. Each child will react differently to a stressful situation. Ask your child. Give him scenarios, even scary ones. I know in IN there is not an age limit. Use your own discretion.

Sheila

Hi Elisha,

According to SafeKids.org, the national guideline is not to leave children under 12 home alone. This page on Wiki Answers quotes the Lawson, OK police department about your state in particular:

"In Oklahoma, there is no fixed age when a child can be left alone. Some are unable to take care of themselves even though they may be older than other children." - Lawton (Oklahoma) Police Department

It also cites a California agency that supports allowing children as young as 8 years old to be left home alone for a few hours at a time, such as after school.

Here's the link:
http://wiki.answers.com/Q/What_are_the_Oklahoma_latchkey_laws

But again, my strong advice is that you know your child best and if you think your kids are ready, just make sure to follow the proper safety steps. If you're unsure about their readiness, then I would suggest hiring a caregiver for those hours after school, at least to start, as Felice has done with her 10 year old son. Try posting a job on Care.com in either Child Care or Care Gigs to find the right person in your area.

Cheers,

Sheila

Jeanne

Wow! What a great article and great comments from all the readers. I am thankful for reading this and someone having the guts to write about this issue. You are right, it is a deep and personal choice/issue each one of us decides as parents.
For myself, my children are still too young...for me(6 and 8), but this has a been a question I have been wondering about in the back of my head...trying to prepare for when that situation does arrive...which will come before I know it.
Thanks to everyone!

Jill

I keep the marginal type of movies for home viewing that way I can talk to him through the movie. I can interject with comments that help keep him on track. Ex: Some kid is being a smart ass with his parents in the movie. I get a disgusted look on my face and say, "How rude! That kid is being so disrespectful." Then my child 7 year old will usually chime in, "Yeah. What a brat." I think you can go case by case. For instance my son doesn't get nightmare with some gory stuff, but "dark" stuff I don't want in his mind at all so it depends on the movie/show.

kendra

My son is ten years old and i still feel uncomfortable letting him go on his own for more than a couple hours. I trust my son , but i do not trust others..I have two pediphiles in my neighborhood, and that's only the ones on record..I go back and forth on my decision depending on how the day looks and how my son is acting that day.

Arielle

As a single mother of two children, I don't think that I would allow my children to go to a sleepover unless I know the parents. That means I meet them more than once; at their home or at my home, things like that.

I would never let my children take public transportation no matter what their age. I don't trust public transportation!

I let my son, who is 3, watch all of the Star Wars movies because I see no problem with them. He does, but it's rare, watch primetime tv cartoons. My daughter is only 5 months old but, I let her go visit, both sets, her grandparents on her father's side by herself without any worry. It gives me a break.

As for the latch-key situation, I don't remember ever being one myself. My grandmother lived close and could either pick me and my sister up at school or at the bus stop at our house. I don't know when I would allow my children to be latch-key kids probably when they are at a different school. The school they will be attending in the future is a couple of minutes from my house in the subdivision we live in.

If the child's house is not far from my house i.e. a short bike ride, then when they are about 10-13 then I might allow them to ride their bikes to the friend's house.

I think every parent should have rules for this because it is important to keep the children safe from danger at all times!

chrissy

i think that you will know when your kid is ready and that if you hesitate there is a reason and that you should listen to your gut. Give your child little things to take care of around the house and when they show that they are responsible enough then you can take it to the next level but i think that it should be done little by litte like taking that bike ride a couple houses down and watch them slowly let them go farther test them. You will know when the time is right for certain things and dont be afraid to call and talk to the parents about sleepovers you should know who is watching your kids.

chrissy

autumn

Well in order to see if he is mature enough, then you need for him to be able to see something such as star wars and for him to be able to understand it! I think that maybe he is too young to ride a bike to his friend's house, but if you mean like riding a bus, then I think that that would be fine! I wouldn't let my children stay home alone unless they were like 10 or 11! As far as sleepovers go, I think that it would be fine just as long as you meet with the parents and get to know them, such as if they smoke, or if they have pets or anything like that! When I was little I was about five in my first sleep over but I called my mom half way through the night because I was scared and it freaked me out to be in a new home! I think that if he is mature enough to handle it then yes he should be able to go to sleepovers!

Jessica

Well, I remember being left alone as a kid and I hated it...I would never let my child come home to an empty house. I am a single working mother and through this site I found someone who can be there when I cannot. I am so, so thankful.

Movies...it is really hard to decifer between what they can handle and what they think they can handle. Each of us has our own way of interpreting things and handling the mental, emotional, and physical "stuff" that's thrown our way. Our kids need help with that "stuff" until they understand themselves--and the world around us--better.

becky

My opinion is don't let him watch a horror movie just yet. He still may be too young and might get bad ideas on how life is, and how things should be. Let him learn life a little more. Then he should be old enough. On other hands, star wars and things like that are not so bad for him to watch. it does give him some good imagination, and that's good for his age. on staying home he may be still to young for it. legal age in il. is 13. but that is up to you. you may get in trouble for it. so you might not want to take the chance till then. but by then he should be at the right mature level to do it. but when you think is right is up to you. you are the one that sets the rules and can be the only one to help make him mature for it.

amy

I think that a child should be at least 13 before they stay home alone, It isnt that I wouldnt trust my own child, I just dont think a child should have the responsiblity of taking care of his or her self completey before age 13

maritza cabrera

I agree with all the comments pretty much. I have a 9 yr old girl and 6 year old boy. I feel my children are well behaved enough to leave them to run to the store for an hour or so but every child is different, it all depends on whether your child is mature and trust worthy enough to handle that responsibility. What u could do is test it out by making them think you left and then just linger around the house to see what happens. We all need to let our kids grow up sometime no matter how hard it maybe. You don't want a child that never grows up and still living with u at age 30. As far as movies go just like life their are things that happen that u can't change and as a parent you need to be able to explain fact from fiction we can't put ratings on life and right now if i could i'd probably rate it R with all the violence and killing going on all over the world. When i'm not sure i watch it before them or with them to help make my decision alot of pg-13 movies are rated that way for language or partial nudity and violence. All these things are part of life at least you can always say IT'S JUST A MOVIE!!!! We were born naked, people curse when they get mad,and WAR is everywhere we can't hide the violence. Remember 9/11/01 it was on t.v. in schools while the attacks were happening, No one put restrictions on that and that was a horrifying experience for so many. You know your kid best you cant go wrong with that.

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