Friday, 25 February 2011

When can you leave your child home alone?

In the summer of 1978 I was seven and as both my parents worked full time my fourteen year old sister was charged with my care. It was never going to work and for a number of reasons;
1. She was a teenager.
2. She had a new boyfriend.
3. She resented been lumped with me.
4. Her friends thought I was funny and cute.
5. I'd recently blabbed to our parents that I'd seen her smoking.
6. She has always hated me.

It took about a week for her to work out how to get rid of me and by the end of week two of the six week break she was paying me 10p to entertain myself each day and all I had to do was be home by 4pm.
I was more than happy with this arrangement as even at my tender age I knew she resented my very existence and I didn't really want to hang around with her and her boyfriend anyway.
I wanted to be out exploring, running, building mud pies, making dams and dens and so I did. I walked miles that summer, well I think I did. A mile is an awfully long way when you're seven.

When I was nine we moved a hundred miles to a big busy city. By is time my sister was at college and with both of my parents working I became a 'latch key kid'. I made my way home from school, switched on the TV and entertained myself.

When I was ten we moved house again and I refused to go to yet another new school. Here began my first commute. A long walk, a bus ride and another long walk to and from school became my daily routine. Until I discovered the joys of the sweet shop where I'd just blow my weekly bus fare in one greedy swoop and then regret my actions deeply as yet another extra long walk stood before me twice each day. I don't think ten year olds are great at budgeting.

I look at my own children who at seven, nine and ten have never been left alone to fend for themselves, who have never had to make the painful choice between sweets or walking to school and have never had to sit for three hours in the cold and the dark because there is no one home to top the electricity meter up.

But when is the right time to relax the rules? To let children be children? To offer the chance to get from A to B under their own steam?

I don't think that my three are anywhere near that time but perhaps that's me being a control freak?
How old are your children? Do they get themselves to school and back? Do they spend time on their own at home?
I would love to hear how you've handled this transition.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad


  1. interesting post. In fact, i just had that conversation with a friend of mine today when we were out playing with our kids in an enclosed playground, watching their every step like a hawk.
    I used to walk to and from school with my older siblings everyday (I was 7, they were 10, 12,13) . My parents were never home when we got back from school. If i remember right, I very often even from the age of 7 (?) stayed at home by myself.... Could this be right ?
    And i used to be out playing with my friends (or my siblings) all day, usually only returning home around 6pm for dinner. Imagine, not having an idea where your kids are at all the entire day !

    Would I consider letting my own kids do that ? No ! Maybe when they are in their teens..... ?? And even then, if they were out and about all day, I'd probably make sure they have a mobile and constantly call them to see if they are ok...

  2. Natalie @ Mummysmiles25 February 2011 at 21:59

    I think this is such a tough question, and one I think about a lot.

    To be honest, I don't know if there will ever be a time that I feel "comfortable" leaving them to their own devices but I do realise that one day they will actually be "grown up " enough to do so.

    It doesn't help that we live on acreage so we don't have any neighbours to keep an eye out on them.

  3. Timely post.
    I wasn't left 'home alone' until I was 11, but was walking to school with a friend before that.
    This week, I decided against allowing my daughter (almost 10) and her friend from watching a movie in a different screening to me and her younger brothers - yet , like you say, we were 'playing out' until tea time, and could have been anywhere...

  4. At 14, I too was an older sibling left in charge of my pesky little sister. To say I resented it would be a bit of an understatement - especially after the incident when she bashed a hole in my bedroom door with the attic-door opening stick-thingy when I was trying to revise for some exams (and I was the one to get scolded when Mum got home).

    However, we survived. We learned how to fend for ourselves (or rather she learned how to waited on hand and foot, and I learned to be a mug), and no harm came to us. If we had a problem, we knew we could turn to the lady next door, but we never needed to.

    However, my sister may tell a different story. A slightly nightmarish one in which she was unwittingly forced to eat human flesh!
    In a nutshell, I whipped up a cheese omelette for her one lunchtime. Clumsily grating the cheese I managed to add a good dose of my own grated finger to the mix. And being ever so slightly evil after a morning of full-throttle little sister annoyance, I left it in. Then I added the cheese, served up the omelette and watched my sister eat it.
    THEN I told her it has finger in it!

    (I think her penchant for hysterics may have been born at that moment).

    Strangely enough, decades later, we're still alive and kicking...

    Why American men should boycott American women

    I am an American man, and I have decided to boycott American women. In a nutshell, American women are the most likely to cheat on you, to divorce you, to get fat, to steal half of your money in the divorce courts, don’t know how to cook or clean, don’t want to have children, etc. Therefore, what intelligent man would want to get involved with American women?

    American women are generally immature, selfish, extremely arrogant and self-centered, mentally unstable, irresponsible, and highly unchaste. The behavior of most American women is utterly disgusting, to say the least.

    This blog is my attempt to explain why I feel American women are inferior to foreign women (non-American women), and why American men should boycott American women, and date/marry only foreign (non-American) women.


  6. These days people have been bashed on the head over and over by the news telling us how many pedos are out there, people will try and steal from you and teens will cause trouble late at night. Thing is... most of this was bad back in the 70s, 80s and 90s. We just didn't hear about it 24/7 like we do right now.
    I don't think I'd let my son walk home on his own from school until secondary school. As for letting him go out, I'd not mind him going out to the park or in town with his friends. I don't want to be wrap him up in cotton wool and never let him leave my side, but I do want him to be safe. There's a line and sometimes we have to choose where that line is for our child.

  7. Hi Sian, We've been talking about this too recently as our school reckons that in Year 5 your child is capable of walking home by themselves. This was not said explicitly but was on a form that Milo brought home recently which stated that if your child was in Year 5 then you have the option of having your child walk home by themselves after the after school club. Some children already walk home by themselves in Milo's year but they don't live too far from school. So i suppose it all depends on the distance that the child is going to travel and how confident you and your child is about this additional responsibility and of course how chilled you are as well!

  8. Hello lovely!

    I know I was walking to school on my own when I was five. Granted, it was right down the hill and around the corner from my house AND it was a very small town but still! I would never send Little Miss on her own to school when she's 5! When I was 8 and 9 years old we moved to a different city which was much bigger but again, still "small". I walked to and from school, came home on my own and let myself in and took care of myself until my parents got home around 5 or 6 I suppose. It was what everyone did!

    I think it's just that times have changed so much. We're so much more aware of "bad people" around and are over-protective of our children which I don't think is a bad thing. It's a very interesting sign of the times though! ;)

    I am sure those experiences in childhood led you to being the dynamic, powerful, confident maven that you are...not a bad thing! ;)


  9. I recently read that "A mother who left her son of 14 to mind his three-year-old brother while she went to the shops was given a police caution for “cruelty” and was suspended from work."

    I *know* I started babysitting other people's kids before I was 14 and I got paid for it! I'm very protective of Blondie Boy and can't fathom leaving him with a 16 year old let alone a 14 year old, but I know people who left their kids with me at that age.

    I took a babysitting course when I was 10 or 11 after school!

  10. I was left home along many a time when I was young and I have watched other people's kids before I was 16 well before it. I don't think I will ever leave my boys home alone, even into their 20s. Seriously I have no idea. Maybe it's just a different era. x

  11. This is such a tricky one. Like you, I was a latch-key kid too from being about 9 but now I have my own children, I can't get my head around it to be honest! I couldn't imagine my children being home alone or just be allowed to play out - not knowing where they were!
    I probably am guilty of cotton wool parenting. In fact, I know I am! But the way I see it is, if something were ever to go wrong, I could never forgive myself. I know the statistics say that our children are in no more danger now than they were 20 years ago etc but do you know what? I'm not happy to take that chance.
    My eldest two children are now 11 and almost 13 and I allow them to walk to ten minute journey to school together - armed with mobile phones. I know I'm over-protective but I just can't help it. They are my babies!

  12. I used to catch the bus and walk from the age of ten. We had three schools changing at ten and thirteen. The middle school was the furthest away and having a mum that couldn't drive it was bus and school for me. As soon as I changed up to the final school at 13 I walked to and from school daily. Was at home from 3.30 till 5.30 on my own a couple of days a week and used to make my the tea and everything. But I used to do my ironing by that age as well. I never had a mobile or anything. It is very rural we were are and grew up and most people are still the same around here now. Baba is only 2 so I haven't even thought about it, but its an interesting post. xx


Thanks for taking the time to share your thoughts. Appreciated as always. xx


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