Point of information

Cross posted

There’s a pervasive myth in New Zealand that it’s illegal to leave children under the age of 14 at home alone, unsupervised. If you think that you’re not allowed to leave your kids at home alone, that can create considerable logistical problems.

As it turns out, the law doesn’t say you can’t leave children unsupervised. What it says is:

Leaving child without reasonable supervision and care
Every person is liable to a fine not exceeding $2,000 who, being a parent or guardian or a person for the time being having the care of a child under the age of 14 years, leaves that child, without making reasonable provision for the supervision and care of the child, for a time that is unreasonable or under conditions that are unreasonable having regard to all the circumstances.

Source: Summary Offences Act 1981

In plain English, you may leave your child unsupervised, as long as it’s reasonable.

Of course, that begs the question about what is reasonable. CYF (Child Youth and Family) has some suggestions about things you should consider.

– the age and needs of the child
– the child’s level of maturity and understanding
– the place where the child was left
– how long the child was left alone, and how often this occurs
– were any other children left alone with the child
– is a pre-arranged responsible adult accessible to the child
– does the child know what to do or who to contact in an emergency
– is there a responsible adult that will check in on the child

Long story short: it’s fine to leave your kids at home while you head out to the supermarket, or drop into the office to collect some work, or go to a meeting, or out for a run, provided you’re sensible about.

For me, that means that I have been leaving my daughters at home, alone, since they reached the age of about eight or nine years, for short periods, and for increasingly longer periods as they get older. I’ve always been more cautious about leaving my younger daughters at home, because of some concerns I have about group dynamics, but in general, as they have gotten older, I have found that they manage just fine. I try to ensure that they have a settled activity to engage in, because leaving children unsupervised and bored sounds like a invitation to trouble to me, and I make sure they know how to get hold of me if they need me. So far, all has been well.

And it seems to me that children will only develop the maturity and skills to look after themselves if they are given the opportunity to manage by themselves.

What’s your cut-off point for leaving children home alone?

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10 comments on “Point of information

  1. Emma says:

    When the kids were around eight or nine, I was perfectly happy to leave one of them at home alone, but not both of them at home together. Gradually, especially with them having experience of coping without us, we all got more and more comfortable with it. My oldest would never misbehave, but might not notice if the house caught fire. My daughter is more difficult but also more practical.

    What we’re looking at now (my oldest is about to turn sixteen) is when they are equipped so we can leave them alone for a weekend. So maybe we can take a trip to Wellington and leave them behind. We’re not quite there yet.

  2. suse says:

    Having an only child is somewhat easier and somewhat harder. At around age 8-9, he’d agree to be alone for 5-10 minutes while I dashed to a local shop or took the dog for a brief walk. But at age 10, he started refusing to be left alone at all.
    This year, aged 12, he started high school and I started a fulltime job, close to home. He arrives home about 40 minutes before I do and lets himself in with a key. He usually calls when he gets in and tells me what he’s going to do till I get there. I’ve been able to leave him alone for about an hour but around the hour mark he usually calls me again, wanting to know when I’ll be back.
    As my mother spent long periods of time in hospital when I was in high school, so my younger sister and I came home to an empty house every day for 2-3 hours. Even when I was 16 and 17, I didn’t like that. So I try to minimise the time my child spends alone.

  3. Mindy says:

    My eldest will spend up to an hour by himself, but likes to keep in contact by phone to check where we are and when we will be home. Our mobile and office numbers are written on the wall next to the phone for easy access. We have discussed it, but decided that having him home by himself for an hour of an afternoon is not a reasonable substitute for after school care. He is 8. After school care officially stops when they reach high school, so he will probably be spending that hour by himself then, but his younger sister won’t be joining him until she reaches highschool herself, probably. It depends how they get along when he is a teenager (about 15 ish).

  4. Yvonne McDonald says:

    I went out last night for a run for an hour and left my 12 year old in charge of the 9 year old in the shower and the 7 year old in bed. I have a good relationship with my neighbour but that is the longest I have left them alone and it was fine. I might try it again.

  5. Carol says:

    Deborah, I think you make an excellent point that children will develop the maturity to look after themselves if given the opportunity and trusted to do so. A planned independence programme is a good goal, I think. My lad is now 12, and loves the chance to have the house to himself for short spells while I pop out on errands. I take my phone in case he needs to reach me, and usually check if one or other of the neighbours is home (they do the same with me for their own children).
    He also loves the chance to roam on his own at events like street fairs – I find this a bit more stressful, but as long as he has his phone with him, and clear check in times, it’s worked fine.
    I could relate to what Suse said – I remember feeling a bit desolate as a child when my mum started work and she wasn’t there after school. My lad thinks it’s a treat to be able to stay home alone, for short spells, but he really hates it if he comes home and I’m not there, as occasionally happens.

  6. Gae says:

    I actually started this when the younger was about 5, and she and older brother were established and happy travelling home together on the school bus. I warned them a couple of times that I would be out on a particular afternoon, and what they should do if I did not get home until after they did. We discussed and rehearsed this, and then one day, having reminded them that I would be ‘at a class’ that afternoon, I was a deliberate and careful 10 minutes late (and I wasn’t far away, either, I had parked up close by out of sight of the bus, and was ‘lurking’). They managed as discussed, and I stopped being anxious about possible breakdowns. Glad and relieved to see me but no distress. And of course I had a little something nice in my bag for good and sensible young persons.
    Older brother has always been as steady as a rock, and I knew he would be a steadying influence. If you want them to be sensible and independent, you have to give them the opportunity to practise.

    Gae. in Callala Bay

  7. Raymond A Francis says:

    Times have changed when it comes to percieved and real dangers to children left alone
    When it was legal, I have left very young chidren in the house when I went out in the cold to do farm chores and I have strong memories of a sobbing son following up a hill on a cold day ( my memory suggest snow on the ground but I doubt that) and having to stop to warm his hands on my bare skin. Given a choice you know where he was going to be
    And then we have stories of an ancestor from the 17 century going to sea at 7, up to Iceland cod fishing. Alright his father was the captain and all he had to do was hand out the salt to the fishermen but the story does say his mother burst into tears when she saw his hands, which rather suggest it was not a holiday trip
    My point being that we underate children now by keeping them children well past the time when they had to make adult decisions in the past

  8. Mr. Bee says:

    Right, that settles it. The kids can get off the wii and start making a contribution to the house. I’m sending them cod fishing first thing tomorrow.

  9. Carol says:

    Is there not a factory nearby? A dark satanic mill in which they can work 18 hour shifts?

    Seriously – Raymond, do you really think the past was preferable to the present for kids growing up? I don’t, at all.

  10. Marie R says:

    I started a nearly fulltime paid job when A was about 10 and most days after school until she was quite a lot older she came by bus to my office after school (child-friendly workplace) and pottered about or did homework until we went home together. An attraction there was the computer. School holidays can be a big problem for single parents. When A was 10, big sister G was about 16 so she stayed at home (or went out to the library, movies, park etc) with A during much of the holidays for a small amount of pay. I didn’t think it was ideal but I gather they mostly got on OK together. Some of this was before cellphones. I was on the over-protective end of the spectrum, but they grew up in spite of me…

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