Sooner or later there will come a time for children to be out on their own. Maybe this means leaving them home alone while you run an errand, or having them walk home from school to an empty house. The following advise will keep children as safe as possible when left alone.
When is it OK to leave a Child alone?
There is no definitive answer on this. In the west we tend to lean toward overprotection, and many parents would recoil in horror at the thought of a 7- or 8-year-old allowed to roam on their own without adult supervision. Yet in places like Italy, there is a much more communal child rearing spirit, and such freedom is common place. One mother in Venice talks about routinely allowing her 4-year-old daughter to roam the streets as she pleases, going in and out of neighbor’s houses or interacting with whomever she meets. It wasn’t too long ago when kids in this country might do the same. I remember scampering around to the neighbor’s houses when I was no more than 4 or 5. I wouldn’t advise the same thing today, not because there is a high risk of injury or abduction, but because there is a high risk of someone calling social services on you.
In the United States, leaving any child under the age of 12 unsupervised for any significant length of time runs the risk that you might encounter legal problems should anything happen. The standards are murkier when it comes to kids roaming the neighborhood on their own, but free-range parents routinely get harassed for allowing 7- or 8-year-olds to go to the park or play on their own. What you decide should be a personal decision based on what you feel comfortable with.
Teaching Children to be Street Smart
There are several ways that children can increase their safety when they are out and about in their neighborhood. Teach children these basic rules for being street smart, and make sure that you check with your children to ensure that these rules are being followed as much as possible. On a regular basis, ask who your child played with, who they walked with, which route they took, etc. Safety starts with parents who press the issue.
- If your believe in Free-Range parenting try to institute a buddy system at all times. Teach your kids to always go with another friend or adult whenever they are out and about. There is safety in numbers, and it is always more difficult for a potential abductor to target two children as opposed to one. Rarely does this happen. They will go after a child who is all alone, so that they can snatch them quickly without any witnesses.
- Tell them to stay out in the open. Avoid going places where nobody else can see you. People sometimes look for kids in places where the child can’t be seen easily.
- Children need to pay attention to their surroundings. Keep an eye out for everything around you. Cars that go by, people that are out and about, etc. If you see anything that looks suspicious, stay away from it.
- If they walk to school, always direct them to walk along the same route. Discuss with them the best route to school, and always stay on that route, so that people know where to look in case you are missing.
Street Smart Resources for Children:
Read your kids our children’s story: How to be a Street Smart Kid, Designed for children in elementary school.
Using Cell Phones for Child Safety & Rules For Kids Who Are Home Alone
As weird as it sounds to equip a child with a cell phone, especially to old fashioned folk, cell phones can be a wonderful tool in the fight for child safety. They are especially handy if you have “latch-key” children who walk home by themselves to an empty house.
- Instruct your child to call you as soon as they get out of school. Many parents even talk with their children about their day as they walk home from school, so that the parents can check up and at the same time be on the line to ensure a safe trip home. However, this can also counterproductive if your child has to navigate busy streets, since talking on a cell phone can be distracting. You’d be trading an unlikely risk for a much more pertinent one.
- Once home, have your child call you again, to let you know that they are safe.
- Have them keep the cell phone on their person even while at home, so if by chance an emergency should arise, they will always be able to call for help.
- Tell your child that if they ever arrive home and see broken glass, a broken window, or an open door, they should not go it but immediately head for a neighbor’s house while calling the police.