Tips for Parents: Letting Your Teen Stay Home

Preparing Your Kid to Be Home Alone

A teenager types on her cell phone.
A teenager types on her cell phone. Bloom Productions/Getty Images

When is my child ready to stay home alone? It is one of the most difficult decisions for parents to make, especially as they enter those preteen years.

If your kid is too old for daycare, then you need to look at your options:

  • Do you need to find someone to watch your kid after school or during the summer? A school mate’s parents, a relative or a neighbor are all possibilities.
  • Are there after school programs available? Some schools and recreation centers provide options for parents with kids that are in the preteen age group.
  • Is it time to start allowing your kid to stay at home alone? This is the big question and the answer is not easy!

When you do feel it is okay to at least try and let your kid stay home alone, there are a few things you should do to keep them on track and put your mind at ease.

The Routine

Establish a routine and write it down. Set a time to get up, a time to have breakfast, a chore to be completed, etc. Perhaps some reading before television or letter writing to pen pals or grandparents can be added.

Sit down together and brainstorm a list of things and then make it a part of the routine. A healthy routine will become a habit. It promotes a good attitude and keeps your teen active.

It is all too easy to fall into an unhealthy routine. Sleeping half the day during summer break or playing video games immediately after school are common. It is what they may want to do, but it may not be the best.

By coming to a consensus, writing down the routine and checking up on your teen, they will follow it and be a much nicer person to come home to.

Expectations and Rules

Make your expectations and the rules clear. Set up rewards and consequences for following and not following the rules.

Be sure to be fair and firm with the rules and let your teen have a say.

What To Do If...

Possibly the worst part of letting your child stay home are the "what if" fears. What if they get hurt? What if someone comes to the door? Role play these situations with your teen so they know how to handle them.

  • Run through each situation the right way and the wrong way.
  • Have your teen tell you why the wrong way was wrong.

This will help both of you communicate clearly about what is expected in each situation.

Personal Calls at Work

Inform your workplace that your child will be "calling in." While personal calls may be frowned on, your parenting responsibilities need to take priority.

You and your teen will feel more comfortable if you establish a call time. Most employers will be understanding of this.

The Backup Plan

Have a backup plan available if things should go awry. It may be temporary or it may mean that your teen isn't ready to stay home alone quite yet. Either way, you will worry less if you have an alternative waiting for you in the wings.

If your teen gets sick or is unable to handle a whole day alone, perhaps having him go to an afternoon camp or to a friend's house is a better idea for now. You could also have a relative or neighbor check on them to make sure things are okay.

FAQ: Teens Home Alone

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