When Is It OK to Leave Your Teen Home Alone Overnight?

Not all teens are ready to stay home alone overnight.
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Deciding when it’s OK to leave your teen home alone for the night isn’t a decision you should take lightly. Leaving your child unattended for 24 hours or more is a big deal. Things could definitely go wrong.

Despite the potential risks, allowing your teen to stay home alone could also be healthy. After all, a teen who has never been without adult supervision may struggle with her new found freedom the first time she goes away to college.

As teens mature, they’re less likely to want to accompany you on every trip or vacation you go on. Finding a “babysitter” for a 16-year-old isn’t exactly easy, however.

But before you decide whether to insist your teen go to Grandma's house for the night or allow her to stay home alone, consider these things. 

What's the Right Age to Leave Your Teen?

A few states and countries have laws that clearly state the minimum age at which you can leave your teen home alone overnight. But most places leave the decision up to the parents to decide.

Don’t base your decision on your teen’s age alone. While some 17-year-olds have been mature enough to be home alone for a few years, others aren’t yet ready for the responsibility.

In general, most teens younger than 16 aren’t mature enough to stay home alone overnight. But, it’s important to base your decision on your teen’s maturity level.

When thinking about your teen’s ability to safely stay home alone, ask yourself these questions:

  • Can your teen resist peer pressure? It’s not just your teen you have to worry about. Sometimes it’s the other teens who can lead to trouble. Can your child say no if a friend insists they throw a party at your home? Can your teen resist hanging out with the wrong crowd when you’re not home?
  • Does your teen know how to respond to an emergency? There are a variety of potential emergencies that could arise in your absence, ranging from a broken bone to a house fire. Would your teen know what to do in the event of an emergency? Can your teen make healthy decisions independently while under stress?
  • Do you have anyone to check on your teen? A friend or family member who can periodically check-in with your teen can prevent a lot of problems. A trusted contact person close by can give you and your teen some piece of mind. Make sure your teen has phone numbers for people he can contact if he has any problems while you're out of town. 
  • Will your teen be responsible for anyone else? It’s one thing to ask a 16-year-old to stay home alone for the night, but it’s completely different to ask your teenager to care for younger siblings. Consider finding a place for younger siblings to go while you let your teen practice being home alone a few times before asking her to babysit overnight. 
  • Is your teen likely to be fearful? Although some teens won’t admit it, many of them are fearful to be home alone at night. If your teen is scared of the dark, how will she handle being home alone at night? How would she respond to a strange noise she hears in the middle of the night?
  • How well does your teen follow the rules? If your teen can’t follow the rules when you’re home, there’s a high probability she won’t follow the rules when you’re gone.

Preparing Your Teen to Be Home Alone for the Night

If your teen is able to handle being home alone during the day for extended periods, she may be ready for more freedom.

If you’ve allowed her to be home alone until midnight and she responded well, perhaps she can handle being home alone all night.

The best thing you can do is give your teen added responsibility slowly. Take precautionary measures to prepare your teen for being home alone overnight.

Ask her how she would handle certain situations, like a stranger coming to the door, the smoke alarm sounding, or a neighbor asking if you're out of town. Make sure she has the knowledge she needs to stay safe overnight. 

Sources:

American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry: Home Alone Children

Child Welfare Information Gateway: Leaving Your Child Home Alone. September, 2013. 

HealthyChildren.org: Is Your Child Ready to Stay Home Alone?