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Home Alone, IRL

The very suggestion conjures the image of a youthful Macaulay Culkin left to his own devices in outwitting a pair of bungling bandits as the rest of his well-heeled family fly off for a Christmas holiday in Paris. Cue the chaos and laughter.

Of course we all know that leaving kids home alone is no joking matter, but just when are they ready for this milestone?

Plus: Today Show and Parenting Survey Results: When is it OK to … 

A new large-scale Australian study has found that at least one in four of the country’s 10- and 11-year-olds are left without adult supervision for more than an hour at least once a week. Researchers with the federal government’s ongoing longitudinal study of 10,000 children, Growing Up In Australia, attributed the practice to a rise in the number of mothers returning to work and the lack of affordable childcare (an issue that’s been plaguing the U.S. seemingly forever).

Authorities in both the U.S. and Australia caution parents that leaving children home alone could result in charges of criminal neglect, but in reality, there are no laws or legal guidelines in either country about the appropriate age to do so.

Safe Kids USA suggests that kids are “generally” ready for such independence around age 12 or 13. But of course you can have a mature, responsible 10-year-old, or a 15-year-old you can’t trust if your back is turned.

Plus: Get help deciding if your child is ready to stay home alone and learn about other big-kid milestones.

Full disclosure: I’ve got an 11-year-old son who spends an hour or so alone some days after school before his teenage brother and sister get home from sports practice, depending on the season. Heaven forbid I should insist on dragging him to the grocery store (plus it drives up my already out of control food bill) or along for a ride when I take his bro to his bud’s house across town.

I don’t feel like a bad mom—he’s got an aunt who works from home home a block away, a cell phone, and his wit’s about him (save for the inevitable meltdown after losing a basketball or soccer game).

What do you think: Am I being too cavalier—or is he benefitting from the chance to be independent and responsible?