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Home Alone: For Kids, How Young Is Too Young?

The Short of It

A Canadian Supreme Court ruled this week that an 8-year-old child is too young to be left home alone—no matter how responsible the child may be.

The Lowdown

A mom in British Columbia saw nothing wrong with leaving her 8-year-old son home by himself every afternoon between the hours of 3 and 5 o'clock. But a social worker and the little boy's father, who does not live with the mom and child, were concerned that he was too young for this responsibility.

A previous trial judge ruled in favor of the father, agreeing that an 8-year-old child is in fact too young to be left unsupervised. Last week, the B.C. Supreme Court upheld the finding, despite the mother arguing that kids mature at different ages, and therefore no arbitrary age at which a child requires supervision should be assigned. The court based its decision on the logic that until 10 years of age, a child does not possess the cognitive ability to keep him or herself safe from accidental harm.

The Upshot

This case is interesting in light of the free-range kids debate raging here in the U.S. Remember the controversy over the case against a Maryland family who allowed their children, ages 10 and 6, to play unsupervised, then walk home alone from a park about a mile away?

Some people believe this is a perfectly safe practice; others, including Child Protective Services, disagreed. The parents have been cleared of all charges, incidentally, but their situation raised the question of how old kids need to be to play on their own.

The Canadian case also begs the question: What is the right age for parents to leave kids to their own devices? In the U.S., guidelines (and laws, if they exist) on how old a kid should be before he or she can be left at home alone vary by state. I agree it should an individual thing for each family, but eight years old does seem a bit young. My daughter is 7, and I wouldn't feel comfortable leaving her home for two hours by herself each day, nor would I allow her to play in a park alone. What if she got hurt and no one was there to help her? What if a stranger with bad intentions tried to lure her away?

To me, it's not worth the risk just to allow her the freedom, or to save me the expense of hiring a sitter.

What's your take?

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