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At What Age Would You Leave Your Child Alone Or Let Them Play In the Park Alone? Is it Legal in Your State?

Posted by on Feb. 18, 2015 at 9:07 AM
  • 38 Replies

Kids' Solo Playtime Unleashes 'Free-Range' Parenting Debate

People who practice free-range parenting say it makes kids more independent, but others see it as neglect. State and local laws don't specify what children are allowed to do on their own.

People who practice free-range parenting say it makes kids more independent, but others see it as neglect. State and local laws don't specify what children are allowed to do on their own.

iStockphoto

Parents have made news recently after being detained for purposefully leaving children on their own, prompting renewed debate about so-called "free-range parenting."

That includes Danielle and Alexander Meitiv, a Silver Spring, Md., couple who are being investigated after they let their children, ages 10 and 6, walk home from a park last month by themselves.

Moms and dads who practice this parenting style say it promotes independent, even fearless kids. But what is considered free-range by some can look like neglect to others. As for what's against the law, child welfare experts say there's no easy answer.

In Austin,Texas, last year, Child Protective Services showed up after a 6-year-old was reported to be playing alone in a field 150 yards from his house. His mom, Kari Anne Roy, told CBS This Morning she was shocked.

"If CPS gets a call, you want them to check on the welfare of the children," she says. "However, I think that when they're getting these kinds of frivolous calls it's wasting resources."

But Christine James-Brown, president and CEO of the Child Welfare League of America, says while some investigations will inevitably prove a waste in the end, that doesn't mean agencies should forgo them.

"The first responsibility is to that child," she says. "So let's not let all this free-range stuff get in the way just because it looks like this mother's OK. 'Cause there are lots of people where it's not OK."

Most child welfare cases today are for neglect, not abuse. As for allowing kids out without supervision, few states set a strict minimum age, instead advising parents to use their judgment. Parents must ask themselves, is my child mature? Do they know how to call 911? How to reach a parent?

"The way neglect is defined in the law, it's a very vague definition, it kind of has to be," says John Myers, who teaches family law at the University of the Pacific in Sacramento, Calif., and represents children in juvenile court.

A 10-year-old may be perfectly fine walking alone in one neighborhood, he says, but might not be safe in another with drug dealers on the corner.

"We hate to say that the people that live in those two communities ought to be treated differently because we would probably get into uncomfortable issues of socioeconomic status and ethnicity," he says. "But that's the reality in our country."

Myers sees a clear link between poverty and what some may consider neglect. Last year, a single mother in South Carolina was arrested for letting her daughter play in a park while she worked at McDonald's. Myers says working parents — with no money for a sitter, no car, no spouse — may well leave kids alone out of necessity. But it doesn't mean they don't care.

"If anything, parents who live in poverty are more likely to be helicopter parents," he says. "They're more worried about their children when they go to school, whether they'll be sucked into gang life, teaching them how to duck when they hear gun fire and all kinds of stuff, because they understand some of the risks their children may be exposed to."

Safe neighborhood or not, James-Brown says attitudes have changed. As a child, she walked to school alone and neighbors looked out for her. When she became a mom, James-Brown tried to do the same, once warning another dad that his daughter was dodging cars in a street game of chicken.

"Well, the parent laid me out," she says. "And so what is it now about our communities that that would happen? You know, you go from the expectation that somebody's gonna tell Mom, to if told, they'd be viewed as busybodies."

Communities today may be made up of strangers, but James-Brown says they still have a stake in how kids are raised and a role to play in keeping them safe. She hopes all the media scrutiny gets more people thinking about what that role should be.

Minimum Age Kids Can Be Unsupervised At Home, By State

AlabamaNone
ArizonaNone
ArkansasNone
CaliforniaNone
ConnecticutNone
FloridaNone
HawaiiNone
IdahoNone
Illinois14
IndianaNone
IowaNone
LouisianaNone
MaineNone
Maryland8
MassachusettsNone
MinnesotaNone
MissouriNone
MontanaNone
NebraskaNone
NevadaNone
New HampshireNone
New JerseyNone
New Mexico10
New YorkNone
North Carolina8
OhioNone
OklahomaNone
Oregon10
PennsylvaniaNone
South CarolinaNone
South DakotaNone
TexasNone
UtahNone
WisconsinNone

Notes

* The state does not set a specific age in law, but offers this as a guideline.
- Information not available for Alaska, Kentucky, Rhode Island, Vermont, West Virginia and Wyoming.

Nerds Without Pants

by on Feb. 18, 2015 at 9:07 AM
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Replies (1-10):
NWP
by guerrilla girl on Feb. 18, 2015 at 9:10 AM
4 moms liked this

WTF with 14 in Illinois? I was driving by then!

rpmracing
by on Feb. 18, 2015 at 9:23 AM
I was 8 and caring for my younger sisters alone before and after school. By 10 I was babysitting. I think parents these days don't expect their children to do much alone. Kids are much smarter and can adapt easily. They should be held to some standard of responsibility at young ages. I trust all three of my kids outside alone in our yard. They are 2,4,&5.; All three know both mine and my husband's phone numbers by heart. They know where to go in the case of an emergency. My 5 yr old called 911 the other day bc my neighbors kids ran to my house bc theirs was on fire. They were hysterical and their mom was inside still.She took initiative and got my phone and dialed 911. I trust my kids to make good decisions in nearly all situations. Just my opinion, I'm probably biased because I grew up walking alone to my uncles with the dog a 1/4 miles from my nannies house. I grew up very loosely as did my dh. He was driving his go kart around his neighborhood at 5 yrs old!
NWP
by guerrilla girl on Feb. 18, 2015 at 9:33 AM

I'm in my 40s and most people I grew up with were just thrown out of the house until dinner time. No cell phones, no communication or tracking with mom and dad....just out, on their own, until dark. I played in the woods alone! Near a railroad track! Sometimes I walked the track the 1/2 mile to the park. I usually rode my bike the two miles to school starting in the 2nd grade through town. No one considered it abuse or neglect back then. And 911 wasn't even around. 

I remember that every night a PSA would come across the TV (there were only 3 networks and PBS back then) Asking "It's 10pm...Do you know where your children are?" Can you imagine that now?

I think we have made some needed improvements to that way of raising kids...statistically, kids are MUCH safer now than in the 80s and our attention contributed to that...but we have gone too far in the other direction and need to let up a little. 

Of course your kids are safe in your yard for example. 

Quoting rpmracing: I was 8 and caring for my younger sisters alone before and after school. By 10 I was babysitting. I think parents these days don't expect their children to do much alone. Kids are much smarter and can adapt easily. They should be held to some standard of responsibility at young ages. I trust all three of my kids outside alone in our yard. They are 2,4,&5.; All three know both mine and my husband's phone numbers by heart. They know where to go in the case of an emergency. My 5 yr old called 911 the other day bc my neighbors kids ran to my house bc theirs was on fire. They were hysterical and their mom was inside still.She took initiative and got my phone and dialed 911. I trust my kids to make good decisions in nearly all situations. Just my opinion, I'm probably biased because I grew up walking alone to my uncles with the dog a 1/4 miles from my nannies house. I grew up very loosely as did my dh. He was driving his go kart around his neighborhood at 5 yrs old!


Nerds Without Pants

stacymomof2
by Ruby Member on Feb. 18, 2015 at 9:35 AM
I would feel perfectly fine with leaving my kids for a half hour or so (they are 9 and 7) because they know how to reach me and their dad and the neighbor. I was babysitting at 9.
NWP
by guerrilla girl on Feb. 18, 2015 at 9:37 AM

NWP
by guerrilla girl on Feb. 18, 2015 at 9:40 AM

My state has a *suggested* age. I've left my 10yo alone for short periods of time but not my 5yo. 

nb34
by Platinum Member on Feb. 18, 2015 at 9:43 AM

I have left my 8 1/2 year old alone for short period of time once so far. I take his lead. He doesn't really like being alone, but if I am running an annoying but quick errand, and he prefers to stay home for 20 min, I don't see anything wrong with it. He is smart and capable. Our state does not have a minimum age.

heresjohnny
by Silver Member on Feb. 18, 2015 at 9:47 AM

I find that more often than not, with stories about big bad CPS investigating a free-range parent, there's a lot of important info the reporter conveniently leaves out. There's a reason why a lot of states are hesitant to give a firm number. That's because a lot of times it's a case-by-case basis. There's an unlimited number of factors that can determine if the child in any specific situation was in danger. How mature is the child? How far away were they allowed to go? How long were they out? Did they have to cross any major streets? What's the crime rate in your area? How fast do cars usually drive down your street? How quickly can they contact you in an emergency? Etc, etc, etc. As for leaving a kid home alone, the questions would obviously be a little different, but there's just as many factors that can come into play.

I consider myself a free-range parent. But I think the grey area comes when someone calls themselves free range, but they're really just lazy and don't give a shit what their kids are doing.

Luvnlogic
by Platinum Member on Feb. 18, 2015 at 9:54 AM
My DS is a space cadet who zones on video games so I didn't trust him home alone until he was 11...and just for less than an hour at a time. My dd is still too young at 5. I'll leave him to watch her for short periods maybe in a year or so, depending on how he matures. ;)

I was babysitting babies and kids from a pretty young age (10-11) and my bro and I (3 yr younger than I) came home to an empty house most afternoons from even younger than that. But since I'm a SAHM, it hasn't been a necessity for me so I really have to push beyond my comfort zone to leave them to their own devices.
Liz132
by Bronze Member on Feb. 18, 2015 at 9:59 AM

 14 in Illinois is ridiculous! It depends on the maturity of the child and the amount of time they are going to be unsupervised. Some children would be fine staying home on their own for a short period of time at 8 some would need a few more years I think by 10-12 most kids would be able to handle being home alone for a few hours.

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