Some provinces dictate by law when children can be allowed at home alone, unsupervised. That’s normally the age of 12, when they are deemed mature enough to not only look after themselves, but babysit.
Alberta is not one of those provinces with a strict family services act. Our province believes that it’s up to the parents to determine whether children can conduct themselves accordingly.
It’s a different world today, with the entire world available on the other side of a computer screen or wireless device. So many inappropriate videos online to watch, so many strangers lurking on social media channels like Facebook. Back in the day there were dangers as well, but those were usually associated with a hot stove or smoking or having a bunch of wild friends over to party. Different concerns but perhaps parents need to take the same approach.
Child Safe Canada is an organization that provides information to parents about keeping children safe and offers babysitting training and home alone courses for children. Tracy Warren of Child Safe Canada says her organization recommends leaving children alone in short bursts of time, rather than proclaiming one day that they are now ready for responsibility. Warren recommends beginning the process about the age of 10 years.
That means starting with five or ten minute absences. Take the dog for a walk, go to the store and back; visit a neighbour down the street. Start small and build trust. Trust that the child will be able to manage alone and for the child, trust within him or herself that they are capable and responsible and ultimately, that you’ll return when you say you’re going to return.
Other ways to make this transition smooth include:
- Choosing the right time of year. If you start in the late spring, it stays lighter later if being alone in the dark is concern for a child as young as 10 or 12.
- Keeping a list of emergency phone numbers either by your home phone or providing your child with a cell phone for in-home use only with emergency numbers pre-programmed into the phone.
- Don’t assume your child if familiar with ordinary noises in the house. They may have heard the dishwasher or the furnace kick in their whole lives but never put the noises into context. Do your radiator or hot water pipes creak or “tick”? Does the water softener make a noise when it shuts off? Could you child tell the different between the neighbour’s garage door closing and your own?
Just because your child has reached a certain “age” doesn’t mean they’re emotionally or psychologically prepared to be alone. You know your child best. If they need more time to feel confident there’s no need to push them along.
And if you have a very confident, capable child don’t assume they’re ready to spend the weekend alone either.
Look for an organization in your community or a Family and Community Support Services (FCCS) program to give your child or children some objective advice. There are one-day seminars for kids 9 to 12 years of age that cover everything from fire safety to how to navigate the kitchen. Plus, how to manage conflicts with other family members like uncooperative siblings.
It’s important to have frank conversations about family rules. Can your child have friends over when they’re alone? There’s no right or wrong answer really. What’s off limits, what’s acceptable? It doesn’t matter what your friends, neighbours or cousins are doing with their children. You’re the parents, you make the rules.
And the Province of Alberta agrees.