Every Day in the UK, a Parent Is Arrested for Leaving Their Child Home Alone

image source: thinkstock
image source: thinkstock

I was a latchkey kid. Remember those? Almost everyone I rode the school bus with had a key either around their neck, zipped into the pocket of their KangaROOS, or jammed into the bottom of their backpack. We were confident, we knew about stranger danger, and we were just fine.

The first time I stayed home alone I was probably 8 or 9. My mother and I lived in an apartment a few blocks away from where she was in law school and a few times I would stay home and watch The Carol Burnett Show while she went off to class.

By the time I was 10 my mother had graduated and was working full time. She gave me the option of going to an after-care program at my school, but none of the kids in my class were doing it. Besides I was comfortable being home by myself. The school bus would drop a handful of kids off in my neighborhood. We would walk together, a unified force, and then slowly peel off as we reached our individual streets.

I kept my key on a chain around my neck and tucked under my shirt. While I was in school during the day, I would feel the key on my skin and have this inner poise. Every afternoon, as soon as I reached my door, I would stop and make sure no one was lurking in the shrubs waiting to grab me or my key. I have no idea what I would have done if there actually ever WAS someone there, but I always checked. Once I was inside, door locked swiftly behind me, I would call my mom at her office and let her know I was home from school.

Of course this is where I should probably say I immediately sat down at my desk and did my homework. Sometimes that happened. Almost always I turned the TV on as soon as I walked into the house. The sound kept me company and it helped me keep track of time. (I will confess that while I was a latchkey kid in the fifth and sixth grades, I became mildly obsessed with Days of Our Lives because it aired as soon as I got home. I love you, Patch!)

What happened to the latchkey kids? Where did they all go? When did they fade away?

Our generation was left home alone because many of our parents worked away from home. It simply wasn’t that big of a deal. Over the years there seems to have been a shift in thinking and parents are doing some heavy evaluating about leaving children home alone.

In the UK the shift has gone incredibly sharp. According to data collected by the Press Association in the UK, “Every day a parent is arrested on suspicion of leaving one or more of their children at home alone.” The ages of the children in these cases range from newborn to 14 years old. I can get why leaving a newborn home alone is criminal, but what is wrong with leaving a 14-year-old? I don’t get it.

The Mirror newspaper explains, “The law does not specify an age at which parents can leave children alone, but those who do can be arrested and prosecuted for cruelty and neglect if it places them at risk.”

MP John Hemming has asked the government to clarify what is going on.”Parents often get confused by what is happening … An eight-year old can be sent to go swimming or to the park on their own, they are not allowed to stay at home [alone]. There does need to be more clarity on this.”

WOW. More clarity? There is zero clarity on what is happening. I would be so frustrated and terrified. Where is the common sense application? A child who is not able to take care of himself should never be put in such a position. To do so would absolutely be neglect. That being said, a child who IS able to comfortably be alone should be given the opportunity, regardless of what the law says.

We aren’t launched fully formed into adulthood at the age of 18. It’s a process and part of that process is being given the gift of responsibility and trust.

Babble’s Lizzie Heiselt recently shared how she started to recognize her 7-year-old was mature enough to stay home alone for bits of time:

“He’s responsible, he’s bookish, he’s a rule-abiding citizen of the family. I could leave and be gone an hour and he might never even notice, so deep does he go in his books.”

As in the UK, there are many states in America who have either not established a minimum age limit for a child to be left home alone, or have no minimum. The state where I was a latchkey kid has no minimum age limit.

Thinking about the age children can be left home alone reminded me a lot of the conversations many of us had about the public bathroom sign instructing boys over the age of 6 to use the men’s room. Many of us had strong reactions at the idea of an age limit and being told what to do. We know our kids and their abilities and their limits. The best people to determine whether or not your child is ready to stay home alone are you and your kid.

I know if I approached the subject with my almost 6-year-old son, W, he would completely panic. We are easing into independence. I ask him to take our garbage can from the backyard and roll it down to the end of the driveway or I let him go out to the car and collect a toy he left under the seat. It’s exhilarating for him to go beyond my apron strings and I am thankful he is cautious. When it feels right for him we will move up on the ladder of kid independence, but we’ve got time and I’m not pushing it. I’d like to think by the time he is 10 he could easily and comfortably be home alone the same way I once was. (Note: if you and your kids are talking about being home alone, please do make sure you are aware of any age limits within your state.)

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