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Would You Leave Your Kindergartener Home Alone?

Photograph by Twenty20

Parenting has come a long way since we were kids. For instance, if mom wanted to check on her kid throughout the day, all she had to do was pick up the phone and start dialing or, in my case, ring a bell on the neighbor's front porch. Either way, she knew where her kids were at all times—even when she didn't.

My parents never owned a car seat, nor did they pack peanut-free lunches or mind their language when children were in the room. They made up their own rules, designed to keep us alive, and that was good enough for them. But those days are over.

Guidelines for parents to follow nowadays are complicated and plentiful—many of which differ from state to state. From the moment a child is born until the day they leave for college, it's up to mom and dad to know the difference between recommended procedure and what can actually get them in trouble with the law.

But summer is a tough time for parents. Not everyone can afford camps, lavish resorts or time off. Most of us can't even pay for a used tent to throw in the backyard while we "work from home," which brings to light a recurring question: How young is too young for kids to be left alone?

The answer, once again, depends on where you live.

The National SAFEKIDS Campaign recommends that no child under the age of 12 be left at home alone. Age restrictions by state, however, don't always adhere to these guidelines.

While some states don't have specific age requirements in place, others are more exacting.

Photograph by mom.me

Case in point: New Mexico and Oregon both agree that 10 is the magic number for giving kids the keys to the kingdom, whereas Maryland and North Carolina maintain that 8 is old enough. Meanwhile in Illinois, children must wait until they're 14 to celebrate this newfound freedom.

And then there are states that simply can't make up their minds. Instead of setting an appropriate age for kids to legally stay home alone, these states have elected to play it unsafe with mere recommendations.

Age 12: Colorado, Delaware and Mississippi

Age 11: Michigan

Age 10: Tennessee and Washington

Age 9: North Dakota

Age 8: Georgia

Age 6: Kansas

Though city and county ordinances within each state may have more definitive and restrictive laws, the remaining 36 states seem to offer little advice on this subject.

Let me paraphrase that: Deep down, underneath all the chaos in the world today, we are all helicopter parents to some degree. We hover from a safe distance and second-guess every decision being made, especially when it comes to letting go of the wheel. But when it comes to leaving your kids home alone, you might want to wait until they're a little older and you can establish rules that you know they'll follow. Every kid is different, and so long as you don't run afoul of local laws, you know best when your kid is ready to be left home alone—even if it's just for a short time while you run to the store.

If your state is one of the 36 that does not list a specific age requirement, contact your local Department of Human Services (DHS) office or child welfare agency to learn more about local age guidelines that may exist in your area.

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