My oldest kids are 15, 13, and 10 (girl, girl, boy), and the question "Why can't I just stay home?" has come up more than once. I don't have a problem with leaving our 15- or 13-year-olds home alone for a few hours... but our 10-year-old? Not yet. Maybe with one of his older sisters, but not by himself.
This is clearly a case of "Do as I say, not as I do" -- or used to do. I stayed home alone for brief periods of time -- so my mom could make a quick run to the grocery store or the post office, for instance -- when I was 10, and I was babysitting by the time I was 12. I kept an eye on my two younger brothers back then, too; it was the early '80s, and as long as we didn't turn on the stove or go in the deep end of the pool while we were home alone, it was OK. Times were different then, I guess.
My husband says he was staying home by himself for a few hours at a stretch by the time he was in the 4th grade; he and his younger brother were latch-key kids in New York in the '70s. "They had keys and called me as soon as they arrived home," my mother-in-law says. "They were responsible and I had certain rules that they had to follow."
The National SAFEKIDS Campaign recommends that no child under the age of 12 be left home alone, some states have set their own legal minimums (Massachusetts has none). Of course, the child's personality and maturity level has to be taken into consideration, too. (My parents are still leery about letting my youngest brother stay at their place by himself, thanks to his party-hearty teenage years -- and he's married and in his 30s now!)
Over at Full Time, All the Time, Miss Britt wonders when it's OK to let her 9-year-old son stay home alone; the discussion is getting interesting, so I thought I'd ask the veteran parents over here: At what age would you think it's OK to leave you child home alone for a few hours during the day? What about at night? And how old were you when you started staying home by yourself?
Lylah M. Alphonse is a Globe staff member and mom and stepmom to five kids. She writes about juggling career and parenthood at The 36-Hour Day and blogs at Write. Edit. Repeat. E-mail her at firstname.lastname@example.org.