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Preparing Your Teen to be Home Alone

Friday, March 18, 2016 8:47 AM

Date night, a quick run to the store, hitting the gym for an hour… there are so many times parents wish they could leave kids at home instead of grabbing a babysitter or bringing everyone along. While most states have different laws, the state of Illinois regulates that legally, a child cannot be left alone until the age of 14. Before your child turns 14, it is important to make sure they are ready to be left alone. How can you tell when they are ready?


Before letting a child stay home alone, Jennifer Schott, MD, Pediatrician at NorthShore, wants parents to remember that every child is different. It is important to understand that while one kid may be ready at age 14 to be left home alone for a few hours, another may not be. And that’s okay.

In order to see if your teen is ready, consider these factors:

  • Maturity level
  • Length of time the child will need to stay at home alone
  • Is the child independent?
  • Are there any other children being left behind? If so, what ages?
  • Safety of the neighborhood
  • Are there neighbors nearby to check on the child, just in case?
  • Does the child want to stay at home alone?
  • Would the child feel safe staying home alone?
  • Does the child know what to do in case of an emergency?

Before parents leave their teen home alone, Dr. Schott suggests going over these steps together:

  • Memorize last name spelling, address and parents’ cell phone numbers.
  • Put together an emergency contact list on the fridge that contains the numbers of local emergency departments, grandparents, neighbors and if possible, the number of where the parents will be.
  • Walk through the house together to go over how to lock the windows and doors and how to close the blinds.
  • Meet with the neighbors beforehand as a family to inform them that your teen will be home alone and ask if they would be around just in case.
  • Designate a “safe house” (with the neighbor’s permission) where your child can run to if he or she is in danger.
  • Prepare easy snacks and meals that do not require the use of an oven or stovetop.

Before leaving your kid home alone at nighttime, practice a few trial runs and slowly build up everyone’s confidence. Start with a few daytime trials – such as a quick run to the grocery store or lunch with a friend – and increase the length of time you’re gone. Do this until both parents and children are comfortable for a night home alone. 

When you first left your kids home alone, how did you prepare them?