What age can you start leaving your child home alone? 

Michael Flippo, ThinkStock

In Illinois, parents can leave their children home alone at the age of 14. In Maryland, the age is eight. There are no laws on the books in New Jersey as to what age a child can be left home alone, but Safe Kids Worldwide recommends that no child under the age of 12 be left home alone.

"Clearly, there is not a consensus about what age is a good age to leave a child home alone," said Maurice Elias, psychology professor at Rutgers University. "I think the vast majority of people would say that under any kind of normal circumstances, you wouldn't want to leave a child under 10 home alone."

But, a lot depends on the child and how well he or she responds to emergency situations. "What happens if a fire alarm goes off, what happens if something catches fire, will your child know what to do under those circumstances?" Elias said.

Before parents leave their child home alone, they should ask themselves the following questions:

  • Does my child follow through on responsibilities?
  • Does my child follow the rules?
  • Does my child typically follow safety measures around the house?
  • Does my child generally follow instructions?

"If the answer to one or more of those questions is no, then frankly, it doesn't matter how old your child is, he or she is not ready to be left alone," Elias said.

When parents feel that their child is ready to be home alone, it is important that ground rules are set. Children need to know what to do if something happens and who to call, so that they do not have to think about it if and when it does happen. Parents should always be accessible by phone and if they are not, it is important to have another adult available in the event of an emergency.

Elias said parents should have a couple of dry runs before leaving children alone for longer periods.  "Start out by leaving the child for 15 minutes, or 20 minutes, where you are not far away at all. That will assure your child, and you, that everyone is comfortable with the situation."

If you do not feel that your child is ready to be left alone, think of other options. You can always get a babysitter, bring the child with you or find somewhere for the child to go.

In the future, more states could decide to set specific age regulations on when a child will be allowed to be left home alone, especially since more parents are working these days.