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Maybe you’ve already decided that this summer, your kids will stay home by themselves while you go to work. It might be that day camp or babysitting is just too expensive. It might be that your kid thinks he’s too old for supervision. Your plan might even be that the oldest child will watch the younger ones.

If you’ve decided that this summer your kids will be home alone, then it’s probably useless to try to talk you out of that. What you need is a little advice on how to pull this off.

  1.  Kids under the age of 10 need supervision, no matter what they say. While state courts do not endorse an age at which it’s okay to leave children home alone, states do tend to agree that leaving 10-year-olds home alone is not automatically an indicator of neglect.  This means that your younger children must be enrolled in childcare of some sort or supervised at home by someone obviously capable of the task.
  2. Kids between 10 and 16 need careful scheduling if they are home alone. Kids and teens shouldn’t have the entire day to spend however they wish. Idle hands still are the devil’s workshop, as the old saying goes, so keep your kids busy even though you’re not there. Set a time for getting out of bed each day, assign daily chores, set goals for daily reading or other study, and work with your kids to create special projects, sports participation, and other activities. Your children’s days should be packed with approved activities.
  3. Kids between 10 and 16 need explicit rules and guidelines. Make certain you and your children understand who is permitted to be in the house and yard, how far your kids may go away from home, and what to do in case of various emergencies. Tighten up the filters on the television and computer. Stock the fridge and pantry with only healthy foods. Make certain that kids include care for pets in their thinking, so that the family animals are not neglected or endangered.
  4. Kids between 10 and 16 need checking-on. Require a phone call at breakfast, again at lunch, and in the middle of the afternoon. Make yourself available to take these calls in person – they shouldn’t just go into voicemail. Keep in mind that your child may not be entirely comfortable being home alone and a quick conversation with you may be necessary to help your kid get through the day. Checking-in is not just for checking-up but supports your child’s ability to manage.
  5. Kids get into trouble, so expect it. If you’re asking your kids to manage themselves responsibly, you’re asking a great deal of brains that are not fully developed and moral perspectives that are not entirely ready to be tested. Expect that your kids will do things that are forbidden and will lie to you about it. Keep your eyes open and be ready to reteach and support your kids even more. Remember that their missteps are a result of your decision to rely on their incomplete abilities and are not entirely their fault.

If your summer plan hinges on an older sibling watching younger brothers and sisters, understand that the older child will need a great deal of support. Consider how hard it is for you to be a parent when kids are home on school vacation, despite your experience and authority. An older sib has little experience and may not be able control younger kids. He or she may struggle to keep the little ones fed and cared for, let alone entertained. Certainly do not attempt leaving a child under 14 in charge of younger kids, and be careful in deciding to let even high school kids manage several children. Asking this of your teen is asking a great deal.

Keep in mind that you are the parent here and even if you ask your children to be responsible for themselves during the day this summer, you are still the responsible party. It’s hard work to coordinate things when you’re not on the scene and it requires constant communication with your kids and lots of support. If you can work from home, even a couple days a week, that might be helpful to the entire family. If you can find a responsible adult who already works from home and can work from your home during the summer, that might be another way to keep your kids supervised and safe.

Whatever you decide, keep your kids’ well-being in mind. That’s the key to a happy summer.

© 2012, Patricia Nan Anderson.  All rights reserved.