What Age Can a Massachusetts Child Stay Home Alone?

by | Jul 5, 2024 | Children |

School’s out, and unless you’ve booked them into summer camp, Massachusetts kids are home for the next few months. Which is great. Until you remember that not all of us get summer vacation and day to day life doesn’t stop in mid-June and resume in September.

You still have work, run errands and everything else, complicated by the presence of – as much as you love them – your kids.

As the reality of summer begins to set in – parents are faced with the constant question for the next two and a half months. Who’s going to watch the kids?

To answer the question with a question – does anyone have to?

Here’s where the law in Massachusetts stands on leaving your kids home unsupervised.

Is there a minimum age for leaving your kids at home?

Technically, there isn’t one – but don’t go leaving a note on the fridge yet. While the state does not set a specific age, potential cases of abandonment and neglect will be investigated on a case-by-case basis.

Here’s the definition of neglect as provided the state.

Neglect means failure by a caretaker, either deliberately or through negligence or inability, to take those actions necessary to provide a child with minimally adequate food, clothing, shelter, medical care, supervision, emotional stability and growth, or other essential care; provided, however, that such inability is not due solely to inadequate economic resources or solely to the existence of a handicapping condition. This definition is not dependent upon location (i.e., neglect can occur while the child is in an out-of-home or in-home setting.)

Again, this is a case-by-case basis. But leaving a 10-year-old unsupervised from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. probably won’t go over well.

So what are your options?

There’s a middle ground between sleep-away camp and the plot of Home Alone. The main goal is to keep everyone occupied and watched over.

Sending them to a friend’s house is often simplest but there are more structured approaches. Day camps at local sports clubs are currently taking registrations, museum art classes and other managed activities for parents in situations just like this.

How do you know what age you can leave your kid home alone?

There’s no magic age that works for every child. But for what it’s worth, the nonprofit Safe Kids Worldwide, recommends starting to leave kids home alone between the ages of 12 and 13.

But that does depend on their maturity level.

“Parents should look for signs of responsibility when their children are with them before leaving them home alone. Are they able to follow directions without being told repeatedly? Do they only follow directions if you are there watching? If they only follow the rules when you’re watching, it’s unlikely that they will follow them when they are home alone,” Rolanda Mitchell, an education counselor at North Carolina State University, told USA Today in 2019. “School behavior can also be a good indicator because school is where children spend the most of their time without their parents watching. If they’re misbehaving or violating rules, they may do the same when they’re home alone.”

When first starting to leave a child home alone, she recommended setting ground rules that include explaining the consequences of breaking or following the rules. She also said it’s important to outline safety rules, such as who to call in the event of an emergency or how to handle someone knocking on the door.

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