When your kids were younger, you wondered when you could leave them home alone for the first time. Now that they're teenagers, you may be wondering when you can leave them home alone overnight—either because you have to travel for work or because you'd like to get away with a romantic partner or friend. Before you take this step, though, you should carefully weight the following factors:
- Your teens' ages and maturity. Young teens should never be left home alone overnight. Older teens who are confident staying home alone during the evening, and who have shown you that they can take care of themselves—and have good problem solving skills—may be ready to stay home alone for one night. Parents should generally reserve this privilege for teens who are old enough to drive and are approaching college age.
- Evidence of good decision making. Age alone should not be the deciding factor. There are plenty of 17- and 18-year-olds who aren't ready for the responsibility of being alone overnight. Look for a history of good decisions such as refusing to give in to peer pressure and doing what's right—especially when doing what's convenient would be easier.
- Who will be nearby in the event of an emergency. Parents who live in a secure apartment building may be more comfortable knowing that help is close by. At the very least, you should let a trusted neighbor know that you'll be away and that your teens may call if they get spooked or need assistance.
- What your teens will be doing. How will they be occupying their time? Will they be attending school, going to events/practices, or hanging out with friends? Be clear about your expectations, as well as any limits around having people over and abiding by your family's house rules.
- How you'll be checking in with one another. Have a plan in place for regular texts and phone calls, as well as what you'll do if you don't hear back in a reasonable amount of time.
- Whether they're responsible for younger children. In general, you should avoid leaving your teenage children home alone overnight with younger kids. That's a lot of responsibility on a young set of shoulders. Instead, make other arrangements for your younger children.
- Your neighborhood. Consider, too, the security of your neighborhood, in general. Certainly, if there have been break-ins or if your have any safety concerns at all, you should not leave your teens alone overnight. You may also feel more comfortable with a security system in place. However, being able to turn an alarm on shouldn't be the tipping factor in letting teens who aren't otherwise ready stay home by themselves overnight.
- The law. Some states actually have laws in place stipulating when children can be left home alone. While laws about overnights are more rare, you should double check with your state, county, and local municipality to be sure you're not violating a statute by leaving your teens home alone overnight.
- Other options. Finally, if you're still wrestling with whether your teens are ready to stay home alone overnight, consider other options. Can you make arrangements for them to stay with your ex, another family member, or some friends? While you can pretty much guarantee that you'll never be 100 percent comfortable the first time you leave them overnight, it's absolutely vital that you listen to your intuition and determine whether any lingering concerns are really indications that they're not ready. When in doubt, turn to your trusty list of backup childcare providers.