My parents first left me home alone at age 12.
It was the mid-90s, so they didn’t have to worry about me watching inappropriate YouTube videos or being contacted by creeps on Facebook. But I was a pre-teen. Left to my own devices, would I throw a party, set things on fire or consume sickening amounts of Oreos? I had just finished a babysitting course so it “seemed like a good time,” my mom recalls.
My parents were also compelled to wait until age 12 because we lived in Manitoba. The family services act in that province, and in New Brunswick, stipulates that a child under that age cannot be left home alone. Other provinces, like Alberta and B.C., leave the decision up to parents.
So, how do you know when they’re ready? And how do you prepare your kids?
Tracey Warren, of Child Safe Canada, recommends training your child to stay home alone at the age of 10, but treating the transition as a process rather than an event.
“We’re talking five-10 minutes, adult or caregiver starting to go around the block. Then they are starting to maybe get the mail, then they’re starting to go to Safeway,” Warren said. “Process goes slow and takes time and has layers of safety and that’s what we need.”
Some of Warren’s tips for the transition include:
- Leave your child for small periods of time starting in the spring when it’s lighter later
- Include lists of emergency phone numbers by each phone in the house
- Familiarize your child with ordinary household noises
Child Safe Canada has created a home alone safety program that is distributed to community agencies, universities and colleges across the country.
Organizations like Beaumont’s Family and Community Support Services offer a one-day workshop for children aged nine to 12. It covers everything from fire and kitchen safety to coping with anxiety and dealing with conflicts with siblings.
“I don’t think there’s a magic age,” instructor Kaylene McKinney said.
“I really think it depends on the kids. There’s some nine-year-olds that would be completely ready for that and some 12-year-olds that wouldn’t be.”
McKinney teaches her kids that they need to know what the ground rules are. Are they allowed to use the microwave? Can they go over to a friends when they are home alone?
“Courses like this just kind of open that dialogue with their parents.”
Warren isn’t in favour of a blanket law legislating age to stay home alone in Canada.
“I really like the concept of leaving that within the hands of the province itself, which really is leaving it in the hands of social workers,” Warren said.
She said legislating a specific age doesn’t prevent parents with younger children from leaving them on their own; it just isolates them because their parents don’t want anyone to know they’ve left their kids.
“What happens is we have these kids not being able to reach out when a small situation is arising which could potentially lead to a bigger situation.”
Alberta has no immediate plans to etch an age into law.
“Parents and caregivers are in the best position to make responsible and safe choices for the children in their care,” Aaron Manton, spokesperson for the Ministry of Human Services, said. “In the event that a member of the public has a concern regarding a child or children being left alone, and the matter is reported to Child and Family Services, the situation will be assessed and a determination will be made whether the child or children are deemed to be in need of intervention services.”