Like most states, New York doesn't offer clear-cut guidelines on when you can leave your children home alone, but leaving kids alone can be a positive experience that builds their self-esteem and encourages independence. The key to safely leaving kids at home alone is careful preparation and smart risk management.
As of the date of publication, the state of New York has no laws stipulating when a child can be left home alone. The decision is left to the discretion of parents. According to the New York State Office of Children and Family Services, "All children develop at their own rate, and with their own special needs and abilities. Some children are responsible, intelligent, and independent enough to be left alone at 12 or 13 years of age. Likewise, there are some teenagers who are too irresponsible or who have special needs that limit their ability to be safe if they are left alone."
To further complicate the issue, although state law is ambiguous on when you can leave your children home alone, you can be held legally responsible if anything happens to your children while you are gone. According to a 2008 article in "The New York Times," Kim Brathwaite of Brooklyn was arrested on charges of criminal recklessness after her two children, ages 9 and 1, died alone in a house fire. She left the children alone to go to work because the babysitter didn't come. The charges were later dropped, but cases such as these add to parents' trepidation and confusion.
Before you leave your child home alone, carefully consider her emotional maturity and readiness. Talk with your child about how she feels about being left home alone. Some children relish the thought of a little independence, while other kids feel anxiety and fear. A child who doesn't feel ready to be home alone probably isn't. Additionally, some children are perfectly capable of staying home alone, but might not be mature enough to babysit younger siblings. Take younger children with you the first few times you're away. Bottom line: You know your kids better than anyone. Trust your intuition and good judgment.
Preparation for leaving your kids home alone starts months, and even years before. Even preschoolers can learn their address, phone number and how to call 911. Teach your children basic safety rules, such as never giving personal information over the phone or answering the door when you're not home. Children should know how to use appliances safely and how to treat minor cuts and scrapes. Before you leave kids home for an extended time, leave them home for a few minutes while you run to the neighbors. Make a short trip to the store and slowly work up to an hour or two. Give your children specific instructions for while you're gone. Set boundaries on activities, such as no going outside, as well as ideas for snacks. Talk through potential situations, such as what to do if someone comes to the door. Leave your cellphone number and check in frequently. If possible, ask a trustworthy neighbor to keep an eye on things while you're gone.
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