Opinion & Debate

Published on February 3rd, 2014 | by Kelly Rose Bradford


Leaving children on their own – at what age would you do it?

This excellent post on Quibly gave us much food for thought at parenting solo today. It asked when it was OK to leave your children at home on their own.

Obviously, making the decision when to leave your kids to fend for themselves is tough for any parent – but for single mums and dads, with no one to mull it over with and back up the decision, it can be an absolute minefield. What if your child’s other parent is not happy with the choice you have made? What if you are not happy for your child be left on his own, but your former partner is?

Being the sole decision maker is never easy, and as a parent, it is hard not to make comparisons with our own childhood – those of us of a certain age can probably remember walking to and from primary school alone, and maybe even spending entire days without adult supervision in the long school holidays if both parents worked. Despite this,  if we told our parents – our kids’ grandparents – that we were planning to allow our children to do the same, they would no doubt be aghast, claiming it was ‘different’ ‘back then’ – so no constructive help there!

As half term approaches, many working single parents will be trying to sort out childcare, and if their children are on the cusp of their teens, the ‘should I/shouldn’t I’ issue could be a real quandary. While some might be in a position to pay a childminder, organise play-dates or maybe even arrange with their employer to work from home, other parents will have no choice but to leave their kids at home alone. So at what age is it OK to do that?

My daughter is almost 11 and I will leave her for short periods if I need to pop out – I can’t envisage leaving her for more than twenty minutes or so until she is well into her teens though! – Mandy, mum to Ceri, 11

Surprisingly, there are no hard and fast rules in the UK in terms of the law, however, it is an offence to leave your child ‘at risk’.  There is some excellent advice on the NSPCC website about making the decision to leave youngsters, along with a downloadable guide to keeping your children safe at home.  Their case study raised a few eyebrows here though – (would YOU ever ask a 14-year-old to babysit a baby of 6 months, a toddler of 2 and a child of 5 with special needs? No, us neither).

My son is 13 and I do now leave him home alone – he knows not to advertise the fact he is on his own, and he is not allowed visitors if I am not there. My office is very close to home and we remain in email and Skype contact throughout the day. – Jason, dad to Tom, 13

So what age would you be happy leaving your child on their own? And do you agree this is a much harder call for lone parents to make than those in two-parent families?


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About the Author

Kelly Rose Bradford

is a London-based journalist and broadcaster, writing for the Daily Mail, the Daily Express, the Sunday Telegraph, and a host of women's magazines. Her robust opinions and feisty debating skills make her in demand as a social commentator, regularly guesting on ITV's This Morning programme, and across many radio stations, including 5 Live and BBC Radio London.

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