Sunday, March 15, 2009

Home alone

I received an interesting email inquiry last week, on a topic I think a lot of parents have questions about:

"This is kind of a random question, but since our children are getting older, I've been thinking a lot about how much supervision they need. For example, are there any laws on the books about me allowing my child to go the park, etc. by herself? If, God forbid, something were to happen, would I be charged with child neglect? If nothing happened, would I be charged with child neglect? In all seriousness I do not know if I am allowed to let my children play unsupervised. Can you help me know what is legal?"
Here's the response I sent:

"There is nothing about specific ages in the law, except for a provision in Nebraska Statute (28-710) that defines child abuse and neglect to include:

causing or permitting a minor child to be:
(iv) Left unattended in a motor vehicle if such minor child is six years of age or younger;

If you want my advice, I think kids who are in preschool are okay in a fenced yard or rural lawn for a few minutes while a parent puts the laundry in the dryer; kids who are 7-9 are okay to play outside and in the neighboring yards by themselves with an occasional check up by an adult, and kids who are 10 or older can ride or walk down to the neighborhood park without any adult supervision during daylight hours. After age 12, I'll give you one hour after sunset for every one year of additional age, but never beyond midnight until you graduate from high school. Those are parent/grandparent observations, though, not law."

Police officers investigate alleged child neglect cases regularly in Lincoln where someone has reported children left along or unsupervised. There are thousands of latch key kids in Lincoln who take care of themselves after school. How old is old enough to be left alone is a highly individual question. From the standpoint of what constitutes criminal child neglect, our officers look at the specific circumstances and the child's emotional and intellectual development. Are there obvious risks present? Does the child know where the parent is and how to contact the parent? Is there an emergency plan or a backup adult? Does the child have basic necessities, such as food, water, heat, and so forth? How long is the child left alone? ...and so forth.

Reasonable people can all disagree on these things, particularly for kids in the 7-12 year old range. It used to be pretty common for 12 year-olds to be employed as babysitters, and for second graders to watch Captain Kangaroo while mom went to the grocery store.


Anonymous said...

Wrong, it wasn't Capt. Kangaroo, it was Batman!

Chris said...

It was neither of those. It was Mr. Rogers and Electric Company!

Anonymous said...

This seems like an important topic to those that have youth 9-14
The far greater challenge is the 14-19 age. 9-14 is a time you are a protector. Then, what you do during this time becomes a factor when they are in the peer group of the late teens. I spent many years seeing alcohol as a substance of requirement. An activity that is acceptable by adults must be ok. I was wrong. I started to learn this in my early drinking years, about 15 or so. By the time I was 37 I woke up to this illusion. The point is, no matter how much of a protector you are it may not help when the decisions are the most important. I choose to write about the alcohol angle because when kids are alone is when the bottle of destruction will creep into the childs life. Friends become models, often following the examples of the parent/parents. A recent example is A.D
A.D was arrested for robbery. Dad was an alcoholic, deceased now. I know this boy can make it in life. I also know his grand pa (not personally) and the pain he has on his face is the same pain the young man packs around (or it may be he lost that race) I see him at the track on occasion. As far as the boy, if he goes to prison, his life will be unsalvageable. He essentialy was "left alone" most all of his life.
The positive side is kids left alone can get a sense of responsibility. I often left my teen alone and he decided to disregard the responsibility vested in him. What a sad waste, both of the above examples are a sad waste.

Anonymous said...

I do think your advice is very good. It shows a way to get the kids to know what to expect. They can even check to see what time sunset is and figure the time they have to be home.

Anonymous said...

I was startled to know I'm an occasional law breaker. Especially in the winter, I'll leave the kids in the car - like while I run in to drop off a prescription and again when I pick it up - 30 sec. max. I hate doing it but sometimes it's just too cold to drag them out and I do live in a small town. I didn't realize it was against the law. Good to know!

Anonymous said...

Once I got to be about 10 played outside a lot without supervision. The main rule was but I had to be in my own yard by the time the street lights came on. That and the temp had to be at least 60 degrees in the morning when I left for school if I wanted to wear shorts. :)

Anonymous said...

What is sad is that we are so busy in our lives that we have to leave our kids home alone. I think this thread has been here before. I truely dont think that any parent should leave a child home alone. I think and know that lives can be arranged in a way to avoid leaving children home. We have a ten year old and she is never left alone. we have jobs that allow one of us to be home for her all the time.

When the wife and I want to go out for dinner, we love to take our child. Here's why! We have spent the time to teach her to be polite and respect others. It is a pleasure to take my child with me anywhere I go. If a person does not like my child with me then they are not a person I want to be around anyway.

Children need supervision by one of the parents not day care or the regular babysitter. My child has been watched twice in her life by my mother. She was very young and the occcation was a funeral.

Say what you may, there is no better influence on a child like a parent. That said I do realize there are poor influences also!

Anonymous said...

The problem arises when the police respond because of an Anonymous caller. Many people stick their nose in where it doesn't belong and call to cause trouble. They are NOT held accountable, but, the police violate the parents 14th amendment by coming into peoples homes without permission.
Oh! we can't forget Nebraska's Nazi Law. "Spy on your neighbors or you go to jail".. that's always good for a 14th amendment violation.

ARRRRG!!!! said...

I don't worry about the kids when I leave them home alone.

Anonymous said...

March 16, 2009 8:51 PM
Writes:The problem arises when the police respond because of an Anonymous caller.

So I have to ask. What problem are you talking about? Is this a foil hat issue and if so, how did I miss the point. The other guess I have is that you are suggesting the police make a great laxative. I have tested this this theory. Simply repeating(quietly to yourself, you do not want others in the restroom to think your nuts) "The police are here, The police are here" promotes a very healthy bowel movement. Do not do this while getting a no tail light fix it ticket, or other traffic stop violation. Send SASE for all the details of this all natural cure for constipation. Another fine service of our local and state law officials.

Anonymous said...


Of course I grew up in a completely different environment and was unsupervised from age 6 up.

I often cooked the evening meal by the time I was 10.

But my back yard was 10 square miles and I WANTED to be back home by dark! (Of course you can light fire works any time of the year if you are a mile from anyone!!)

I learned all the great things from my parents and grandparents within their guidelines and rules - especially by their example.

Anonymous said...

Jim J... What are you talking about.

If a person who has a different thought about kids being alone calls the police anonymously they should be disregarded! Why should the rights of parents take an illegal back seat to an unknown busy body. Ding Dongs call the police against home schooled kids, private schooled kids who have different days off, or kids at home for any number of reasons-- ALL THE TIME. Perhaps a lesson on the Constitution would be helpful.