So one of this morning’s headlines on the news was that in the last year, 510 people have been arrested for leaving their children ‘home alone’. The youngest being a baby aged 6 weeks, the eldest 15 years old. Hmmm…. on doing a bit more delving, it seems that it’s not caused the stir on social media I thought it might. More of a little ripple. So I figured it was worth a post here, but way of creating conversation. It raises the whole ‘Madeleine McCann’ thing again, doesn’t it… only it kind of takes things to a whole new level.
It’s worth taking a look at the report here – it makes for interesting viewing. The Madeleine McCann case certainly brought parenting choices into focus at the time. Behind closed doors people were breathing a collective sigh of relief that it wasn’t their child, when they had taken similar chances for the sake of a few hours peace and meal with their other half. What the McCann case did was make it publicly, socially unacceptable to leave your child in a similar environment and selfishly (?) grab some food – EVEN if you had all the apparent safeguards in place.
What this new story today highlights is that parents are being caught out for ‘leaving their children’ in entirely different circumstances and as a parent I know this causes a huge challenge. Now, clearly leaving a 6 week old baby is on every level unacceptable. But what the report doesn’t really highlight are the circumstances in which these children have been left. How many of you have left a child in the car while you pop in to pay for fuel? Or pick up a pint of milk? How many have left the kids at home to go and run a 10 minute errand, or collect someone from the station on the other side of town? What about leaving them to watch TV, or play on their tablets, while you pop downstairs to the hotel bar for a quiet drink? How about leaving them at home while you pop to the shops – because you know it would take longer just getting them out of the house than it would take you to do the shopping on your own… in peace!? I can relate to all of these… with (pre) teenagers in the house I get the challenges, I understand the conflict and at times I’ve given way to their grumbles.
But in contrast, recently the Hub and I were heading out for an evening with friends. Child No1 was at her usual Cadets gathering and it left Child No 2 (age 12) on his own and I needed someone to ‘mind’ him for a few hours. Thankfully I have super family who live close by, but in conversation with someone who didn’t know us so well, I was left to feel like I was being the over-protective mother. ‘He’s old enough to be left on his own‘, ‘It’s only a few hours‘, ‘It’s only up the road, it’s not like you’re heading out-of-town, is it?’ Yes, he might be at secondary school and displaying great levels of independence (some might say too independent at times), yes, he might be a boy (how the hell does that matter), yes, we might only have been just up the road. But we are his parents and ultimately, it’s our choice. While the NSPCC says there are no laws, only guidance, I’m not sure leaving a child under the age of 11 (primary school age) alone in a house is appropriate… especially at night. I certainly don’t think ANY child under that age should be left and responsible for younger children… EVER. The question isn’t so much about how they behave when you’re gone (although that is a factor), but how equipped are they to deal with the unexpected…. power cut, injury, visitor to the house, phone call to the house? Do they know where to go? Who call? How to get help? On what level is it right to ask a child of that age to make decisions that even some adults would struggle to deal with?
It’s been a dilemma the Hub and I have been faced with in recent months. Now Child No2 is at secondary school… does it make him by rights more responsible? Does it make him by rights better equipped to deal with these sort of problems? Are we being negligent on that basis? But what’s that…? Child No1 – she’s almost 15… by rights, we could be hauled up for allowing her to stay alone on her own on a TD Day, couldn’t we?!
And what about the walk to school? In our case almost 1.5 miles along a fairly busy road? What about the walk to town with mates, or the time they’re playing football in the park? I don’t know about you, but I worry far more about those times than if I leave them for 15 minutes to pop to the local supermarket for milk and bread!
I know it’s not easy… as an idealistic parent of toddlers, I was quite clear on where my ‘home alone’ boundaries were, especially in light of the McCann disappearance. Teenage traumas seemed a lifetime away and yet today I are faced with the daily issues of going about our lives and keeping everyone happy. But as ever in our house, the rule is the same as it’s always been on so many subjects… we can discuss this all we like, you can plead with me all you like… you can present plausible arguments all you like… but I WILL always have the final say. And so far, so good.
The funny thing is… we live in a house which likes to creak and moan in the evenings, when the heating comes on – even I’ve had to wonder if there isn’t someone roaming around upstairs. But both the kids hate it… and (more so in the winter) would rather pop to the shops with me… where there’s more chance of a sweet treat, than risk the unseen visitor roaming the landing!!
Have a great week,MJ xx
If you want more information on whether it’s OK to leave your child alone the NSPCC have published guidelines here:
- Babies, toddlers and very young children should never be left alone
- Children under the age of 12 are rarely mature enough to cope in an emergency and should not be left at home alone for a long period of time
- Children under the age of 16 should not be left alone overnight
- Parents and carers can be prosecuted for neglect if it is judged that they placed a child at risk by leaving them at home alone
- A child should never be left at home alone if they do not feel comfortable with this, regardless of their age
- If a child has additional needs, these should be considered when leaving them at home alone or with an older sibling
- When leaving a younger child with an older sibling think about what may happen if they were to have a falling out – would they both be safe?