Is My Child Ready to Stay Home Alone This Summer?

“Tobe, we need to talk about what to do with the kids this summer.”

My wife’s simple statement was clear.  My ears, though, heard, “We need to organize, register and pay for the kids various summer camps immediately – like now.”

This happens every year.

I poo-poo my wife’s early engagement with the “summer” discussion via a shoulder shrug in late February.  My reaction quickly pivots to a disgusted, broken sigh and head nod by early-March.

The tide has come in, it’s time to act.

Like most parents of elementary-schoolers, the day has come to pay up and get organized for summer and the prospect of paying for summer care can be daunting.  So, to my surprise, when I started to crunch the numbers, I was suddenly energized.

“Honey, Yosef can stay home this year.  Don’t you think?”  My excitement was obvious and short-lived.  “That would save us a ton!”

My wife’s dismissive, you-cheap-skate stare said it all.  This was not an option.

Ok, she’s probably right.

I’m left wondering, though – what does conventional wisdom say about converting my summer campers into latch-key kids?

There seem to be multitudes of experts that come to two, indecisive conclusions:

(1) Leaving kids home alone prior to age 10 is not advisable and, in some states, illegal.

(2) This decision depends on a subjective analysis of your child – a judgment for which no hard-and-fast rules exist.

So, while experts will not provide a concise answer, they can suggest criteria by which to evaluate my son’s level of readiness for such a responsibility.

One such publication by the Ohio State University Extension Office lists Physical, Intellectual and Social/Emotional attributes that help define latch-key preparedness.

The physical qualities are fairly straight-forward.  My son should be able to operate a door lock, simple household appliances and a phone.

Yosef has this covered, no problem.

Intellectual readiness boils down to the ability to follow instructions – both in terms of written house rules and those given remotely by a person of authority.

Yosef, again – check.

Social/Emotional readiness involves the evaluation of the confidence required to be home alone for hours each day.

Yosef’s score on this one – a bashful, maybe.  I’d say he’s capable but not confident.

Unfortunately for me, the test for staying home is pass or fail and 2 out of 3 is not going to cut it for Yosef this time around.

I’m now on-board with my wife.  Sending all of my kids to the $125 per week day-camp starting in May is the right thing to do this summer.

That said, I can’t ignore the thought of trying to inch Yosef toward taking on this responsibility next year.

Yosef will be 12 years-old during the summer of 2018 and there is no question that he’ll yearn for the freedom that independent days at home will allow.

I need a plan.

Thankfully, the O.S.U. Extension Office provides several topics of conversation to prepare your tween for staying home alone when they show the confidence and interest to do so.

These discussion points can be summarized in two larger, general ideas:

(1) Work together to develop a keen understanding of the rules and a daily plan for how to spend the hours of freedom.

Topics to discuss with my son are broad – ranging from who can come into the house to internet usage to incorporating chores into the daily routine.

(2) Clearly craft an emergency plan.

The Ohio State piece suggests emergency preparedness that goes beyond schooling my son about simply calling 9-1-1.

To stay home alone, my son needs to understand first-aid, power outages, safe places, how to evacuate and the need for a “code word” that will allow for chatting through a third-party if necessary.

These discussions take time – they certainly won’t help me this summer.

Armed with these ideas, though, I now understand the work I need to do.

For now, I’ll write the checks and take the time to build Yosef’s confidence toward independence.  While doing so, maybe I’ll include his now 9 year-old brother, Lynden, in our discussions – for two reasons.

First, to build our collective confidence in being independent.  And, secondly, just maybe I’ll include Lynden in preparation for my pitch leading into next summer – that both boys are capable of staying home together.

I just cannot resist the urge – so, yes, insert my wife’s dismissive, cheap-skate glare here.

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