When Is It OK to Leave Your Teen Home Alone?


anxious and sad teenage girl with her phone teenage anxiety and panic attacks middle class dad

Can you leave your teenager home alone? For some parents, the very notion is preposterous. Other moms and dads are much more willing but still worry about safety, accountability and the fact that junior might just burn down the whole neighborhood or throw a keg party.

The answer is certainly subjective, but there are usually some scenarios that make sense and some that are definitely a no-go. To add some insight, the following considerations are presented to help you think it through and make the right call.

  1. Young and the Reckless

There is obviously a big difference between a 14-year-old and an 18-year-old. Most parents would be reticent to leave a high school freshman — or younger — alone for any length of time.

If there are a few hours between the end of school and any adult getting home from work, the best bet is to find an after-school activity for your teen rather than leaving them free to roam at home. Emergency or short-term situations (like running to the bank five blocks away) are probably acceptable, but use discretion and try to avoid it unless necessary.

  1. Older and Mature

Older kids present less of a problem. Even a 16-year-old likely shouldn’t be left alone overnight, but a few hours should be fine. Then again, age is nothing but a number.

Some 18-year-olds, for example, are incredibly immature or may suffer from issues that make discipline and self-control difficult. And there are 16-year-olds who already have a license, hold a steady job, always get straight As and star on the track team.

Ultimately, you can’t let the number of birthdays guide your decision. You know your kid like nobody else, and you are the best one to measure their individual maturity level. Unless you really fear you are irrationally being overly protective or overly lenient, try to trust your gut while erring on the side of caution.

  1. Fearing for Safety

For some parents, safety will be the only thing on their mind, and the very fear of something bad happening will prevent them from ever leaving their teenager alone.

How can you enjoy date night or the ballgame if you’re constantly worried that the house is on fire or someone is breaking in?

Beyond general fear, where you live matters. Are you in a crime-free suburb cul-de-sac where no serious risks exist outside the home? Or is there a credible worry that something could happen? Weigh those factors and, again, it’s always better to be safe than sorry.

  1. Security Precautions

To confront these ever-present safety concerns, one great way to add a little peace of mind is to take all the necessary precautions.

Become close with a neighbor or another trusted friend nearby who can keep watch for anything unusual, and consider implementing a home security camera system.

Maybe your valedictorian who will be on her way to Harvard University in three months is the most trustworthy mature young lady on earth, but still, you can’t help but panic at the thought of her being home by herself.

In this scenario — and really all others — you will feel much better about any time away if you have a security camera system or a friend nearby to look in once in a while. As an extra benefit, many home cameras can even be viewed remotely in real-time from almost any mobile device if you feel the urge to check-in.

Making a Decision

It will never feel fully right to leave a teenager at home. Even if they have spent years cooking, driving, working and helping to care for younger siblings, they will still be your little baby.

But there is a time to start to let go. It will be hard to ever do that before they leave the nest for real. And some “kids” are barely capable of watching themselves even at 25 years old.

The key is to weigh all the considerations, remember their age and maturity level, and take some common-sense safety precautions with the help of good friends and a security system.

Jeff Campbell

Jeff Campbell is a husband, father, martial artist, budget-master, Disney-addict, musician, and recovering foodie having spent over 2 decades as a leader for Whole Foods Market. Click to learn more about me

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