Summer safety for 'tweens' home alone

June 9, 2008 Volume 4 Issue 1
  • Nearly two-thirds of parents of "tweens" (age 11-13) have left them home alone for 1-2 hours.
  • 1 out of 5 parents have left tweens home alone for an entire day.
  • Over one-quarter of parents have not talked "a lot" with their tweens about neighborhood, Internet or home safety.
  • Parents have more confidence in their tweens' ability to follow guidelines for gun and fire safety than for Internet or storm safety.

School is out, and millions of “tweens” (children age 11-13) will be left home alone by their parents for a couple hours, an afternoon or even the entire day. Leaving tweens home alone allows them to gain independence, but also presents unique challenges for parents.

There are no formal guidelines for parents to follow when it comes to leaving tweens at home by themselves. Because leaving tweens home alone is a common challenge for parents, the goal of this poll was to ask parents what they think is an appropriate age to leave a child home alone, how often they leave their children home alone, how much have they talked about safety issues, and how confident they are that their children will follow basic safety rules.

Home Alone

In April 2008, the C.S. Mott Children's Hospital National Poll on Children's Health asked parents what is an acceptable age to leave a child home alone. On average, parents said that 11-12 years old was an appropriate age for child to be home alone for an hour or two. Among parents with children 11 to 13 years, nearly two-thirds have left their tweens home alone for an hour or two, and nearly 1 in 5 parents have left tweens at home alone for an entire day (Figure 1).

Safety Talk with Tweens

Children who are home alone need to understand a variety of safety issues. Parents were asked to indicate how much they have talked with their tweens about safety issues, reporting whether they have discussed safety issues “a lot”, “somewhat” or “have not” discussed them. Our findings indicate that:

  • 32% of parents have not or have somewhat discussed neighborhood safety
  • 30% of parents have not or have somewhat discussed Internet safety
  • 28% of parents have not or have somewhat discussed home safety

Confidence in Following Safety Guidelines

Parents were asked to rate how confident they were that their children would follow safety guidelines if left home alone. Most parents were “very confident” that their tweens would not play with guns and would exit the house immediately if there were a fire. In comparison, parents were less confident that tweens would go to a safe place during a storm and that they would not give out personal information over the phone or Internet (Figure 2).

Confidence in Tweens Home Alone

Parents who are more confident in their tweens’ safety skills are generally more likely to leave them home alone. However, even among the group of parents who DO leave their tweens alone, many are NOT particularly confident about safety guidelines:

  • 30% of parents whose tweens stay home alone lack confidence that their children would not give out personal info over the phone
  • 28% of parents whose tweens stay home alone lack confidence that their children would not give out personal info over the Internet
  • 25% of parents whose tweens stay home alone are not fully confident their children will use a stove, oven, or microwave safely
  • 11% of parents whose tweens stay home alone are not fully confident their children will not play with guns

Implications

There is no magic age at which it is safe to leave a child home alone. During the summer months, millions of parents face decisions about whether to leave their tweens home alone. Decisions can be especially challenging, because some summer camps may limit children in this age group; other parents simply cannot afford to send their tweens to summer activities for all the hours that they work.

In this poll, we found that nearly two-thirds of all tweens are left home for at least an hour or two. Surprisingly, we also found that for several common safety guidelines, many parents did not feel fully confident that their tweens would follow essential safety guidelines if left home alone.

Before leaving children alone, parents should practice safety plans with their children and review and discuss common safety questions and situations.

Some resources to help parents with their decision to leave a child home alone include:
Internet safety: http://www.med.umich.edu/1libr/yourchild/internet.htm
Fire Safety: http://www.nfpa.org/
Gun Safety: www.med.umich.edu/1libr/yourchild/guns.htm

Data Source

This report presents findings from a nationally representative household survey conducted exclusively by Knowledge Networks, Inc, for C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital via a method used in many published studies. The survey was administered from April 11-29 to a randomly selected, stratified group of adults aged 18 and older (n=2,064) with and without children from the Knowledge Networks standing panel that closely resembles the U.S. population. The sample was subsequently weighted to reflect population figures from the Census Bureau. The survey completion rate was 53% among panel members contacted to participate.

C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital National Poll on Children’s Health
Director: Matthew M. Davis, MD, MAPP
Associate Director: Sarah J. Clark, MPH
Manager & Editor: Dianne C. Singer, MPH
Data Analyst: Amy Butchart, MPH

This Report includes research findings from the C.S. Mott Children's National Poll on Children's Health, which do not represent the opinions of the investigators or the opinions of the University of Michigan. The University of Michigan reserves all rights over this material.

1. At what age do you think it is acceptable for a child to be home alone?

  • For 1-2 hours [drop down box for age]
  • For a half day (4-5 hours) [drop down box for age]
  • For a work day (8 hours) [drop down box for age]

2. How often is your [11-13]–year old left home alone?

  Everyday 1-3 times per week 1-3 times per month Less than once a month Never
For 1-2 hours          
For 4-5 hours          
For a work day (8 hours of more)          

3. How confident are you that your child(ren) age 11-13 would follow these safety guidelines if home alone?

  Very confident Somewhat confident Not confident
a. Leave the house immediately in the event of a fire      
b. Do not give out personal information over the phone      
c. Do not give out personal information over the internet      
d. Will use a stove, oven or microwave safely      
e. Do not play with guns      
f. Go to a safe place to seek shelter during a storm      

Participants were also asked demographic questions on race/ethnicity, annual household income, children in the household and gender.

All information is the sole property of the University of Michigan CS Mott Children's Hospital Poll on Children's health. It can only be used if there is an acknowledgment that "The information came from, is copyright by and is owned by and belongs to the Regents of the University of Michigan and their C. S. Mott Children's Hospital National Poll on Children's Health. It cannot be republished or used in any format without prior written permission from the University."

C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital National Poll on Children’s Health
Director: Matthew M. Davis, MD, MAPP
Associate Director: Sarah J. Clark, MPH
Manager & Editor: Dianne C. Singer, MPH
Data Analyst: Amy Butchart, MS

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Percentage of parents who leave their 11 to 13 year old children home alone
Parents' confidence that their tween will follow safety guidelines if home alone