Leaving Teens Alone Overnight

Parent Q&A

  • Age to stay home alone overnight

    (6 replies)

    Starting at what age can responsible teenager stay home alone overnight? Not just a few hours during the day, but all night.

    My coworker said 15 years old girl can stay alone at home with the friendly family dog from 6 pm until 8 am while her mom is at work. She is a single mom, works night shifts, work is 45 minutes driving distance from home. Other coworker said that it is illegal.  Does teenager need a babysitter to stay with her overnight? My daughter is almost 15 too and I am paying to a babysitter to stay with her overnight. Is it unnecessary?

    Have you asked your teen how he/she feels? To me, gauging you teen's comfort level is key.  

    The key word here is "responsible":  It sounds as though you trust your daughter, and I think 14 going on 15 is plenty old enough to stay by herself.  If you have an alarm system, even more so.  Ditto if there is a trusted neighbor or nearby adult she could call.  Basically, she needs to be look out for herself in an emergency until you could get home -- whether it's an earthquake or an exploding water heater or whatever else could go wrong.  Your coworker who said this is illegal is wrong. 

    There's no California state law that sets a minimum age for this. The standards for child neglect or endangerment are, in general, a judgment call based on the overall circumstances (the child's age and maturity, how long and where and in what situation the child was left alone).  There are some states that have laws setting forth either a rule or a "guideline" for the minimum age to be left at home alone - it ranges from 6 to 14 - but I don't know of any that specifically address overnight vs during the day.  Handy reference here: http://www.freerangekids.com/laws/
    Is a sitter unnecessary for your 14-15 year old while you work night shift?  It's really up to you to decide whether your kid is mature enough and how comfortable you are with the resources she would have available to her in the event of some problem or emergency.  For what it's worth, my son first stayed at home alone overnight at age 15, and it was fine, though it's not something we need to do often.

Archived Q&A and Reviews



Leave 16.5 alone for a couple of days?

Sept 1999

When is it OK to leave a teen alone for 1-2 nights? I realize they are all different, maturity, With/without boyfriend/girlfriends etc. My daughter is 16.5, an only child, fairly mature and responsible. She is very aware that her actions bring reactions, both good and bad, so the chance of a party is remote. She has good friends, whose parents are my friends. Of course she could stay with a friend, but I don't want to over do a good thing. Also I think a teen should begin to have independence, we don't want college to be the first time alone! My Dad age 76 is a mile away, so there is a safe place. Any thoughts are appreciated. -- Carol

I took my 15-year-old daughter to the movie Pleasantville (in which the parents leave the two teens alone over nite and the girl has her boyfriend over for sex). I swear to god that the next weekend my daughter told me she was staying over with a girlfriend and that the mom was home (she wouldn't let me talk to the mom, saying she had come home sick and gone to bed early, which sounded plausible -- I knew the mom fairly well and consider the friend a good kid). On Sunday I learned that the mom was not home and you guessed it.... I hold my daughter 100% responsible, but I was surprised that some parents do feel comfortable leaving their teens alone overnite. I'd never let my kid stay overnite anywhere again without person-to-person communication with the parents beforehand. Some teens are really devious! -- Janine

About leaving teens alone -- I've got a son two weeks shy of being 17, and we have left him alone for one night a couple of times without any problems. He too is not one to take advantage, and really welcomes the opportunity to have the house to himself. Obviously, were he a different kind of kid (in fact, if he was more like I was at 17!), I might be reluctant to leave him alone, but our experience has been positive. The event was liberating for him, and made it clear to him that we trust him, which seems to go a very long way with teenagers. - Mira

Leaving teens overnight: We first left our son alone in May of 10th grade (he was nearly 16) when we were all scheduled to take a trip to Oregon for Memorial Day Weekend. He was working on a huge paper for Ms. Groves' American History class. He had reams of periodical research and library books and web pages and we did not own a laptop. After exploring borrowing or renting a computer we decided to leave him home. We did have a dog sitter who was going to come by each day and could even stay overnight if necessary. We spoke several times a day and it proved to be a great experience for him. He wrote a terriffic paper and even made dinner one night for himself and the dog sitter. It really depends how mature your child is- some kids get afraid being alone in the house overnight or they don't know how to say no to kids who want to come over. A year later he did volunteer work in South America with Amigos de las Americas where he was minimally supervised in a rural town, with a great deal of responsibility resting on his shoulders. We were glad he'd been given some practice early on. I think it's good to give kids as much responsibility as they can handle. It also makes them confident to know that you trust them and expect them to honor that trust. So I say go for it if she's ready. In a year or two she's likley to be off on her own to school.- WR

My mother allowed me, her third child, to spend time alone at our summer beach cottage, on and off season, for short intervals, from the time I was about 15 years old. I loved this time. I read books, gatherd driftwood for fires in the fireplace, cooked and enjoyed the solitude. I was otherwise a very social child. There were family friends whom I could call, but I never did. One of our neighbors kept an eye on me, but I never knew.

Now my husband and I put in a call to our friends' teenage children when the parents are away. Do they need anything? Perhaps a ride? Would they like to come to dinner? Could they babysit for our youngest?

Our oldest is not old enough to want to have the house to herself for the weekend. Yet. She's twelve, but very independant, and I'm sure the day will come soon enough. As a parent, it's a nice thought to know that someone (else, perhaps a neighbor, or a friend) is checking in a little bit. - Mimi

Here is how we handled this with our daughter. First, we waited until she asked a couple of times (to make sure she wasn't just testing to see what we'd say.) When it was clear that she really did feel ready to stay alone, we took it in stages. At first, she would spend one weekend night at a friend's house and the other night she could stay by herself. When staying alone, we asked her to select a neighbor with whom she would check in once a day to say she was OK. (This reminded her that people were watching out for her, and also watching...) We made very clear that future priveleges were dependent on responsible behavior. It worked well for her and for us. Leah