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?

    It might be legal, but unless necessary probably not a good idea. Your friend apparently doesn't have a choice, so I don't think there is much to say about it.

    On the other hand, if parents can avoid leaving teens alone at night, it would be wise to be there for them, or to hire a babysitter/companion. I teach high school and even "good" kids when left alone are unlikely to complete homework, or go to sleep at a reasonable hour. Other problems can develop when friends know they are alone. Also, teens may hide it, but they get lonely when there isn't someone around to be with them.

    I am another single parent who is very interested in this question.  My mid-20s daughter began staying home alone while I worked night shifts at age 16.  She was a very responsible kid.  Currently my 14-year old son has a sitter from 6 - 9 pm, goes to bed, and older sister comes over later to stay overnight the nights I am at work.  My son gets himself up in the morning & is very responsible about morning routine and getting to school.  Occasionally the evening sitter cannot make it, and he manages just fine with a few phone calls from me.  My rules for the teen are:  no use of stove/oven (microwave is ok).  And no visitors.

    California, like almost every other state in the US, doesn't specify an age at which a child can be left at home alone. There is no bright line rule; that is, there isn't a law that says "child must be at least X years old to be left unattended." Theoretically, then, you could leave a child home alone at any age. However, if something happens - the kid has an accident, sets the drapes on fire, whatever - then you can be charged with neglect. 

    For practical purposes, what this means is that you will have to make a determination about whether your child can be left home alone based on that child's level of maturity. There are certainly 12 year olds who can be left alone overnight (so long as they are comfortable - not if the child is afraid) because they are mature and responsible. On the other hand, there are 17 year olds who are not mature enough to be left alone overnight without risk. The American Academy of Pediatrics states that children of 11 or 12 are generally mature enough to be left at home alone for up to 3 hours during the day (not at night). The key is that the child knows what to do in case of an emergency: call a neighbor, call 911, whatever is appropriate.

    When my daughter was growing up we started leaving her home alone for an hour or two when she was about 10. By 15 we felt comfortable leaving her for two days with one overnight, provided we had phone contact in case she needed us. Certainly by 15 she would have been embarrassed by the idea that she needed a babysitter herself, but I imagine some of her peers would have been afraid of being home alone.

    One way to think about it is this: Is this child mature enough and responsible enough to babysit? It the answer is yes, then they should be able to take care of themselves.

     I'm sure you know your daughter well enough to make the right decision for her and yourself.

    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.

    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. 

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

    New replies are no longer being accepted.

Archived Q&A and Reviews


Questions Related Pages

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