We have all seen the classic movie “Home Alone” in which eight-year-old Kevin McCallister is accidentally left home alone while his family goes on Christmas vacation. In reality, the McCallister parents should have probably been charged with negligent supervision. Of course, that was just a movie. In Pennsylvania, there is no set age limit that allows a child to be legally left home alone. However, if a parent decides to leave a child home alone, that child is still the parent’s responsibility. So that means if anything happens to the child, the parents can be charged with neglect.
Although there is no set minimum age to leave a child home unsupervised, various organizations provide recommended ages that usually fall between ten and twelve years of age. It is ultimately up to the parents to decide whether they think their child is mature enough to stay home alone. Each child is different. In one case, a ten-year-old may be able to stay home alone for a few hours and be just fine. In another case, a thirteen-year-old may require constant supervision. Because there is no minimum age, the law expects that each parent knows his or her child’s maturity level, and can make an informed decision as to whether the child could be left alone. Similarly, a parent should factor the amount of time they will be away in to the decision to leave a child alone. A fifteen minute trip to the grocery store is different from a five hour dinner party.
Pennsylvania does not have a minimum age for babysitters either. Most people will consider asking a neighbor’s child, or a family friend to babysit for the night. Again, it is up to the parents to decide who an age appropriate babysitter is. Typically, the parents at least want a babysitter who will be able to contact the parents and call 911 in the event of an emergency. Other considerations when choosing a young babysitter could be the number of children he or she has to watch, the ages of the children, and whether any of the children have any special medical needs.
Although PA leaves these decisions up to the parents, the consequences of leaving a young child home alone for an extended period of time can be severe. Depending on the case, the parents can be charged with neglect. These charges can even constitute felonies or result in the children being removed from the home. Parents know their children best, but a little bit of common sense should be used. After all, if the “wet bandits” come around, you don’t want to rely on your child’s ability to hit them in the head with paint cans. Teaching your child how to call 911 and a neighbor in the event of an emergency is probably the safer bet.