When Should Children Be Left Alone?

My wife asked me a question today that I wasn’t sure about.  She asked what age children are allowed to stay at home alone, go out to play alone, or walk to school alone in Canada.  A quick search revealed that there is no law about this.

When I was a kid, I was able to walk to school alone when I was about 7 years old.  I also went out to play with my friend around that age by myself.  I’d walk or ride my bike to his house or to a park, and there was no problem.

Here in Japan, children are often seen walking alone or riding the train alone to go to school when they’re as young as 6.  And you know what?  No one cares.  In fact, the kids seem quite intent on going to their destination.  It is very common for children to be by themselves or with friends without any kind of adult supervision at early elementary school ages.

I’ve seen on the internet that some parents won’t let their children walk to school alone or go to their friends’ house alone until they’re older than 12.  Seems pretty old to me.  Even one said that they weren’t allowed to walk to school alone when she was a kid until she was 14.  Her parents walked her to school at 13 years old, and she was very embarrassed about it.

I’ve also seen a story where a couple kids were playing outside in their front yard, aged 9 and 6, and their mother was watching from the front porch.  A neighbour called the police and they arrested the mother for leaving the kids unsupervised.  But they weren’t unsupervised.  She was there watching them.  This is really going too far, in my opinion.  At that age, I was outside by myself riding my bike without any supervision at all.  It’s unhealthy for kids to be constantly supervised, if you ask me.  They don’t learn independence.  Their parents are always interfering with their play.  Some of these are the same parents that accompany their children to job fairs at university and do all the talking to companies.  Those companies always tell the parents they will not hire them because the parents are there. Too much parenting is bad parenting.

Why do parents do this?  Is it because they’re afraid their kids will get hurt?  Teach them safety rules and what to do in dangerous situations, and they should be fine.  Are they afraid someone will kidnap their kids?  Children are more likely to be kidnapped and abused by family friends or even relatives, not strangers.  Are they afraid of their kids failing?  Failure is one of the best ways to learn.  If kids don’t fail, they won’t learn the wrong ways to do things.  They won’t learn that failure isn’t the end of the world, but a way to learn a lesson and do better next time.

So, I want to ask you this:  What age should children be allowed to walk to school, play in the park, and stay at home alone?


16 thoughts on “When Should Children Be Left Alone?”

  1. Walking to school alone is essentially being watched from one destination to the next, meaning if I see my kid leave for school and they don’t make it, the school will call me within, say, half an hour. Going out to play, to a certain extent, you can usually keep an eye on them. As far as age goes, I think it depends on the area. I wouldn’t want my adult children going out by themselves in the Jane and Finch area of Toronto. 😛 I walked to school by myself when I was 5, half a mile each way. Things were a bit different back then though. People trusted one another more.
    As well as the area, it depends on the parent. Some are more comfortable than others letting their kids out… some have more anxiety not only where their kids are concerned, but in all facets of their lives.
    If I was to give you a definitive answer, I’d say do what most of the other parents in your area are doing. Sorry I can’t be more specific.

    P.S. I sent you an email. 🙂

    1. It is difficult to pinpoint an age that is appropriate. When I went to the playground with my friend, there was absolutely no supervision, or when we went out riding out bikes. Our parents had no idea where we were, and that was okay.

  2. Oh, and being left alone at home… not until they know the way out in case of a fire, understand how to get in touch with you or the police, and can be trusted not to use the stove. In other words, when they are mature. There’s no real set age on that one, but most would say not before they’re 10 or 11.

    1. Yeah, if they know emergency numbers or how to handle some unknown person coming to the house, they shouldn’t be alone. I had a babysitter at times, though I usually went to a friend’s house if my parents weren’t home.

  3. Reblogged this on Foreign Dad in Japan and commented:

    This is a blog post I wrote for my main blog, and I thought I’d link to it here, too. This is for all you parents who have read this blog in the past. What do you think? I’d like your opinions.

  4. I was a latch key when I was 7. I did everything by myself. Got up, breakfast, got a ride to school, came home, cleaned, homework, dinner, bed.

    I let Bella walk to the arcade solo. I let her stay home while I’m out for a bit. She’s 8.

    It really does depend on the kid and the environment.

    1. Yeah. Since I grew up in a small town, I think that since most people knew everyone else, there was no problem. If it had been a big city, I couldn’t have done it.

  5. My parents used to leave me home alone when I was 10 years old, which I think is about right. Like Linda said, it depends on the maturity of your child. Since I had an older brother, I never walked to school alone, so I’m not sure when that would have happened. But I do remember biking to my friend’s house on my own when I was about nine or 10.

    I think one of the reasons parents worry more now is because the sense of community in the neighbourhood isn’t always there. When I was growing up, the moms were often home during the day, and everyone knew everyone else’s kids. So people were around and sort of kept an eye on everyone. It’s not like that now. Parents also drive their kids to school all the time now. We walk our son to school, and we are almost the only ones walking. I would hesitate to have my son walk on his own, only because the street is practically deserted.

    As a parent, I have to constantly fight my instinct to wrap my son in bubble wrap so that nothing will ever hurt him. But you need to let go if you want them to be independent.

    Nice post!

    1. I wonder about when my daughter is old enough for school. I’m sure in her earlier school years, she’ll be driven or walked to school by one of us, depending on who’s working when. But it may be that she’ll go to school an entirely different way. No idea yet. But we’ll see.

      Thanks for the comment.

  6. I’m pretty sure there is a law in Canada about leaving kids at home at a certain age. Maybe it’s just Nova Scotia, but I’m pretty sure it’s illegal here to leave a kid younger than 10 home alone. Don’t quote me though.

    Myself, I’ll probably go by my own experience. I was walking to school alone in the third grade (so, about 8 or so), and around that same time I’d be home alone after school because my parents worked later than school ran. I’d also play unsupervised…at that same age it was not unlikely for me to hop on my bike and ride around town. As long as I checked in every hour or so my parents were fine with that.

    I don’t know if I would trust a 6-year-old on public transportation, but that’s because I don’t know very many 6-year-olds who can pay attention to anything long enough to make sure they got where they were going. Maybe my own daughter WILL be that responsible at that age.

    All in all, I think it depends on the kid. I trust my 3-1/2-year-old enough to leave her in the backyard for a few minutes while I go to the bathroom or whatever, but I wouldn’t do the same for my 5-year-old niece because she’d be halfway across town before I got back.

    1. I think the laws are only local, but Canada doesn’t have a law about it. Edmonton doesn’t, as far as I know, and neither does my hometown.

      Actually, Yokohama has a law that says that anyone under the age of 16 cannot be out alone after 9 pm (I think that’s the time). 16 is the age at which people can live independently and have a job in Japan, so they can’t put a curfew on those people. But during the daytime, no problem. A 6 year old can walk to the station, take a train, and go to their school by themselves. Children are considered very highly valued in Japan, so in a way, they’re always being watched by strangers who will help out if asked.

  7. I always thought there was a law about leaving kids alone/letting them go – but I read an article recently that said there isn’t one. There are some guidelines – like leaving alone at 10 during daytime up to 3 hours at a time, and only at 12 year at dark time. Something like that. But there is no law.

    I see kids playing alone at the playground close to my house at about 8 years, but as far as I can tell, they are the kids from the subsidized housing closeby.

    Most parents these days are terrified of the idea of letting go. This helicopter parenting I personally cannot comprehend. Yes, I worry about my kid – but I want to prepare him for his adult life. And I cannot do it by keeping him by my side.

    I let him fall and touch hot (not scalding hot) surfaces to discover for himself the dangers. To trust me when I say what’s dangerous and not.

    I don’t come running if he falls at the playground. I wait and see and ask him if he’s ok. He usually is just fine. He’s a kid, not a china doll.

    He’s only 2.5, but we already discuss the green and red of traffic lights and the cars; the knives and the balconies.

    I can’t say right now at what age I will let him walk alone somewhere – that totally depends on the behaviour he will exhibit as he’s growing. But my mom used to leave alone for like 10 minutes to step out to buy some bread and milk and I was JUST FINE.

    I was 14 when they left me for 2 weeks alone, going on vacation. I was totally fine (even if my grandma was hyperventilating about it 🙂 )

    So… I am with you on this one.

    1. It makes me wonder about parents who grew up in the 80s and 90s who have become overprotective. Didn’t they also experience the same kind of childhood we did where we went off on our own with no problems? What made them so overprotective? Probably media. They show so many bad things on the news that it makes it seem like a warzone outside in our neighbourhoods, when it’s actually quite safe. I would probably say it isn’t any more dangerous now than it was 25-30 years ago.

      1. I recall reading that the real chances of being abducted are so slim that it will take for a child to stand on a busy street for 700 years to get abducted.

        Doesn’t mean it doesn’t happen – people win lottery and get hit by lightenings, but still…

        1. Yeah. And I remember reading about a kid who was left in Manhattan and he had to find his way home. And it was his idea. Nothing happened to him, and he got home without any problems. Of course, the media furor over it was a bit over the top, but there was a lot of positive reaction to it, as well.

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