At What Age Can A Child Be Left Home Alone In Missouri and Illinois?
Back in the 1980s, I became a latchkey kid in the fourth grade at nine years old and no one seemed to care or think it was odd. Today in Illinois that would be considered technically illegal. So how old do you have to be to stay home alone in Missouri and Illinois?
Missouri and 38 other states don't have an exact set age at which you can leave your child home alone according to the World Population Review Site. They let parents make that decision, although a 2018 article from the Columbia Family Law Group points out that the Children's Division Abuse/Neglect hotline will conduct a face-to-face safety check of kids eight and under left home alone within three hours of receiving a report.
In Illinois, State Statute says the age at which a child can be left at home alone is 14 years old. The oldest age in the nation. Although reading legal jargon is hard, and if I'm reading the statute correctly, it's more about leaving a child at home under 14 years old for an unreasonable amount of time without regard for the child's mental or physical health, safety, or welfare.
The statute covers a lot of ground and seems to give parents some reasonable discretion on kids staying home alone, so perhaps my parents wouldn't be in hot water for leaving me home alone after school at nine years old today. If you really want the scoop, talk to a lawyer, and ask them to explain the statute to you in English, not legalize.
Additionally, I found some articles, like this one from Illinois Policy talking about how the Illinois House passed a bill that would change the law to allow parents to legally decide what age it's appropriate to leave their kids home alone. This is really what's behind most states, including Missouri, not defining when it's appropriate to leave your kids home alone.
So, as a parent how do you make that decision? There's no shortage of advice on the subject either. Do a Google search on the subject and the answers vary, usually somewhere between the ages of ten and twelve.
Web MD recommends taking the following questions into consideration when trying to decide whether to leave your kids home alone. What's your neighborhood like, is it residential or rural? What's the crime rate like? Do you have an alarm system and can your child operate it? Can your child understand and follow basic rules like locking the door and not opening it for strangers? Has your child shown good judgment in past situations?
They also suggest you consider how long it might take you, friends, family members, or neighbors to get to your house in an emergency, and how comfortable your child is staying at home alone. Additionally, they recommend setting house rules like what to do if someone comes to do the door, what to do if the phone rings, and setting time limits on watching TV or playing video games.
I don't know, it's a tough decision to make. I certainly was capable of exercising good judgment and following the rules my parents set up for me, but that didn't always mean I did.
For example, there was the time I had a day off from school and ordered a pizza for lunch when I was in the fifth grade, I mean I wasn't supposed to open the door for anyone. So how could I get a pizza delivered? Or the time when my parents left me home alone for the weekend when I was a freshman in high school and I invited some older teenage friends over and they introduced me to Jack Daniels and the Marlboro man.
My point is even good kids like I was can push boundaries and exercise poor judgment now and then. Just be careful, and realize if your kid has a good head on their shoulders even if they do something dumb, they'll probably be OK and have a good story to share decades later.