How old is old enough to be left at home alone? Many parents struggle with this one.
In Tennessee, there's no legal age for staying home alone, but there is a suggestion. In some states, it's 8, others 14, but according to Tennessee's Court children under age 10 shouldn't be left at home without supervision.
We turned to a child development specialist and a mother of three for advice.
With busy nights running in opposite directions, Caroline Lamar treasures moments around the dinner table with her 13, 11 and 8-year-old kids.
They'll all at the house now, but sometimes someone is home alone.
“We started leaving our oldest home alone around age 11,” said Lamar. You have to look at their maturity level and are they OK being left home alone.”
It's an individual decision every parent has to make.
“You really have to know your own child,” added Lamar.
Dr. Elsa Nownes couldn't agree more. She teaches child and family studies at the University of Tennessee.
“Are they able to think hypothetical situations and then try to deduce what they would do in that situation?” asked Nownes.
And, do they have a way to communicate - a smartphone or landline?
If so, Nownes says to begin with baby steps - short time increments away and build from there.
“Sometimes it would be as simple as I need to go to the grocery store for a couple of things,” said Lamar.
Lamar's oldest child only recently started staying home alone with her younger siblings.
“I don't expect her to take care of her siblings,” said Lamar. “We almost kind of hire her for a baby sitter for the evening and we have paid her sometimes.”
Although, Lamar does not pay her as much as she would pay an outside babysitter. Nownes applauds giving children ownership and rewarding their efforts.
“When you're in charge, you think about things differently,” explained Nowns. “You're aware of things more when you're in charge.”
Lamar also thinks of the worst case scenario.
“I don't ever want to scare my kids, but I also want them to be prepared," she said.
She makes sure her girls know where to find the fire extinguisher and a basic first aid kit with items like Band-Aids and antiseptic cream.
“I leave pretty detailed instructions,” said Lamar. “How long I'll be gone. Where I'll be.”
Lamar also clearly communicates her expectations whether it's chores, screen time or having friends over.
“If you expect them to unload the dishwasher, start homework before you get home, you need to have those discussions on the front end," she said.
Lamar also enforces these House Rules:
1. Keep doors locked
2. Don't open the door to anyone
3. No guests allowed
4. Don't use gas stove
5. Don't tell anyone you're home alone
6. In Emergency call 9-1-1 and then mom
7. Get along with siblings
8. Check in with mom
“There are five of us that live here and I think it's good that there are times that one of them will be home by themselves,” said Lamar. “To figure out, 'I'm hungry, what am I going to eat. I need to get my homework done and do this chore, how am I going to budget my time to that.' I think kids need to learn those skills.”
Dr. Nowns also recommends safety sitter classes and CPR training. Several organizations offer them including East Tennessee Children’s Hospital and the Red Cross. The Red Cross also offers online babysitting and child care courses.