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by Tony Hicks
There’s nothing to report concerning the latest experiment. No deaths and no injuries.
Here’s to keeping it that way. It’s not always easy to read kids but if our instincts were correct at the beginning of summer, our two older daughters can now stay home alone for small stretches without disaster ensuing.
This is such a big question for parents: At what age can kids safely stay home alone? There’s no hard and fast rule because each kid is different – which is why advice about a particular age coming from a parenting “expert” should be discarded at once.
My oldest girl had her first chance at around age 11. Her audition lasted 90 minutes and ended when my then-wife and I came home to discover a half-flooded kitchen.
But to be fair, the balloons weren’t the right size to make even half-decent water bombs.
The problem was that instead of a chance, she saw an opportunity. I understand that. When my wife leaves for an evening, I become bad – as in, I eat bad food, drink bad beer and watch bad TV.
But I survived becoming a latch-key kid at age 12. In this case, leaving a pair of 10-year-olds home for a few hours at a time is okay because they possess a maturity level my eldest and I didn’t have until later.
My idea was to take it slowly. I started a few months ago by leaving only one child home for a few minutes while I went to the store. Kids love to show off, of course, and leaving her alone provided her with no audience. There was no one to make giggle if, say, she decided to demonstrate her theory about how long a cat can take a shower.
It helps that this particular kid is an academic achiever, the kind who sits in the front row with her arm cramping because she wants to answer every question. So I played to that and made her understand that this was a test.
And a few threats along the way haven’t hurt.
We proceeded a step at a time. Eating is fine as long as you don’t choke (a good rule). We just got to the point where using the microwave is okay. If enough time goes by without the house exploding, perhaps we can move on to other appliances.
As we’ve increased the home-alone time, and finally included her sister in the experiment, they’ve both passed with excellent grades.
There are rules. I remember from my latch-key days that adding other kids to the mix is pouring gas on an otherwise harmless match. The doors must remain locked. They can’t go outside, and there’s no playing with dad’s chainsaw.
I think independence should be earned, learned and progressive. Get my trust today, and you may get a bit more rope tomorrow. Just make sure you don’t wrap it around your sister’s neck.
Tony Hicks is a columnist with Bay Area News Group.
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