When Is It OK to Leave Your Teen Home Alone Overnight?

Parents talking to teen as they leave the house

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It can be difficult to decide when your teen is mature enough to be left home alone for the night. Will your child make good decisions? Do they feel comfortable being on their own overnight? What if something goes wrong and you're not there to help?

All these questions and more may run through your mind as you consider which choice to make. Despite the potential risks, allowing your teen to stay home alone can actually be an important step in their development.

Not only will it give your teen a chance to prove that they are capable of taking care of themselves for a short time, it also helps prepare them for both the freedom and responsibility of college life.

From a practical standpoint, you may also want to let your teen stay home alone. As teens mature, they’re less likely to want to accompany you on every trip or vacation. And finding a “babysitter” for a 16-year-old isn’t exactly easy.

But before you decide whether to insist your teen go to Grandma's house for the night or allow them to stay home alone, here are some things you may want to consider. 

At What Age Can Kids Be Left Home Alone Overnight?

Only a few states have laws that clearly state the minimum age at which you can leave your children home alone. Most states allow the parents to make the final decision.

If you're concerned about your state's laws for leaving children home alone, contact your local or county child welfare agency for more information. The U.S. Child Welfare Information Gateway maintains a contact list for agencies in each state.

While it's a good idea to look into your local laws, don’t base your decision on your teen’s age alone. Some 17-year-olds are capable and responsible enough to be home alone overnight, but others may be too impulsive or susceptible to peer pressure to be ready for the responsibility.

In general, most teens younger than 16 aren’t mature enough to stay home alone overnight. But it’s important to base your decision on your individual teen.

Consider Your Teen's Maturity

Letting your teen run the house for a few hours while you're shopping is far different from leaving them home all night by themselves. There are certain considerations to factor in when you're deciding if they're ready for this big step.

Researchers have found that because individuals mature at different rates, maturity levels will vary among teens of the same age. Some hallmarks of maturity to look for in your teen include:

  • Ability to delay gratification: In other words, your teen can put off getting what they want until after they do what needs to be done. (Work first, play later.)
  • Responsibility: They should be able to do their chores, complete their homework, and take care of other responsibilities on their own. If your teen already makes dinner, runs errands, or cares for younger siblings, they may be ready to stay home alone overnight.
  • Ability to handle stress: When hard decisions or extra activities arise, your teen's skill at dealing with these stressors can reflect their maturity level. Do they use problem-solving strategies and time management skills to get it all done? Or do they become anxious or overwhelmed, looking to you or others to fix their situation?
  • Trustworthiness: You need to be able to trust that your teen will do what they commit to doing in most situations. Nobody is perfect, of course, but a basic level of integrity and taking pride in their own word is a sign that your teen is maturing into a healthy adult.
  • Planning skills: Can your teen plan ahead to get everything done each day? When they are home alone, they will need this skill in order to make their dinner, lock up at night, and not forget any of the housekeeping details while you're gone.
  • Conflict resolution: Especially if your teen will be home with their siblings while you're away, they must be able to calmly handle disagreements. It's a good idea to observe your teen doing this well before you leave them all night with siblings.

Ask Yourself These Questions

When thinking about your teen’s ability to safely stay home alone overnight, consider these questions:

  • Can your teen resist peer pressure? Is your child a follower or a leader? If they are easily swayed by friends who would love the chance to throw a party at a parent-free house, leaving them home alone overnight could be a recipe for disaster.
  • Does your teen know how to respond to an emergency? There are a variety of potential emergencies that could arise in your absence, ranging from a broken bone to a house fire. Can your teen make healthy decisions independently while under stress?
  • Do you have anyone to check on your teen? A friend or family member who can periodically check in with your teen can prevent a lot of problems and give both of you peace of mind. Make sure your teen has phone numbers for people they can contact if they have any problems. 
  • Is your teen likely to be fearful? Although some teens won’t admit it, many of them are afraid of being home alone at night. If your teen is scared of the dark, how will they handle being home alone all night?
  • How well does your teen follow the rules? If your teen can’t follow the rules when you’re home, there’s a high probability they won’t follow them when you’re gone. You need to be able to trust your teen before leaving them home alone overnight.

Sibling Dynamics

If you have younger children in addition to your teen, this might affect your decision. Do your teen and their younger siblings get along well? Do the younger kids listen to their older brother or sister?

What are the maturity levels of the younger siblings? If you have a hard time getting the little ones to behave, your teen may have even more trouble with them.

It’s one thing for a 16-year-old to stay home alone for the night, but it’s completely different for them to care for younger siblings too.

Consider finding a place for brothers and sisters to go while you let your teen practice being home alone a few times before having them babysit siblings overnight. 

Preparing Your Teen

If your teen is able to handle being home alone for extended periods and they're able to make it home by their curfew regularly, they may be ready to stay home alone all night.

The best thing you can do is give your teen added responsibility slowly. Take precautionary measures to prepare your teen for being home alone overnight.

  • First, talk with your teen to see if they feel comfortable staying home alone overnight. This is a big step from being at home alone during the day, and you want to make sure your teen feels confident before you leave them.
  • Go over what to do in case of an emergency, and make sure they have contact information for family members, friends, and any emergency numbers in their phone.
  • Ask them how they would handle certain situations, such as a stranger coming to the door, the smoke alarm sounding, or a neighbor asking if you're out of town. Make sure they have the knowledge they need to stay safe overnight.
  • Establish house rules and make your expectations clear. Saying, "I expect you to still be home by your usual curfew and not to have any friends over without my permission" can go a long way.
  • Explain the consequences ahead of time too. Whether you take away your teen's driving privileges or the prom, make it clear that there will be consequences for violating your trust.
  • See if a neighbor or relative can either come and check on your teen, or at least be available if they need anything while you're gone.
  • Make a plan for connecting with each other by phone or text, and let your teen know what steps you'll take if you don't hear back from them.

What If Something Goes Wrong?

Keep in mind that teens are not yet adults; they may not follow the rules and make good decisions while you're out of town. If they do blow it and throw a party or invite their boyfriend or girlfriend over, know that you wouldn't be the first parent this has happened to.

If they do blow it and break the rules, you will need to follow through on any consequences that you discussed with your teen before leaving them alone. Although you will likely feel disappointed in them (and they may be disappointed in themselves), hopefully it will be a learning experience as well.

A Word From Verywell

Every teen is different, and you know your child better than anyone else. Trust your intuition when making the decision about whether to leave them home alone overnight.

If you have considered all of the factors above and still have reservations about leaving them alone, it may be best to make arrangements for them to stay with someone else while you're away.

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Additional Reading
  • American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry: Home Alone Children.

  • Child Welfare Information Gateway: Leaving Your Child Home Alone. September, 2013.

  • HealthyChildren.org: Is Your Child Ready to Stay Home Alone?