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

Parents talking to teen as they leave the house

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Deciding when it’s OK to leave your teen home alone for the night isn’t a decision you should take lightly. Leaving your child unattended for 24 hours or more is a big deal. Things could definitely go wrong.

Despite the potential risks, allowing your teen to stay home alone could also be healthy. After all, a teen who has never been without adult supervision may struggle with her newfound freedom the first time she goes away to college.

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 you go on. 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 her to stay home alone, consider these things. 

What's the Right Age?

A few states and countries have laws that clearly state the minimum age at which you can leave your teen home alone overnight. But most places leave the decision up to the parents to decide.

So while you should look into your local laws, don’t base your decision on your teen’s age alone. Some 17-year-olds have been mature enough to be home alone for a few years, others aren’t yet 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 teen’s maturity level.

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

  • Can your teen resist peer pressure? It’s not just your teen you have to worry about. Sometimes it’s the other teens who can lead to trouble. Can your child say no if a friend insists they throw a party at your home?
  • 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. Would your teen know what to do in the event of an emergency? 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. A trusted contact person close by can give you and your teen some peace of mind. Make sure your teen has phone numbers for people he can contact if he has any problems while you're out of town. 
  • Is your teen likely to be fearful? Although some teens won’t admit it, many of them are fearful to be home alone at night. If your teen is scared of the dark, how will she handle being home alone at night? How would she respond to a strange noise she hears in the middle of the 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 she won’t follow the rules when you’re gone.

Caring for Younger Siblings

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. Consider finding a place for younger siblings 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 during the day for extended periods, she may be ready for more freedom. If you’ve successfully allowed her to be home alone until midnight, or she's able to be home on time for curfew regularly, perhaps she can handle being 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.

Ask her how she would handle certain situations, like a stranger coming to the door, the smoke alarm sounding, or a neighbor asking if you're out of town. Make sure she has the knowledge she needs to stay safe overnight.

Establish clear house rules and make your expectations clear. Saying, "I expect you to still be home by your usual curfew and I expect that you won't 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 you take away the prom, make it clear that there will be consequences for violating your trust.

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Article Sources
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  • 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?