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Two teens playing soccer on a grassy field.

The best safety measure for teens is preventing boredom. Summer programs, camps, household projects, and jobs are only a few possibilities.

Teens on the loose

Making the decision to leave them home alone

By Norma Juarbe Franceschini

From Brief, May 18, 2005

"With responsibility comes accountability," says Susan Cable, a University of Minnesota employee. As her children grew up, Cable taught them that degrees of freedom were based upon acquiring the skills of responsibility. They learned to be independent under this rule and, with time, Cable learned to have confidence in them as she left them home alone during summer months.

Yet leaving her children home alone gave Cable a sense of guilt that was hard to get over.

"I think a lot of parents struggle with that," she says. Even though she covered all the basics at home, Cable experienced anxiety at work. She trusted her children to make the right choices, but summer vacation often meant more time on the phone, checking in just to make sure they were fine.

If you have a teen at home, chances are that summertime is worry time. For nine to ten months of the year, you may have a sense of tranquility, knowing that your teenagers are at school, busy and supervised. Summer is a different story. If enrollment in some adult-led activity isn't possible, many parents consider leaving their teenagers at home during the summer months. Neighborhood safety, Internet and television access, medication, drug and alcohol use, and fire safety are only some of the many concerns parents bring to work when they know their child is home alone. Here are some suggestions to help you minimize stress levels at work by increasing the safety of teenagers at home.

Assess your child's--and your own--readiness

Age should not be used as the sole indicator of whether a teen is capable of staying home alone, according to a global health and care organization.(1) Discuss the possibility with your children and assess their reactions toward the idea of being left alone. Are they excited about it? Do they feel threatened or unsafe?

When talking with your family or thinking about the possibility, consider your trust level on the following factors:

U employee Laura Cabral has always valued a mutual trust with her daughter. As a single mother, Cabral focused her daughter's education on strengthening a sense of independence.

Summer camps and more resources

For a list of summer camps and to learn more about resources for your family, visit the WorkLife Effectiveness Program Web site or call 612-625-3531.

"I wanted to make sure that she could take care of herself in case anything happened," she says. By the time her daughter was old enough to stay home alone, Cabral could be confident that she would fulfill her responsibilities for some household chores, would ask permission to attend an outside activity, and knew what to say when, for instance, strangers called on the phone. Because her daughter was "mature beyond her age and self-confident," Cabral trusted her to stay home alone.

Address safety issues

Cable and Cabral not only addressed the issue of responsibility with their children but also followed basic safety guidelines. In one guide to leaving children alone, a California police department encourages parents to consider whether there are things they don't want their children to get into.

"Take the time to talk to them about the deadly consequences of guns, medicines, power tools, drugs, alcohol, cleaning products, and inhalants," the guide advises. "Make sure you keep these items in a secure place out of sight and locked up, if possible."(2)

The police department Web site also provides safety tips that can help you prepare to leave your teenager home alone. For example, discuss:

Keep them busy

Aside from hiding lighters and matches, making sure smoke detectors are working properly, and making a list of emergency phone numbers, always remember that the best safety measure is the one taken against boredom.

Cabral's daughter had a part-time job that allowed her to build employment skills. She also had spare-time activities, such as writing letters to friends out of town. Cable got her children involved in either educational programs or part-time employment. Both parents assigned basic household chores.

Consider ideas to keep your teenagers busy and entertained at home, such as starting a collection, reading a different book every week, renting educational videos, or gardening. Many teens enjoy opportunities to keep busy and build life skills by attending activities outside of home. They may go to a summer camp or volunteer to work at one. You can encourage your teenager to get a summer job to earn some extra cash for a goal. Have your teen consider learning something new, such as cooking, painting, or photography. Many Web sites can provide more ideas for summer activities.(3,4)

Educate yourself and your family

Employees in higher education often hear education referred to as the key to success. Education for parenting teens is no exception. Staying home alone is a big responsibility for both parent and teenager. Review some of the following resources and share with them with your teen so you all can make well-informed decisions.

By tapping into some of these ideas and resources, you may actually be able to get up early on a July morning, have breakfast with your family, and head out to a great day at work, knowing that your kids are safe.

1. Leaving Children at Home, BUPA (British United Provident Association),, 2002.

2. Home Alone: A Parent's Guide, Downey, California, Police Department, (undated).

3. Teen Summer Fun!, The Alcohol and Drug Information Clearinghouse, Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services,, 2003.

4. Activities for Summer Vacation--How to Get Your Teenager Off the Couch, by Gwen Morrison, Teenagers Today, (undated).

5. Youth and the Law: A Guide for Legislators, (PDF) Minnesota House of Representatives,, 2004. 119 pp.

6. "HOME ALONE! Resources for Child Caring" can be downloaded from the Child Care Referral Service, St. Paul, Minnesota, Web site,; click on "For Parents" to find the PDF document.

7. "Child Labor," (PDF) by Linda Holmes, House Research: Short Subjects, Minnesota House of Representatives,, 2003.

Norma M. Juarbe Franceschini, M.A., is the work/life effectiveness coordinator at the University of Minnesota Office of Human Resources, Twin Cities campus.

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