Home Alone Gone Wrong

BlogHer Original Post

I don’t advocate young children being left home alone, but at what age is it okay to leave a child at home alone for say four hours? Does it depend on the child or should the government give clear guidelines? What would you do if an older child acted out and wanted to get you in trouble because he or she didn’t like an assigned duty, like homework, and so the child called the police and you were arrested?

I’m speaking of a case in New York state that I read about today. Here’s the headline from The Journal News: “Charge may be dropped against mom who left son alone to do homework.” And here are the beginning of the story.

WHITE PLAINS - The mom whose 10-year-old son called the cops on her for making him do his homework the day after Christmas will have a child endangerment charge dismissed if she stays out of trouble for the next six months.

The 32-year-old mother accepted the plea offer of an adjournment in contemplation of dismissal from the Westchester District Attorney's Office yesterday.

She had been arrested Dec. 26 after police found her son home alone after he called 911 and asked officers to "take his mother away because she was pressuring him to do his homework,'' according to a police report. The mother called to check on her son while police were at the apartment, and they learned that she was working a four-hour shift at a local restaurant. A short time later, she was charged with endangering the welfare of a child, a misdemeanor that carries a maximum penalty of a year in jail and a $1,000 fine. (Story Link)

After reading this article, I called both my children into my room and asked each one, “Do you remember how old you were when you were first left home alone?” They had to think back to when we were still a "traditional family," pre-divorce.

My daughter, who’s 26, struggled to remember. My son, age 16, said, “I know. I was 12 and you left me home alone because I begged to be left home alone.”

Then my daughter said, I must’ve been 11 or 12 because you left me home with Nathan and he was in his high chair. She was probably right and I must’ve been gone less than an hour, possibly making a quick run to the store. I remember using the logic that children start to get babysitting jobs around age 12, and my daughter was responsible, and so, I felt safe letting her babysit.

I also remember that I dreaded leaving my son alone, which is why he had to beg. He tended toward mischief. I feared we may come home and find the house had exploded with him in it. It may help readers to know that both my children sometimes accuse me of being overprotective.

After they answered my question, I had both read the article about the mother being arrested for leaving her 10-year-old home. My son said, “This is ridiculous. The brat! He just didn’t want to do his homework.”

My daughter said, “I can’t believe they arrested the mother. He’s just some kid trying to get revenge on his mother. And all they’ve done is let him know that he can get his mother into trouble. He’s gonna think he has power over his mother now, that he's in charge.” Then she added, “I wonder if the mother had been an English speaker (the mother required a Spanish interpreter according to the rest of the article) would she still have been arrested?”

I took in my daughter’s point about the mother not being an English speaker. Her observation which says something about her social-justice sensibilities possibly, and I thought she may have something there but not something I’m going to discuss in this post. Actually, I have mouthfuls to say about this subject from multiple angles, but I’d like to hear the opinions of other readers instead.

To give you more insight, you should know the article also reports the following statement from Judge Leak and information on New York law.

"You are not to leave the child alone until he reaches an age where he can be alone - whatever that age is,'' Leak said. "Good luck to you, ma'am.''

Leak was referring to the vagueness of New York law, which does not specify how old a child should be before he or she can be left alone. The state Office of Children and Family Services tells parents to consider a number of factors, including the child's level of maturity and whether he or she knows how and when to contact emergency help. Police are left to use their own judgment in deciding whether a particular incident warrants an arrest.

This mother appears to be a single mom working a low-wage job. What’s your opinion about the action taken against the mother, and is there an age at which children can be left home alone that we can set in granite?

Article source: The Journal News

You may visit Nordette’s personal blogs, Confessions of a Jersey Goddess or NJ Spoken Word, or get connected to more of her work, including fiction and poetry, at WritingJunkie.net


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