The Supreme Court of British Columbia recently ruled that kids under the age of ten should not be left home alone. The decision came after child protective services found a single mum from Terrace, British Columbia was leaving her eight-year-old son alone every day after school for two hours. Social workers found this to be in contravention of appropriate supervision, as “children who are eight years of age do not have the cognitive ability to be left unsupervised.” They also cited a number of risks involved in leaving a child home alone, from accidental poisoning to fires.
This is such a stark contrast to my childhood—and I imagine yours as well. By the time I was eight years old, I had a key that hung around my neck. So did about half my classmates. Collectively, we made up a group of kids that you may have belonged to as well—latchkey kids. We were responsible for ourselves until our parents returned home from work and—given our smaller community—we felt very safe. I’m please to say that nothing “bad” ever happened.
But if we transported my latchkey life to modern day Canada, the situation would be much different. My parents could be facing charges of neglect and endangerment, and face the possibility of losing their children.
My, how times have changed.
As a result of this case, the Supreme Court of British Columbia ruled that kids under ten years old must be supervised at all times, joining both Manitoba and New Brunswick as provinces with mandatory supervision laws.
I understand that our children need to be protected and that this law was created and is upheld for children’s protection. That being said, I’m not entirely sure that I agree with laws such as this simply because it assigns an age to maturity and preparedness and circumvents the (generally sound) judgment of parents.
By the time I was eight years old and home alone, I was quite mature. Having the opportunity to take care of myself at a young age led to this maturity–I had been taught what was safe/unsafe and acceptable/unacceptable behaviour in my home, and I abided by it. My sister, on the other hand, was not as mature, and as a result, my parents did not feel comfortable allowing her to stay at home alone until she was ten years old. My parents used their judgment and intimate knowledge of their children to make sound decisions about our ability to stay home alone. They didn’t need a law or age restriction—they used their common sense.
But, as a Canadian parent, I likely won’t have that choice to make.
There is currently no federal law in Canada regarding mandatory supervision, but it is suspected that there will be one in the future.
There is no “magic age” at which a child can be left home alone. Some may be ready when they’re eight, some may not be ready even when they are thirteen years old. But there is an onus on parents to prepare their child as thoroughly as possible for the eventual step of independence that comes from being left without supervision.
It is our role, as parents, to ready our kids for responsibility. However, the current culture of vigilantism and parent shaming has made many (myself included) fearful that making an informed decision about or for our child may land us with a social worker or police officer on our doorstep and certainly has made many a parent think twice about giving their children even a taste of independence, no matter how ready they are.
Would I leave my eight year old home alone? I don’t know that I can answer that question yet. I’d like to think that (despite the allure of not having to pay massive daycare fees!) I would work with my child to ensure he was able to care for himself, ascertain his comfort level and readiness, and make a decision based on his specific maturity level and responsibility. I would hope that if, after careful preparation, my child was permitted to be home alone that my judgment would not be questioned by people with far less experience with my child.
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