I often receive emails asking the following questions:
When it is safe to leave my child or children home alone for a short period of time?
How old should a child be before they are allowed to use a public restroom alone?
There are no direct answers to these questions because in reality there are so many variables involved. It depends on the age of the child and how long the adult or adults will actually be gone. Children mature at different rates and some children mature very early. These children may be able to handle being left alone while the caregiver is gone for a short period of 30 minutes or less.
The first time a child is left alone it should only be a brief outing under 30 minutes. Then upon returning home the caregiver should discuss with the child how he or she felt and if there are any questions or concerns. Only older teens should be left in charge of younger children or siblings. In addition parents need to set up a safety plan and be sure that any child left alone has access to a phone in the event of an emergency.
Many homes currently only use a cell phone as the main home contact number. This means children need to lessons on how to properly use a cell phone to dial 911. There are several steps required to place a call to 911, including pressing send to place the call.
Another concern with a cellphone versus a land-line, is when a call to 911 was placed from a land-line the 911 dispatcher would see the address of the caller on their screen. This allowed all 911 calls to be quickly dispatched to police, fire or ambulance. When dialing 911 from a cell phone the caller must be able to verbalize his or her home address to the 911 dispatcher.
In some neighborhoods it may never be safe to leave a child unattended. Children who run errands with a caregiver should never be left in the car while the adult runs into a store or into a gas station to pay for a gas purchase. It only takes a second for a child to disappear or be taken. The consequences are not worth the risk to save a few minutes.
When out in public parents will need to decide at what age a child should use a public restroom alone. With my own children it depended on whether I could see the restroom and watch the traffic and they still were required to go together. They used the women’s as my daughter was 4 years older than her brother.
Just this week at a local restaurant in Saint Charles Missouri two male children ages 9 and 10 entered the men’s restroom at the Hibachi Grill and were confronted by a man touching himself. The children reported it to their parents and he police were called.
According to Stltoday.com, “Thomas C. Miravalle, 58, of the 1400 block of Madison Street in St. Louis, was charged with sexual misconduct involving a child younger than 15 and is currently being held on a $25,000 cash bail.” Educate children that if someone exposes themselves, or tries to use a camera on a phone to take pictures of them in the bathroom, or anywhere, they must tell and adult immediately.
Most cell phones have a camera and this increases the risks of someone using their cell phone to try and exploit children. Please watch for people using cell phone cameras in places like a bathroom, dressing rooms, locker rooms, and other areas where kids change in or out of clothes.
Camera phone should remain in lockers or pockets and not be used in the open under these circumstances. We all need to watch out for children and if we see anything suspicious make others aware of what is happening, and report it to the authorities. It is everyone’s responsibility to keep children safe.