My daughter was very angry at me this morning, quite cross. This in itself isn’t surprising, she’s often angry at me in the morning, usually because I won’t let her wear mittens as shoes or order Chinese take out for breakfast, things of that nature proving how completely unreasonable I can be as a parent. Obviously I just enjoy being mean.
The source of her discontent this morning was easier to understand. She simply didn’t want to get up and get out of bed, a feeling that I am very familiar with. Truth be told, I really didn’t want to be up and about yet either. I had several hours before I needed to be anywhere, nobody was poking me in the forehead to tell me they wanted breakfast, and a wiser man than me would have been in bed earlier than I was the night before.
There was nothing that could be done, however. The teenager needed driving to summer school, my wife was already gone for the day, and even though it was only a twenty minute round trip, six years old was still too young to be left alone.
Or was it?
According to her argument, she would have been fine. She’d watched me check the smoke and CO2 detectors the previous week, her room is uniquely positioned to have two different points of exit, and she’d learned in Girl Scouts all about handling different emergency situations. She told me all about how she’d check the door handle for heat before opening it if the alarm was sounding, how she’d dial 911 to ask for help, and the two houses she’d go to in order to ask to use the phone if it became necessary. She said that she promised to wait for “the chief” to show up and that she’d do whatever he said to stay safe until I got back.
She made a convincing argument and I’ll admit to being more than a little impressed. I also didn’t leave her, so if there is a gathering mob of internet do-gooders, you can all put down your pitchforks and torches and go home. I simply told her that it was against the law for me to leave her home alone at her age and that I didn’t want to get in trouble. This was logic that she couldn’t argue with. I’m not sure exactly who she thinks “the chief” is, but she doesn’t want me on his bad side. She started using the term after the brush fire behind our house several summers ago but whoever it first described seems to have evolved into a Judge Dredd type enforcer of law and order.
Curious, I did a bit of research and found that this can be added to the long list of lies that I’ve told her. It turns out that in New Mexico it is illegal to leave a child under ten alone, but every other state just has “suggestions” and ages that could potentially trigger investigations if complaints are filed. The Connecticut Attorney General’s office states that “A child’s maturity should be considered. Also a child’s ability to handle urgent situations should be reviewed. A parent should also take into account the environment in which the child will be alone and the child’s feelings about being alone.”
I found this surprising, multiple stories of small children found alone and neglected immediately coming to mind. Tragedies and near misses leading to prosecuted parents. A tendency towards over reaction and regulation, particularly if there seems to be child welfare issues involved. The trials and tribulations of eight year old Kevin McCallister still resonate over two decades later.
The truth is that every child is different, the stories we hear only the ones when things go terribly wrong. Its estimated that over three million children under the age of fifteen are left alone for up to several hours at a time at least once a week in this country, often by single parents unable to afford to pay for care while they are at work.
Common sense needs to be used, but it can’t be regulated. I don’t remember what age I was when first left unsupervised indoors, but was roaming the neighborhood on bicycle much younger than my daughter will be allowed to. To be honest, I don’t even remember when we first started leaving the teenager by herself, though I’d guess it was older than she would have liked, just like it will be for her little sister.
I don’t want to get in trouble with “the chief.”