SIDNEY — School’s out for summer!! Depending on whether you’re a parent or a student, the words mean something totally different to each group.
“School is almost over for most Shelby County schools,” said Shelby County Sheriff John Lenhart in his weekly phone interview. “Many parents are asking themselves the question, ‘Is my child old enough to stay at home alone?’ or ‘Are they old enough to babysit for their siblings or other children?’”
“First let me say, the parent knows best if the child is ready to stay at home by themselves,” he said. “They know how old the child is and their maturity level. It’s the parent’s call to make this decision.”
If a child is five or six years old, said Lenhart, they are not old enough to stay at home by themselves. If they are 10 or 11 years old, they might be ready for that experience.
“A parent needs to find out from the child how they feel about staying home alone,” said Lenhart. “If they are 12 or 13 years old, are there younger children at home they might be responsible for?
“You need to talk to them and make sure the child understands what it entails to stay at home alone or watch a younger sibling,” he said.
Having backup support is also important, said Lenhart.
“Have a neighbor or grandparent check up on them during the day with a phone call or visit,” said Lenhart. “The parents should also call periodically during the day.
“Have some trial runs before they actually stay at home for a full day,” he said. “Do a couple of trial runs of an hour or two to see how they do.”
Allowing a child to stay home alone also depends on where the family lives, he said.
“Is it a busy street?” he asked. “Or is it a quiet area? Or is it known for having some crime? Those factors should be taken into consideration.”
The parents, he said, should also set up ground rules for staying home alone.
“Determine TV time,” said Lenhart. “And what type of shows they can watch. Have rules about being on the Internet. We tell children not to let strangers into the house but we let strangers in every time we’re on the Internet.
“Also a child should post on Facebook, ‘I’m bored because I’m home alone,’” he said.
If the child is going to be alone at lunchtime, do they know how to use the microwave to fix a simple lunch? Or are they able to heat something up on the stove safely?
“Have rules about answering the door if they are home alone,” said Lenhart. “And there should be rules about answering the phone.”
All guns, he said, should be locked up so the child doesn’t have access to them. And make sure all alcohol and medications are also locked up.
“Stock up on healthy food in the kitchen,” said Lenhart. “And if the child is on medication, lay out only the medication for one day on the table. Put the rest of it away.
“Make sure you safety proof your home,” he added.
Set guidelines on whether the child can have friends over for the day or for an hour or so. And how many kids? one, two, three?
“One or two kids might be OK,” said Lenhart. “But three or four kids might get into some mischief.”
If the child gets sick while the parents are at work, make sure he/she knows who to call first: their parents or a doctor.
“Be sure they know what to do if the smoke alarm goes off,” said Lenhart.
If a parent has a security system, make sure the child knows how it works. And if it includes a monitoring system, parents should use it to check on what’s going on at home during various times of the day.
“Does the child know the answer to ‘When do I call 911?’ We’d rather respond to a call that’s not a real emergency than the child not call us and something tragic is going on. We’re here to protect all the kids.”
Children staying at home alone or babysitting should also know simple first aid and make sure a first aid kit is available to them.
Lenhart encourages all families to have a safe and fun summer.
The writer conducts a weekly interview to update readers with news from the Shelby County Sheriff’s Office, 555 Gearhart Road, Sidney.