A 12-year-old girl was alone in her Pinecrest home one day in June when a burglar shattered the kitchen window and ransacked her mother’s room.
This incident prompted the Pinecrest Police Department to create the Home but not Alone Academy, a workshop that offers safety tips for children who sometimes stay home alone.
Pinecrest police Sgt. Michael Gorsline addressed a group of about 25 parents and kids ranging in age from 8 to 13 years old about preparing children for being left home alone and what to do if an intruder were to enter the home.
Parents leave their kids home alone for a multitude of reasons — to deal with family emergencies, to go to work, to run errands or because their child wants to sleep in and hang out during the summer.
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Most states do not set a legal age restriction for children left alone at home, Florida included.
“We recommend that the child be 12 and above,” Gorsline said.
No matter the age, staying home alone is almost a rite of passage for some kids. It means their parents trust them enough to leave them at home. However, Gorsline said it is important for parents to consider their child’s maturity level when deciding whether or not to let them stay home alone.
If children listen to parents’ instructions and follow house rules, make good decisions and feel comfortable being home alone, they may be ready.
Gorsline recommends parents have several trial periods before letting their kids stay home alone. Parents can leave their child alone for a short time while staying close to home.
“You can be sitting in your car at the end of the block for a few minutes,” Gorsline said.
When parents come back, they should ask their children how they felt being left alone.
There are risks involved in leaving kids home alone. One of the worst is for a burglary to occur while the child is there.
If that were to happen, Gorsline said children should call 9-1-1 before calling their parents so a police officer can be dispatched to the home as quickly as possible. He also told the children it is better to hide than it is to run away. But if a burglar spots the child before he or she has a chance to hide, they may not hurt the child.
“Most burglars do not want to engage a child. They don’t want confrontation,” Gorsline said. “They just want to get out of the house.”
Gorsline ended the workshop by telling parents to not resort to leaving their children home alone too often.
“There are alternatives,” he said. Parents should inquire about after-school programs and summer camps.