Legal Insight. Business Instinct.

The negatives of unsupervised fun

“See those big barrels over at the top of the hill?” my friend asked me. He was referring to large wood reels used to hold cable wiring. We were 12 at the time and attending a birthday party with about 10 other 12-year-olds. I should have ignored the question and walked away. Instead I found myself at the top of the hill rocking a large wood barrel (the barrel was taller than I was) back and forth. When we let it go, my mind was completely devoid of thought. I was a fairly responsible kid, but for some inexplicable reason when my friend suggested rolling the barrel down the hill, I eagerly complied. As the barrel flew down the street, picking up speed along the way, I realized there was a parked car at the end of the street and the barrel was headed right for it. My feet felt as if they were buried in cement as I helplessly stared at the barrel and prepared for the inevitable. Suddenly, it hit a bump and jumped the curb. Instead of hitting the parked car head on, it merely clipped the side of the car, knocked off the passenger side rearview mirror, and left a nasty scratch on the car as the barrel screeched to a halt. The barrel rolling incident created quite a commotion, and the whole gaggle of pre-teen boys sprinted for the sanctuary of the birthday boy’s basement. No further mention of the incident was made during the party, and the barrel was left at the scene of the crime.

Kids do stupid things. The barrel-rolling incident brings to mind questions that are debated frequently. At what age should your child be left home alone? At what age should your child be left to supervise younger siblings? You may think your child is capable on his own but even the most responsible of kids may exercise poor judgment when left to supervise younger siblings.

State laws vary on when a child can be legally left home alone, and many states do not have any set restrictions whatsoever. The range of ages in the state laws that do exist is 8-14. In Idaho, there is no set age prescribed by law as to when you can leave your child home alone. The decision is left to the parents’ discretion. The Idaho Department of Health and Welfare has some helpful resources in this regard, which can be accessed easily on their website. Things to consider include maturity level of your child, ability to handle urgent situations, environment, length of time being left alone, and your child’s feelings about being left alone. See Maybe your child is mature for his or her age but is afraid to be left home alone. If this is the case, he or she is probably not ready to be left home alone. It is a decision to be made on a case-by-case basis.

Just because your child is ready to be left home alone does not necessarily mean your child is ready to care for younger siblings. When kids are left home alone together, as the barrel rolling fiasco demonstrates, sometimes a fateful plan comes together. The child left in charge not only needs to be able to care for the younger kids but also have the good judgment to prevent the wheels from coming off, or in my case the barrel from hurtling down the hill. I am certain that most kids have more common sense then the 12 year-old version of me, but deciding when a child is ready to be left home alone is something that should be carefully considered.

Your careful consideration on the matter will help prevent unfortunate phone calls from the police like the one my dad received about a week after the birthday party. Unfortunately for me, it did not take a crack CSI team to solve the case of the barrel and the car. The crime was committed in broad daylight, was perpetrated by screaming 12-year-olds, and resulted in a very loud collision. I had spent the week internally debating whether I should confess or just see if things would remain quiet – the call from the police resolved that debate. As you contemplate the decision of whether to leave your child home alone unattended, and when the countenance of his or her angelic face runs through your mind, just remember there is a good chance your child is performing a complex analysis on what he or she can get away with as you do so.

Jeff Brunson is an attorney and shareholder at Beard St. Clair Gaffney PA. The opinions contained are his own and nothing written should be construed as legal advice. Jeff’s practice involves litigation, business disputes, and estate disputes. He can be reached at his Rexburg office, 520 First American Circle, (208) 359-5883, or follow him on Twitter @jeffbrunson.

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