At what age can I leave my child alone?

At what age can I leave my child alone?

We get a lot of questions about the legal age at which children can do different things and make choices about their lives. You can see a whole list of legal ages on this page. However, there seems to be quite a bit of confusion about the age at which children can do things like go to the park or walk to school by themselves. People are often particularly keen to know:¬†At what age can I leave my child alone? A good question! Here’s what you need to know…

The Law

In a legal sense, the most relevant piece of legislation relating to this is the  Summary Offences Act. Section 10B of this Act says:

Leaving child without reasonable supervision and care

Every person is liable to a fine not exceeding $2,000 who, being a parent or guardian or a person for the time being having the care of a child under the age of 14 years, leaves that child, without making reasonable provision for the supervision and care of the child, for a time that is unreasonable or under conditions that are unreasonable having regard to all the circumstances

But what does that mean?

Well, as you can see, there’s nothing specific in the law about walking to school or going to the park. What the law does say, and here’s the important part, is that when a child is under 14, you need to make sure that you make reasonable provision for the care of the child. The tricky part of this is that it will different from situation to situation. For some children, it will be totally reasonable for them to go to the park by themselves at 10. It might be that the park is nearby, the child is mature and sensible, and there are no busy roads to cross. However, in other cases, this may not be reasonable. Some factors that you might need to consider when thinking about whether it is reasonable are:

  • Hazards that may exist on their journey to the park or while at the park¬†
  • The experience and maturity of the child
  • How long it will take them to get there
  • How they might be able to get help if they need it

These things may also be considerations if you are thinking about letting your child walk to school or other local destinations alone.

It’s probably also worth noting that it’s not enough to say that¬†you would consider it reasonable – other people would need to be able to consider it reasonable as well. For example, you may believe it to be reasonable for your 6 year old to be allowed to go to the park alone for 4 hours but many other people would not consider this reasonable.

14 – the babysitting age

In New Zealand, we commonly understand the age at which someone is allowed to babysit as being 14. However, it’s important to note that this is not a legal age, but rather, an interpretation of the law we talked about above. If you are leaving your children of any age, you need to be clear that you are making a reasonable provision for their supervision and care. If it is for a short period of time – a few hours in the day or evening, then leaving them with a 14 year old may well¬†fulfill¬†this requirement. However, it doesn’t mean that you can pop off to Fiji for a week and leave your children just because one of them is 14. As we noted above, the ability to baby sit will also depend on the maturity of the child and the circumstances under which they are left to baby sit.

15 – 17 year olds

Although the law requires parents to make reasonable provision for the care and supervision of children up to the age of 14, it’s important to note that parents are still responsible for their children up until the age of 18.

We hope this helps clarify some issues about the legal age at which children can be left alone.¬†Unfortunately, it’s not totally cut and dry and lots of discretion is required. We recommend that you always err on the side of caution when it comes to the care of your children!

You can find out more about other legal ages guidelines in this article.

Rochelle Gribble

Rochelle is mum to three gorgeous daughters. She wishes she had more time to garden and read the newspaper in peace!

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  • Jac

    There seems to be an issue when 16 year olds can legally leave home and have legal sex but parents are responsible for them until they are 18 years old? I have heard of several 16 and 17 year olds “running away from from home” who get themselves in trouble and think they are invincible as they try and navigate this tricky age, yet the police will not help to bring them home or help support the parents. It is crazy that kids of this vulnerable age are allowed to leave home and also create babies.

  • Evelyn

    What can you do when your child does not want to listen and thinks that the parents as just to suffer in silence? He just turned 16 and wants to be emancipated from us so he can go out with his friends drinking and doing drugs without us policing him

  • Enquiring Mind

    Can a 12 year old pick up her 4 year old sister from daycare and walk her home, 150 metres away? They’d have to cross a semi-busy road however there is a pedestrian crossing immediately outside our daycare centre. The parents want this to happen however our policy requires that only authorised people aged over 16 years can sign children out from our daycare centre. The grandmother has 4 other kids to look after hence the reason she wants us to approve her 12 year old granddaughter picking up the preschooler.

    • Hi there – that’s a tricky question. As you will have read above, there’s no law, as such, that covers this. It may be worth seeking legal advice on this issue so that you feel confident on your position. I’m sorry not to be able to help more on this! Good luck!

    • Ron Kelman

      I personally wouldn’t let a 12 year old take care of a 4 year old. Too many things might go wrong.

  • richard

    the article references leaving children alone to go out of home. what about leaving a 13 year old alone at home for a couple of hours while we go grocery shopping? assuming the house is safe and secure.

    • Hi Richard, Ah that’s a tough question because the answer is really… “it depends!” There’s no hard and fast rule about this but, as we note above, the law says that you can’t leave children: “without making reasonable provision for the supervision and care of the child, for a time that is unreasonable or under conditions that are unreasonable having regard to all the circumstances” I know that doesn’t answer your question but there’s not a hard and fast rule about this so I’m afraid it’s the best I can do!

      • Azi Abdullah

        So my daughter is almost 13 but has the mental maturity of a 15yo.. She has been getting up and sorting herself out in the mornings since age 7, and no longer wants to leave the house with me if I need to pop out quickly for an hour or so. She has cellphone and internet access to me at all times, can cook and bake by herself unsupervised for the last year or 2, and wants to know if she can start to be left at home for short periods of time so she doesn’t have to come out. Would this be allowed?

  • Jennifer

    In a quick review of our local services I can’t seem to find after school care for over 12 year olds this is a complication as the law is saying they can’t be alone yet – thoughts?
    Thanks, Jennifer

  • Jackon

    I’m 28 and currently living (ie. trapped) with my parents, whom are currently imposing the following restrictions on me:

    *Not allowed to drive outside of Town (even though I can drive safely and responsibly)

    *Whenever I leave house or come back from home, they require me to tell them where I went and what I did.

    *Not allowed to date/start a relationship with a girlfriend if she belongs to a certain nationality without my parents being aware or consent.

    *Not permitted to marry a girl without their consent and the girl must be from a specific church denomination.

    A year ago when I was working in another town and not living with them, my parent still imposed the following requirements on me:

    *I must contact them via skype at least once a week and report to them everything that I had done for the past week.

    *I must sleep before 10 pm and must not eat certain food.

    *I am not permitted to have a girlfriend without their prior permission.

    *I must visit them during the christmas break.

    *If I mortgage a house, they will not permit me to have the house rented to tenants!

    *I cannot marry a girl without their approval and the girl must be from their church.

    *I am allowed to drive but not allowed (by my parents) to drive outside of the town I stayed in.

    If I broke any of those rules or refused to talk to them on Skype (which never happened at the time), then they would threaten to withhold (ie. fully deny) the family inheritance from me. If I forgot to contact them on Skype, then they would phone me and ask me to speak to them on Skype. The conversions usually last for 45 minutes to 1 hour or even beyond.

    After I lost that job, I am living with me parents again and they are imposing the same old rules on me as if I was a 17 year old.

    What do you advise me to do?

    (i) Surely one is entitled to leave home (permanently) from the age of 16?

    (ii) Surely one is legally entitled to marry (without parental consent) a girl they love when they reach 18?

    (iii) When one has moved to live outside of the parent’s home, where is the legal obligation to remain in regular contact with them in order to keep them ‘updated’ on my personal situation and to ‘allow’ them to continue giving out orders and restrictions on my personal life?

    (iv) Do parents really have the legal right to stop you from having tenants (if the house is mortgaged by you under your own name) ?

    Do any of you adults:

    *still receive [compulsory] orders from your parents?

    *remain in regular consistent weekly contact (via phone, skype) with your parents ? and do your parents ‘inquire’ into your personal lives and then impose restrictions and rules on your movements/decisions/lifestyle/spouse/marriage partners?

    *do you occassionally travel to visit your parents or be visited by your parents ? and when they come and visit you, do they start imposing their way of life and ‘traditions’ on you? (and compel you to continue observing those traditions even after they have returned back home)?

    Any advice or feedback based on your personal experiences would be appreciated.
    (I’m in NZ btw).

    • burns_well_eh

      Hi Jackon, I read your post with concern and sympathy. It is indeed a difficult situation in which you find yourself, and I have some suggestions that may help you – but really you are the only one who can help yourself or at least take the first steps. I know they will be hard but if you want to develop and grow as a person you must do it.

      I take it, firstly, that there are no impediments to you working and being a contributing member of society? If that’s the case then I believe 100% of your efforts and free time must be spent on finding a job that pays you enough to support you in e.g. a shared flatting situation.

      This will give you the independence and confidence to move out of your parents’ house, to which you must then dedicate 100% of your efforts and free time as soon as you have a job.

      You then have a difficult decision to make – to have “the conversation” or not.

      You could avoid the conversation and see if your parents’ stance towards controlling almost every aspect of your life softens to some degree – but given that you are now 28 years of age, and there are some hinted-at cultural issues, I suspect this may not work.

      The other factor for you to consider is the inheritance. For myself, holding this over your offspring’s head as a means of demanding obedience is pathetic and even despicable. I hope you don’t mind me speaking plainly, but it is.

      I wonder what kind of person you would be if you inherited a lot of money at age 40 or 50 but were not really able to run your own life? If you had every day been told what to do, by when, and who with, and where you could go and not go, you would be extremely vulnerable, and having a decent bank account would only increase that vulnerability. Is this what your parents truly want?

      For you to develop as an adult human, you need to leave the nest and be free to make your own choices and decisions without petty rules and timetables. This is “the conversation” that you need to have with your parents.

      No doubt they love you greatly, as I’m sure you do too, but this is no way to behave to a 28-year-old. You could explain this to your parents, call their bluff about the inheritance (often a poisoned chalice in any case) and tell them if they truly love you they will let you be your own person, make your own decisions and even make your own fortune. You will value anything you earn through hard work and astute investment much higher than any crumbs from your parents’ table – trust me on this.

      I wish you all the best and I hope my advice is of some help to you.

      Mike

    • Ron Kelman

      What are the chances you can find a girl you want to date marry within your church/nationality. I’m worried you will wind up old and alone with only your parents.

  • owl

    I am doing a research assignment on lowering the age of staying home under the age of 14 and I would like to ask you a question, should children under the age of 14 be allowed to stay home/take care of younger siblings with parental permission? Email me your answer at emily.page@papamoacollege.school.nz.

    Thank you

  • Sandy Stuart

    I have a 14 year old son who takes care of His 10 year old sister, they are both home schooled but left at hone for up to 30 hours a week, I expect then to keep to the school lesson I leave them with each day, in addition how can I know if the schooling they are receiving is sufficient, please advise. I have to admit I have found them sleeping late into the morning at times..

    • KidsMXNZ

      According to the law in NZ Children until 18 are still your responsibility as is making sure they are well educated, say to attend university later on or training courses in jobs they may do in future. Expecting your 14 year old to virtually parent your 10 year old seems to manipulate the rules to suit your lifestyle vs the needs of the kids (30 hours is a lot of time without an actual adult present). Do you believe they could safely put out a potential fire or do basic first aid if the need arose??

  • Phoebe

    so im still 13 (2017) but i turn 14 on june 30th i was wondering if i can start babysitting now or do i have to wait? i have done a few baby sitting jobs last year while the parents where working (i would be at her work in the back house area while she was in the front cafe bit working) and twise i looked after kids over night from about 8pm to 10am while my mum was home though went to work for 2 hours before kids where picked up i am super mature and i cant wait for my 14th lol i know first aid and going to a training course soon and i know emergency numbers will i be aloud?

    • KF

      Hi Phoebe. Well the legally accurate answer is that there’s no law to prevent you from babysitting at a certain age. There is a law, however, that says your parents can’t leave you alone at the age of 13 (without reasonable provision for supervision or care). You sound like you’re a pretty mature person, and leaving you alone for 2 hours while your Mum went to work, most people wouldn’t consider unreasonable. If you were watching the kids overnight without any supervision, some people would consider that unreasonable. It’s all interpretation of the law at this point. Our advice is if you want to do babysitting regularly, that you wait until you’re 14 (to be on the right side of the law), and spend that time completing first aid courses, etc. to increase your confidence and bolster your CV. Best of luck! — Jarrod

  • Kura

    So I am 18 years old (2017) turning 19 in august (2017).. I was wondering if i have the rights to run away from home? Does the police have the authority/rights to take me back home? Do I need to discuss it with my parents before I run away? Do my parents have the rights to call the police? Do my parents have the right to fill in a missing person report? Or do they no longer hold my responsibility? I live in New Zealand..

    • KF

      Hi Kura, your parents are legally responsible for you up until the age of 18. So what this means legally, is that if you left home and you were safe, and your parents knew where you were, the police would not intervene as you’re now a legal adult. But, we would never advocate for just running away from home (unless it’s actually unsafe at home, in which case you need to get advice). Assuming it’s safe at home, but you believe it’s time for you to leave. The best outcome is to discuss this with your parents, and together as a family work out a plan where you can transition from home life, to something like flatting with close friends. Once you leave home, you’re going to need to feed yourself, buy your own clothes, maintain your car if you’ve got one, etc. so you’re going to need a job and a steady income. If you’re planning on tertiary education, you may get cheaper accommodation, but you may still need a part time job to support yourself. At some stage you may need your parent’s support. Whether it’s help moving a washing machine, the occasional pantry raid for canned food when things got tight, or even moving back in with them at some point (never say never, we moved back in with my wife’s Mum when our daughter was 2). Just try not to burn your bridges on the way out. Strong support networks are the key to comfort an happiness in this life!

  • Patrick Cullen

    I have a question I hope you can help with. My wife has just accused me of being an irresponsible parent because while she was away on holiday I left my two little boys, 7 and 4, fast sleep in their beds while I popped over to our neighbours house for 10 minutes, our neighbour lives about 20 meters away from us. I disagree that it was irresponsible but she threw the law at me claiming that I shouldn’t have done it because it’s illegal and what would have happened if the kids woke up and didn’t know where I was? Any opinions?

    • KF

      Hi there, this one is a little tricky. Your children were aged under 14, and left unsupervised, which is what the law states. However, you were just next door, and only away for 10 minutes. Some people would consider this reasonable, others would not. It sounds like your wife considered it unreasonable, and I think that’s probably the most important thing here. Just ask yourself this question. If you were both out one night, and had a babysitter looking after your kids, and the sitter ‘popped out’ for 10 minutes, would that be acceptable to you? — Jarrod

      • Patrick Cullen

        I guess not. and I suppose if they did wake up and i was not there they might freak out. Just used to that sort of stuff happening when I was a kid which is probably no excuse.

        • KF

          Hi Patrick, no it’s not an excuse, but it certainly is a reasonable justification. I guess the simple fact is that times have changed. Parental expectations, the community, health and safety, crime, Dad’s role in the family, etc. The landscape has changed a lot since we were kids. And mostly for the better. I guess it’s just a different New Zealand than the one we all grew up in, and we do need to adjust our parenting roles to suit. It sounds like you’ve reflected on it, and learnt something from it though. And that’s the sign of really positive parenting. — Jarrod

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