We get a lot of questions about the legal age at which children can do different things and make choices about their lives. Check out our legal age guidelines page for the whole list. One of the most common questions we get is, ‘what age can I leave my child home alone?’ It’s a good question, with a not entirely straightforward answer! Here’s what you need to know…
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.