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…

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.

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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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Youling Chen

Can a 12 years old child stay at home alone in daytime or going out? Will there be any issues?

Single Dad

Hi there. My ex wife has suddenly decided that I should pay more for after school care and I feel its because she wants to pocket the WINZ payments(I cant prove this). She initially agreed that what she got form WINZ would cover as much as it could and I would top it up to cover what is remaining. I cant afford to pay full amount for after school care so I may not continue using it depending on suggested answer to my next question. My kids are 10 and 8. Is it reasonable for me to let them go… Read more »

Amy Holland

She won’t get the money for childcare it goes straight from WINZ to the child care place. If the childcare subsidy forms have been filled out by both parties then your ex will not receive any money for childcare 🙂 hope this answers your question

Avikash Prasad

Hey I’m 16 years old and my family are very abuse with me even at times they threatens me n say to ” f*** off from this house or else other option is we’ll deport you” I have a resident visa so my question is can I run away from the house on my own. I even have a part time job.

KF

Hi Avikash, as a New Zealand resident, all New Zealand laws apply to you. You may legally live on your own from the age of 16. However, your legal guardians are legally ‘responsible’ for you up until the age of 18. This may include signing documents like a rental agreement, or forms for visas. So keep this in mind! You should also make absolutely certain that your visa conditions allow you to live away from your legal guardians, especially if you are in New Zealand on a Dependent Child Residence Visa: https://www.immigration.govt.nz/new-zealand-visas/apply-for-a-visa/visa-factsheet/dependent-child-resident-visa#conditions . One last piece of advice, we always… Read more »

Round em up! shoot em down

Been left home alone for 7 hours. Its 11pm midnight. Age 14. Did my parent commit a crime or offense?

KF

Hi there. In New Zealand it is an offence for a parent or guardian to leave a child alone under the age of 14. As you’re 14, there should be no problem here, assuming you’re responsible, can take care of your own needs, and know who to contact/or where to go in an emergency. — Jarrod

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… Read more »

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… Read more »

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… Read more »

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… Read more »

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… Read more »

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??

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

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… Read more »

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… Read more »

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.

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

Rochelle Gribble

Hi Jennifer- where abouts are you?

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.

Rochelle Gribble

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.… Read more »

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.

Rochelle Gribble

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.

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

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.

Rochelle Gribble

Hi Jac, Yes- this is a complex and fraught area!

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