Ready or Not?

Sixteen-year-olds can drive. Eighteen-year-olds can vote. Parents and teens anticipate these milestone moments, but when other privileges should be granted may not be as concrete.

If no legal guideline exists to indicate what age is appropriate for a child to assume a new responsibility, parents may wonder about their son or daughter’s readiness for new challenges. Here we asked local experts for their advice when contemplating these decisions.

Staying home alone

Indiana law sets no minimum age for leaving a child home alone. Dr. Sarah Hill, a pediatrician with Meridian Pediatrics in Carmel and mother of two sons, says the maturity of the child is the most important factor to consider. She also recommends parents evaluate other circumstances such as:

  • the safety of the neighborhood
  • the distance and accessibility of a parent
  • the availability of neighbors and friends to step in
  • guidelines on having others in the home while a parent is away
  • whether the child is comfortable being home alone

For more detailed information on the subject, The Indiana Department of Child Services offers a Home Alone brochure ( with questions that help parents assess a child’s readiness to stay home alone, as well as the key components that should be in place before making this decision.

Being a babysitter

Again, there is no legal age required in Indiana to become a babysitter. Donna Willis-Brown, Safe Sitter Trainer and Program Support Specialist at Safe Sitter National Headquarters, says rather than a certain age being the primary consideration, parents should think about the maturity of their child when determining when he or she should babysit. “Sitters need to have the patience and maturity to stay in control of themselves and stay in control of the children they are watching.”

Willis-Brown also suggests that parents gauge whether their child enjoys and seems comfortable taking care of younger children. For those ready to babysit, enrolling in a Safe Sitter course can help new sitters learn the skills necessary to care for young children and how to respond in an emergency situation.

When a child first starts to babysit, parents should limit the hours they initially work and check in often to make sure they are acting as competent caretakers.

Getting a cell phone

Opinions vary widely on the appropriate age for a child to acquire a cell phone.

“You should consider a cell phone for your child when it is necessary for you, the parent, to reach them, not when your child says he or she needs a phone,” says Dr. Hill.  For many families, the 8th grade year is often when a child receives a cell phone to communicate with parents about pickup times from sporting events and other activities, she adds.

When considering a cell phone, parents and kids should discuss the potential risks associated with them, costs and expectations on usage, and under what circumstances this privilege could be taken away.

One-on-one dating

“Going out” is a nebulous term with today’s young people. Determining what is considered a date, and under what circumstances a child is ready to date, can be a challenge.

Karyn Mitchel, Program Director for Creating Positive Relationships, an organization that travels to many Hamilton County schools to discuss healthy relationships, encourages teens to hold off dating until high school. Before that time, she says teens should be urged to hang out in groups and really get to know one another as friends.

Prior to a first one-on-one date, Mitchel recommends that parents talk to their kids about any dating expectations they have and what family rules must be followed (curfew, whereabouts, other teens going, etc.)

Getting a first job

With few exceptions, Indiana law requires children to be at least 14 years old before obtaining employment.


Eric Mehl, Monon Community Center Assistant Director, hires many teens to staff the waterpark and fill other positions within the facility. She says volunteering is a great way for teens to gain work experience before acquiring a first job. The Monon Community Center accepts volunteers as young as 14. They look for teens that are excited, independent, mature and who can focus completely on their job (without cellphone distractions).

Mehl says the first step in finding employment is for parents to talk with their child about what they are really interested in doing. “I have seen a lot of kids pushed into getting a job that they don’t really want,” she says. “Therefore, they don’t work very hard to keep it. There are all kinds of opportunities for kids today to find something to get involved with that doesn’t really feel like a job.”

An important part of growing up is being given more responsibility. As a parent, the tricky part is knowing when to allow these new freedoms and privileges. What works for one child in a family may not necessarily work for a sibling, so be mindful of each child’s maturity level, personality and readiness to handle new challenges. Good luck!


In Indiana there is no minimum age required by law for a child to stay home alone. What age do you think is appropriate?

I really think it depends on the child. I teach 5th grade and many of the 11 or 12 year olds in my class are very responsible and I feel would do just fine at home by themselves. On the other hand, there are many of them who are not ready. Parents have the right to make this decision about their own child, as they know them best. – Megan W.

I agree. It depends on the child. My almost 8 year old would be ok maturity wise but would be scared to death to stay by herself. I also know some 11-13 year olds that would burn the house down if alone. – Tara F.

If a child can understand what to do in an emergency, can dial a phone, knows his/her address, and is capable of feeding and cleaning his/herself, then he/she is capable of being home alone. For some kids, that might mean age 6. For others that might mean 13. Most kids are probably capable by age 9, but since our modern social standards involves children having constant adult supervision, I am doubtful many children stay home alone before their teen years. – Yolanda L.

I don’t think it’s a matter of maturity but rather being able to handle an emergency. Creepers look for kids who are home alone, they follow patterns. Could my 12 year old respond to somebody breaking in the house? Probably not. So for that reason alone my kids will not be allowed to stay home alone for quite a while. Even adults can’t handle that type of emergency but children are targets and I wouldn’t put my kids in that situation. Nothing is that important. – Jessica M.

9 – only if they have 2 phone numbers: 1) parent 2) neighbor that the child can reach immediately for emergencies and for their own comfort. They should not be left longer than 90 minutes. – Kathy H.

If they are old enough to take a safe sitter class, they are probably old enough to stay alone. Ideally parents would know their kids and know when they are ready, but in order to protect young children from negligence there needs to be some kind of standard set. I say 11 years old. – Jennifer W.

*Comments are taken from the Hamilton County Family Facebook page.

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