The Investigators: Leaving kids home alone - WMC Action News 5 - Memphis, Tennessee

The Investigators: Leaving kids home alone

(Source: WMC Action News 5) (Source: WMC Action News 5)

11-year-old Lewis Glankler thinks he may be ready to stay home alone.

He and his mom have been testing the waters to see if he could really handle taking care of his brother and sister on his own.

"When you have multiple children, it's hard to get everybody on the same page and get everybody loaded up, so it's tempting to be able to leave one of them here and go run a quick errand," Anne Glanker said.

Glanker's dilemma is all too common in the Mid-South--while children may seem responsible, bad things can happen.

According to the U.S. census, a third of all school-age children in the United States are, at some point during the week, left home without any adult supervision.

In the past 18 months, Memphis police responded to dozens of calls concerning unsupervised children.

Depending on the situation, parents could be charged with neglect, or abuse and neglect. Sometimes, they aren't charged at all, because there are no Mid-South laws determining the exact age a child can be left home alone.

"I think it would be a great idea," Le Bonheur Children's Hospital representative Susan Helms said. "Certainly, it depends on the age and developmental level of a child and is at the parents' discretion, but parents are always seeking some guidelines. An age would be very helpful."

Helms said most experts agree that no child under 13 years old should ever be left home alone. However, even at that age, they could still get into trouble.

"They could start a fire. They could take some medications," Helms explained. "As a parent, you have to ask, 'Can my child be trusted to be here more than the two seconds I'm going to be gone?'"

The easiest way to decide if your child is responsible enough to be home alone is to practice an emergency plan.

The plan should include emergency contact numbers and ground rules like:

  • Lock the door after you're inside.
  • Call to "check in" as soon as you get home.
  • Don't open the door for anyone.

Jeremy Sanders, who works with The Fatherhood Program at Le Bonheur, learned similar rules from his hard-working, single mother when he was just six years old.

"Go home; open the door; lock the door; eat a snack; do homework; that was routine," Sanders explained.

Sanders said even though many parents might feel they have no other choice than to leave kids home alone, they need to consider other options.

"Try to get a schedule that works for after school," Sanders said. "Try to find a relative. Try to find a neighbor that wouldn't mind looking in on them. Try and find someone old or retired. Grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins, someone that is older that can be responsible for them."

Still, Anne Glanker let the WMC Action News 5 Investigators test her kids' level of responsibility.

"If somebody knocked on the door, what would you do?," the Action News 5 investigators asked.

"I would stay where I was and just leave it alone," brothers Hal and Lewis Glanker said.

Let's say you're home alone and you see or smell smoke. What do you do?

"I would call 911," explained Hal Glanker. "Run out of the house really."

Lewis and Hal answered all of the questions correctly--what to do, where to go, and who to call.

Then, when Mom left, the Investigators' cameras kept rolling.

"I'm going to the store," Anne Glanker told her sons. "I'll be right back, OK?"

The two boys sat quietly in the empty house, until WMC Action News 5's Lauren Squires knocked on the door.

"Wait, Hal, don't answer the door," Lewis cautioned his brother.

The kids ultimately passed the experiment, but their mom knows that they need a lot more practice before she's ready to leave her almost 11-year-old home by himself.

"I think about all the things that could go wrong," Anne explained. "He knows his limits and he knows what he can and can't do, but trusting them to do that is a different issue."

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