Every state sets its own regulations on when children are considered old enough to supervise younger siblings or non-related younger children. North Carolina laws don't specifically address the question of when an older child can babysit siblings. It's left to a parent's judgment to determine their child's maturity level and ability to adequately supervise siblings and react properly in an emergency situation.
NC Laws on Children Alone
The only North Carolina state law that addresses children left home alone deals with fire safety. This law, GS 14‑318, states that no child under age 8 should should be left in a swelling without a person of the age of discretion there with them, because of the danger by fire.
Age of Discretion
The law doesn't identify what the age of discretion is, however. The term, age of discretion, legally means the age when a person has sufficient knowledge to act responsibly or competently in certain situations, according to the Merriam-Webster dictionary. Every child reaches this age at a different point; a parent must honestly assess her child's ability to not only think quickly in an emergency, but to be mature enough to handle sibling squabbles, keep his own temper when goaded by siblings and to call for help when necessary.
Ft. Bragg Regulations
The military post Ft. Bragg in North Carolina has more specific regulations on leaving children home alone. Children from birth through fourth grade need direct supervision at all times. Children in grades five and six can supervise themselves for up to two consecutive hours; children in grades seven and eight can self-supervise up to four hours. Children in grades nine and 10 can supervise themselves for up to six hours; teens over age 16 can be left alone overnight. This ruling doesn't address when a child can supervise siblings, however.
Assessing Your Child's Readiness
The University of Michigan Health System recommends that no child under age 12 babysit other children. Consider having your child take the American Red Cross babysitter class before watching her siblings. Leave emergency information in an easily accessible location, including the number of a nearby neighbor or relative who can help in an emergency. Go over some common scenarios and ask your child how she would react and give her the opportunity to ask questions or voice concerns.
- NCHealth and Human Services: Frequently Asked Questions
- Ft. Bragg MWR: Resource Guide for Child, Youth, and School Services Families; page 25
- WRAL.com: How Old Is Old Enough to Be Home Alone?
- Merriam-Webster.com: Age of Discretion
- University of Michigan Health System: Babysitter Safety - What Parents and Sitters Need to Know
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