Unaccompanied minor

Hannah ThompsonYouGovLabs and UK Public Opinion Website Editor
May 10, 2012, 3:39 PM GMT+0

Letting kids take a train, plane; or stay alone overnight? What minimum age would you say is OK?

At what age would leave a child to do something alone?

We gave respondents a list of scenarios in which a child could potentially be 'left' without parental supervision, and asked them to suggest the youngest age that would be appropriate for each.

  • 10: The average age at which Britons say that a child is fine to walk to school unaccompanied by an adult
  • 13: the average age Britons say is OK to leave a child home alone for a few hours (although some feel that as young as 8 is appropriate, and 12% said someone should be at least 18 before leaving them alone)
  • 13: Seen as the minimum age, on average, for a child to take a train by themselves
  • 14: Judged on average as the youngest acceptable age for an unaccompanied plane journey (although 13% said that a child needs to be 18 years old before travelling alone on a plane)
  • 15: The average age Britons chose as the youngest appropriate for leaving a child for longer than a few hours, such as overnight
  • 17: The average age chosen as the minimum appropriate for a minor to stay alone for an entire weekend

A definite age?

Most advice on leaving kids alone suggests that instead of focusing on the child’s actual age, parents should consider how mature the child is.

For example, the national Walk to School campaign doesn't specify a set age after which walking unaccompanied is fine – it simply advises that it is the duty of the parents to assess the risks associated with the school route and balance it against their own child’s confidence and autonomy.

Similarly, at present there is no legal age limit for leaving a child at home on their own, but it is an offence that can lead to prosecution should parents leave a child unsupervised ‘in a manner likely to cause unnecessary suffering or injury to health’ as stated in the Children and Young Person’s Act.

However, the issue is on-going and not just in this country. In 2008, American and columnist for the New York Sun Lenore Skenazy faced scrutiny when it was revealed that she let her nine year old son take the subway unaccompanied back to their Manhattan home. While some labelled her negligent, others commended her 'hands off' parenting as a refreshing refutation of the so-called 'helicopter' approach. Skenazy now runs the 'Free-Range Children' blog to discuss what she calls 'common sense parenting in uncommonly overprotective times'.

According to Government advice, though, the most important factor to consider when asking if a child can be left alone is how mature the child is; meaning that, for example, while it may be okay to leave a mature 12 year old alone, the same rules would not apply to an immature 13 year old.

See the survey details and full results here (page 12-14)