Home alone or home not-alone?

The parental decision of when to start leaving kids at home alone is often fraught with anxiety. Of course, in this age of cell phones, it’s perhaps a bit easier, because the child will always be able to reach the parent. And most parents start by leaving their child home alone for short trips. But eventually parental anxiety wanes, and children are able to stay home alone.

But being home alone can be complicated by rising teenage sexuality. A mother told me that she had called home to check up on her teenage son and asked, “So are you alone?” And the response was, “Pretty much.”


Suddenly the rules are all turned upside-down. The parental anxiety skyrockets again – not, this time, because of a nameless fear, but because of the very named fear of the boyfriend/girlfriend coming over.

What were the rules you had as a teenager about staying home alone? Were you allowed to have friends over? What kinds of friends? And in retrospect, do you think that they were appropriate rules?

What kind of rules do you have for your teenager right now? How does she or he respond to them?

About Karen Rayne

Dr. Karen Rayne has been supporting parents and families since 2007 when she received her PhD in Educational Psychology. A specialist in child wellbeing, Dr. Rayne has spent much of her career supporting parents, teachers, and other adults who care for children and teenagers.


  1. My parents were leaving me home alone for short periods of time when I was eight. By the time I was a teenager I was doing a large portion of running the household. My parents were usually at home with me, but when they went out, the rule was that my boyfriend wasn’t allowed in the house. They couldn’t enforce it, but I followed it anyway. My boyfriend’s parents had the same rule for me, and we did break it, but only for two minutes at a time (very fast make-out session!) since he had a big family and it was very rare for no one else to be home.

    I think this is the sort of situation where trust and relationship issues come into play more than just the rules themselves.

    Oh, the first time I stayed overnight by myself I was 17 and it didn’t even occur to me to invite anyone over, even though I could have used the company.

  2. My daughter, who is 16 is allowed to have female friends over while we are not home.

    Boyfriends are slightly different. Her boyfriends quickly realize that dating our daughter is a family affair. However, after several months and after having met his parents and after making it clear exactly what behavior is acceptable and what isn’t, they are allowed to come over if we are not home. This generally comes however after having spent many evenings and afternoons with the entire family.

    When I was growing up we were never allowed to have anyone over at any time for whatever reason. My siblings and I spent a lot of time sneaking people in and out of the house. 🙂

  3. I didn’t really have many friends in HS, so there never was the problem of my friends coming over when my parents weren’t there. I think if I ever wanted one of my friends to come over and my parents weren’t there, I’d call my mom and ask her. It was that simple. The only people I would have invited over when I was on my own were girls, and I wasn’t into girls at that point, so it wasn’t an issue. (Which is really kinda bizarre, because the overwhelming majority of my friends all my life have been male. I just get along better with guys.)

    However, there were some other rules in place for when my boyfriends would stay over after I started being sexual.

    1.) If you’re in a room with a boy, the doors must remain open.

    2.) No sleeping in the same bed as your boyfriend.

    I always thought the 2nd one was particularly ridiculous, because it never kept us from having sex, but it did keep me from doing something that I always dreamed of, something so comforting and intimate to my mind: sleeping in the arms of my love. I could tell that it was all about “keeping up appearances” and it really made me angry. (Stuff like that still makes me angry to this day.)

    The rules that were in place never kept us from having sex. We’d just stay up past when my parents would go to bed and then have sex on the couch in the family room. In fact, I actually lost my virginity on my own bed in my own room, around 2 or 3 am with my parents sleeping in the room next door. It’s only now that I realize that this is a rare thing for young adults, to lose their virginity in their own house on their own bed at night.

    As I’ve visited my parents’ house with boyfriends and girlfriends since I’ve moved out of the house, I still haven’t been able to sleep in the same bed as them. However, now that I’m older, I remember half-jokingly asking my mom when I was like 23 or 23 “Mom, am I finally old enough to be in a room with my love with the door shut?” She didn’t look too pleased but said “I guess so.” I also remember asking her the first time I brought a girlfriend home if the “door open” rule applied here, too. 😉

    Whether or not their rules were appropriate depends on whether or not one believes that teenagers having sex outside of marriage is acceptable. My parents do not, as they’re Catholic. So taken in that context, I think their rules were actually quite acceptable, although the no sleeping together rule never kept us from having sex. (I genuinely did just want to actually sleep with my boyfriends.) I was such an outcast in school that I think my parents were very accommodating when friends were involved because I had such few positive interactions with other people my age that they didn’t want to hurt the ones I did have.

    And re: Pockysmama. As we chant in the Dyke March “2, 4, 6, 8, How do you know your daughter’s straight?” She may be interested in boys but you don’t know if she’s also messing around with girls when they’re over and you’re not home.

    And just because you know the parents and the boyfriend of your daughter and you make it clear what’s acceptable and what isn’t, does not mean that they’re still not messing around. Making things clear is fantastic, because it does let them know what your expectations are, but I always liked it when I found out what was expected of me and the consequences of breaking those rules and expectations because then I could decide for myself whether doing what I wanted was worth it or not. As I’m sure you know, teens have a tendency towards doing what they want, whether you want them to or not.

  4. And re: Pockysmama. As we chant in the Dyke March “2, 4, 6, 8, How do you know your daughter’s straight?” She may be interested in boys but you don’t know if she’s also messing around with girls when they’re over and you’re not home.

    LOL, I edited out a comment before I posted. Well, I actually do happen to know that my daughter falls on the straighter side of the spectrum because we talk constantly. I also know that she has experiemented with other girls. My comment that I edited out was that her father is the one who doesn’t care if she has girlfriends over when we aren’t here. I pointed out that she could be gay and you’ve pretty much defeated the purpose of trying to keep her from having sex if she’s allowed to have girlfriends. As he is slightly more uptight than I am, he was not amused.

    As for the rest of your comment, no that does not mean that they aren’t messing around. I am not actually idiotic enough to believe that ALL the rules are followed and they are more her father’s rules than mine (let’s just say we tend to manuever around him which is a whole other discussion).

    My daughter and I have a very open relationship, I know she is sexually active, she uses birth control, she has regular check-ups and STI/STD testing. With the exception of the birth control (she has endometriosis so she’s been on BC for about 4 years now), all this behavior was initiated by her which signaled to me she was being responsible about her decision.

    I honestly do not care that she is sexually active because my goal was never to prevent sexual activity until some arbitrary point, it was simply to make sure that she was/is well-equipped to handle sex AND relationships when she was ready. My new goal is to make sure that she understands and participates in healthy relationships and what I call relationship ethics, which to me, include honesty, respect and thoughtfulness towards another person particularly when you are in a sexual relationship.

    BTW, her father who was my boyfriend when I was her age practically lived at my house. We could go in my room with the door closed, even nap together but he couldn’t spend the night. This went on for 7 years until we had her. Then, even though we still weren’t (and aren’t) married, we were finally allowed to sleep together in my parents’ AND grandparents’ house. Go figure. And, no, I don’t let her boyfriend sleep here at night either and probably won’t until she brings home the “keeper”. LOL, must be some weird parent thing!

  5. RE: pockysmama

    That brings up some interesting issues… how do you deal with sexuality and your child, re: expectations and values when you and your significant other aren’t in sync with what you think is appropriate?

    The reason I mentioned boyfriends staying over is because most of the boyfriends I did have were long distance BFs (Berlin, Germany and Pittsburgh. I grew up outside of Harrisburg PA) and if they came to visit, they came for a few days or more.

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