A mother on British website Mumsnet is coming under fire for revealing that she’s doing just that. The woman, calling herself ‘Deffonamechange’, says she and her husband both work and don’t get many holidays – just one week off together in summer.
“The rest of the time the kids are on their own, all day, every day, for six weeks,” she explains. “They won’t go to any activity clubs. I can’t ask their friends round with no adult in the house. I know that they sit on the computer with headphones in ALL day!
“I feel sorry for them. Anyone else in the same boat as us?”
Many of the people who replied felt the kids shouldn’t be left on their own all day, labelling the mum “really irresponsible” and “rather neglectful”.
“The 10-year-old needs to go to a holiday club,” said one. “Your parenting is really inappropriate.”
Some were particularly bothered about the amount of time the kids were spending in front of a screen.
“To be honest, I'd also be a bit concerned about what kind of stuff they may encounter playing on the internet all day,” one wrote.
But there were also people who supported the original mum’s decision.
“I was a single parent and did much the same,” explained one mum. “In those days it was endless TV and videos. My daughter has grown into a well-educated, balanced young woman. Love doesn't necessarily mean being there for every minute. Keep on truckin'!”
Another mother felt she shouldn’t stress about all the screentime.
“My younger son has excellent computer skills as a result of having spent most of the holidays on his computer since 10. He's an expert programmer, and given that is the career he wants to go into, I'd say it's done him a lot of good.”
Yet another woman said that she “absolutely loved it” when she and her brother got to do their own thing during the holidays.
“Happiest weeks of my childhood,” she wrote. “All my most creative moments came from being left to keep myself busy and it definitely shaped the person I am today, and in a good way.”
Here in Australia, states don’t have laws about the age at which children can be left alone (except for Queensland, which says that children under 12 shouldn’t be left for an “unreasonable” time without supervision). But generally, parents are expected to provide supervision for their children and can be charged if those children are left in a dangerous situation.
It comes down to parents’ judgement about their individual child. So how can parents make that judgement?
Child and adolescent psychologist Dr Michael Carr-Gregg says age doesn’t define maturity.
“We would want you to be able to make a judgement about their temperament and their personality, and, of course, look at their past behaviour,” he tells Mamamia.
“If you’ve got a kid who, like my last-born, has never made a bad decision, always seems to err on the side of caution, is not a risk taker, is sensible, knows how to ask for help, of course you’d leave that kid at home.”
Dr Carr-Gregg says if this mother in the UK has made a similar judgement about her two kids, then he doesn’t have a problem with it.
“I think that we’ve got to avoid this wussification of children, this assumption that we make from helicopter parenting days that our children can’t survive without us – because, in fact, one day, they’re going to have to.”
Listen: Holly Wainwright and Andrew Daddo ask their kids to review their parenting performance.