If the thought of leaving your teens home alone makes you uneasy, you're not alone. As a father who has had to make the decision twice, and a family therapist who deals with the fallout from "self-care" gone awry, I can attest that the issue is one of the most difficult -- and wrenching -- you'll make as a parent. The media have only made the decision more difficult, shamelessly fueling fear and guilt by pointing out worst case scenarios and using the "home alone" theme as a horror movie motif.
Yes, be concerned and prudent. But don't be so scared off that you miss an opportunity that can help your son or daughter become a more confident, responsible, and mature young adult. Eventually, your teen will have to learn what to do when he or she is home alone. Prepare by creating the safest possible environment, and helping your child learn how to exercise good judgment and handle emergencies. Remember, to make self-care a successful experience, both you and your child must be emotionally ready.
In any case, gut feel is what counts. If your teen isn't comfortable being home alone, don't force the situation. Teens are typically struggling for and demanding their independence. So it might be hard for them, despite their anxieties, to turn down a "golden opportunity" to briefly rule the roost. You'll probably want to have many heart-to-heart talks before you reach a mutual decision.
If your teen is ready to stay home alone, start gradually, and have regular conversations to ensure that everyone is comfortable. One caveat: if your family is undergoing an upheaval like a divorce, death, or major career change, hold off unless it's absolutely necessary.
As with so many family issues, timing is everything.