HOUSTON – There is no legal age in Texas when you can leave your kids home alone. The truth is, you have to be the judge of your child's maturity.
However, CEO of Crime Stoppers Houston Rania Mankarious said her organization knows certain safety precautions sink in better with different age groups.
Now is the time to learn what strangers look like.
According to Mankarious, it might not be as scary as your child envisions.
“The stranger can be the cute girl that's just a few years older than them to the grandpa to the really disheveled-looking, you know, scary man on the street," she said. "All of these people are strangers."
Mankarious said, starting as young as first grade, children who will be out of your sight should carry a phone or gadget that reaches you directly. She said there are cellphones made specifically for early elementary that simply allow a child to call a mom or dad or a set number of people.
Remember smartphones alone are not dangerous, the apps are where the trouble lies.
You can find the 10 apps Mankarious considers most dangerous on Thebuzzmagazine.com
Third grade is around the age when kids are mature enough to understand when to call mom and dad and when to call 911. Mankarious said it is important to know the difference if someone comes to the door when they're home alone.
“There should be a rule that the child calls you first before they open," Mankarious said. "We recommend that if you're leaving a child home alone, that you have devices like a Ring (doorbell camera) or some type of device that you as a parent can see who's showing up at the door or who's approaching your neighborhood."
If they're in real danger, your child should know the evacuation route established in your home so they can safely escape and call 911.
“We think around third grade you start seeing that transition where a child says ‘okay this is scary, my parents have told me what to do, I’m now going to choose an option and protect myself,'" Mankarious said. "Prior to that, again it depends on maturity, but for the most part prior to that it's a little bit too young for a child to move beyond the fear.”
Mankarious said younger children tend to be frozen in fear when facing danger.
Mankarious personally thinks prior to middle school, kids are not ready to be home alone.
She said while most third graders know how to recognize danger and understand how to run or protect themselves, it's ultimately up to you to determine their maturity "and the types of things that could happen in your neighborhood. Who you have in your surroundings,” she said. “Certainly if they're taking care of younger kids as well you really want to make sure the oldest is at least sixth or seventh grade.”
By high school, they need to know the dangers of social media -- remind them "followers" are often strangers too and cannot be trusted.
Mankarious said teens need to know the real-world dangers that exist online. She uses the example of one "teen Instagram personality (who) was allegedly stalked, followed and killed." If your child is not ready for these details, she said they’re not ready to be on social media.
They should also be told what to do if they're around drugs, guns, or see threats online.