During middle childhood, youngsters need supervision. A responsible adult should be available to get them ready and off to school in the morning and watch over them after school until you return home from work.
Even children approaching adolescence—the eleven- and twelve-year-olds—should not come home to an empty house in the afternoon unless they show unusual maturity for their age.
Maturity is the key here and is a much more important criterion than age. Some fourteen-year-olds still require supervision; some twelve-year-olds can be trusted to come home, do their homework, and care for themselves responsibly.
When deciding whether your child can return home to an empty house after school, keep the following in mind: Studies show that pre-teenagers and teenagers who come home to an unsupervised house—so-called latchkey kids—are more likely to use alcohol and other illegal drugs.
One study of five thousand eighth-graders (twelve- and thirteen-year-olds from a range of economic and ethnic backgrounds) concluded that children who care for themselves for eleven or more hours per week were twice as likely to consume alcohol, smoke cigarettes, and use marijuana as children who were supervised.