This decision comes down to balancing safety concerns with social well-being. Parents.com's "Ask Your Mom" columnist, Emily Edlynn, Ph.D., shares how to do it while preserving relationships between our children, and all of us as parents.

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An illustration of two girls.
Credit: Yeji Kim.

If parenting in a pandemic has illustrated nothing else, it's that we each have our own definitions of "safe," "risky," and where different choices fall on the safety/risk continuum. Although safety often trumps all else, "safe" versus "unsafe" can be a subjective judgment. In your situation, you see risk, and the other parents do not. Their outreach to discuss the situation suggests that they perceive a different threat: their daughter's social well-being. So, how do you reconcile these different priorities and viewpoints, while preserving social relationships in your community?

Collaboration and Problem-Solving

Instead of convincing the other parents that they are wrong and their daughter is at risk of injuring herself at most times (tempting yet usually ineffective), you can work together to balance their friendship concerns with yours about safety. Since I am not an expert on liability, I will not speak to the legal aspects of an accident happening on your property. However, one of the first thoughts I had reading your question is that this child is the responsibility of her parents. If they allow her at your house knowing you are not home, and an accident happens, I do not see how that automatically becomes your fault. In my daughter's social group of the same age, often house-hopping on weekend afternoons, I cannot imagine parents blaming each other for an accidental injury!

With this in mind, here are a few ideas to jump-start brainstorming for how you could work together to come up with some parameters that make everyone feel more comfortable and included.

  • The friend can spend time at your house when her parents are home and available. If an accident happens, make sure the mutual understanding is that they will respond, alleviating your angst.
  • The girls can spend time together at her house instead of yours.
  • Be clear with both girls about rules to minimize risky situations (e.g., no cooking or preparing food, no lighting candles).
  • In response to the original question as posted on Reddit, if something happens not on your property, but when they are out riding bikes or climbing trees in the park, her parents are responsible; even without a law degree, I am confident your daughter as the "inviter" bears no legal weight.

Know the Laws

I am not a lawyer and I don't even play one on TV (if only!). In the Reddit thread of responses to your question, much of the debate strayed from the purpose of your question to the issue of leaving a 10-year-old home alone, with friends. Although this is not your question, it is good to keep in mind legal considerations. In my state (trust me, I've checked and re-checked because running errands without my children is essential to family functioning), the language of some state laws is vague and subjective, including terms like "reasonable amount of time" and "depending on maturity level." Hopefully you have familiarized yourself with the laws just in case a true emergency were to happen when you are not home.

Safety Planning

As low frequency as it is for a truly terrible event to happen, and it's good for our parenting to not be rooted in fear of the unlikely, it is also wise to anticipate a worst-case scenario with some preparation. I imagine you have this down with your daughter, but for anyone else seeking similar guidance, it's important any child left home alone knows how to stay safe, and the steps to take in an emergency. Experts suggest the following:

  • Ensure all doors and windows are locked, but that they also know how to unlock them if needed.
  • Review rules such as not answering the door or communicating with strangers in any way, including not telling people they are home alone.
  • Post friend or family phone numbers in case they can't get a hold of you for some reason, or let them know which neighbor to run to if needed.
  • Review how to use 9-1-1 and what constitutes a true emergency.
  • RELATED: What Real Friendship Should Feel Like, in Terms Simple Enough for a Child

The Bottom Line

One of my mantras is "safety first," but the dilemma here is that everyone involved has different definitions of "safe." Perhaps more than ever as COVID has forced us to practice, we're all encountering the risk analysis of physical safety versus social and emotional well-being, which differs from family to family. Hopefully, we have also practiced communication, creative problem-solving, and giving grace to each other's unique perspectives to keep putting our children first, even if we can never guarantee zero risk.

Submit your parenting questions here, and they may be answered in future 'Ask Your Mom' columns.

Emily Edlynn, Ph.D., is the author of The Art and Science of Mom parenting blog and the upcoming parenting book Parenting for Autonomy. She is a mother of three from Oak Park, Illinois and a clinical psychologist in private practice who specializes in working with children and adolescents.