I'm curious what kind of criteria others are using to decide when a child can be left at home unattended for a period of time.
I realize that the answer is going to depend on a few factors: The child's safety awareness and knowledge of what to do in a particular situation; their age; their maturity level; how long you intend to be gone; how far you're going; etc.
For a more concrete example: My daughter is 7-1/2, knows right from wrong, how to use a phone, our phone numbers, 911 (US emergency services number), not to answer the door unless we ask her to, not to mess with the stove, etc. Is it conceivable that she's old enough to stay home alone for relatively short intervals?
We'd have to start with very short (5-10 minutes) intervals until both our and her confidence were built up, but I think she should be able to gain the confidence to be left home for longer than that. I don't think she's old (or mature) enough to be left in charge of her younger siblings yet, but she could entertain herself and stay out of trouble.
This is about children taking early steps towards independence at home. I know that when I was a teenager, my parents left me at home alone while they went shopping (which can be an all-day event with my mother :-) ) or even spent a weekend away. They trusted that both the house and I would be in one piece when they came home. But those weren't my first times being left at home alone -- this question is about the first steps one takes towards that level of independence. When is the right time to start? What are you looking for in your children that makes you think: "They're ready to begin this particular journey?"