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Hey Dad! How Old Do I Have to Be To...?

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Go to Disneyland. I took my daughter for the first time when she was 3 ˝ and it was a hoot. She walked the place like she owned it. However, she freaked out in Pirates of the Caribbean and made it clear the Haunted House was off-limits. Under three, and I think you’ll think you overpaid for the day. Over five, and your little baby may be as jaded to the whole thing as you are.

Stay home alone. I remember being home alone at age six, but then again I remember playing outside at night until mom called us home. Some states set 12 as the legal age, which is a pretty good guide. Check with the National Child Care information Center to know your state’s minimum legal age. Make sure your child knows basic safety rules like not allowing strangers to enter the house and how to call 911. Experts also advise you to role play to make sure your child knows what to do.

Get a pet. You buy it for them, I say, and you’ve brought it on yourself. If you want a dog and are happy to feed and walk it, then you can have it. Period. It has little to do with the child. For small defenseless creatures like hamsters, gerbils, snakes, turtles, scorpions, and the like, make sure your child is old enough to pick up and set down the pet. Age 7-8 is usually a safe age for a child to know how to respect a little creature.

Get pierced earrings. Sorry chum, you’re on your own on this one. Some babies get their ears pierced before they are even old enough to weigh in on the subject. I’m all for waiting long enough so that when they do, they can get the belly button, nose, and tongue done at the same time; perhaps freshman year of college. Many states have laws about minimum ages for ear and body piercing, as well as tattoos. Generally, your kids have to be at least 18 to do anything more than pierce their ear lobes without your approval.

Get a cellphone.  You may be amazed when your eight year old starts begging for a cellphone.  This may be more a factor of her little pal from class who has one rather than a real need, but you'll have to face facts. Kids want and need to communicate much the same way we do.  As a parent though, you may wish to keep them from something as fundamentally game-changing as a cell phone. Another consideration may be security.  If you live where earthquakes, flash floods, or other disasters could occur without warning,  you may decide that communication trumps childhood innocence.  If this is not a factor, one rule of thumb you might consider is to hold off on a cellphone until the child can bear part of the costs herself. Then it can become more of a considered purchase rather than an entitlement.

Hang at the mall. This is a tough one. A child needs to be old enough to be left home alone and then again perhaps a bit older to be street-smart. The mall is more dangerous than the living room couch. You have to know your own child also, who his or her friends are, and who their parents are. Make sure to set very clear rules and know exactly when they are to be home.

Borrow the car. I borrowed the car alone the first day I had my driver’s license, on my 16th birthday. Individual state laws now differ, but it will be hard to argue to hold onto the keys unless there are some clear examples of irresponsible behavior already. Borrow the Ferrari though, probably around age 60. Click here to view a page cataloging minimum driving ages in the U.S.
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