By Robert Seith
Tara Unger says one night she thought about making a quick trip to the drug store, while her two-year-old daughter, Lily, slept.
"For just an instant I thought 'Well, what if I just left Lily here and I set the alarm so if somebody broke in, the alarm would go off,'" she says.
She decided not to leave her child home alone – but millions of parents do.
"In fact we're seeing an increasing number," says Len Pagano, with the Safe America Foundation. "And statistically as many as eight-out-of-10 children are left home alone at some point during the year."
Statistics also show that child left home alone are three times more likely to be injured or harmed.
"A child could suffocate," says Pagano. "A child could choke. And in an instant that child could be gagging for air and with no ability to respond. You're really leaving that child up to it's own ability to survive."
He says no child under the age of nine should be left home alone. If a child is older than that, short trips only are okay, and only with a friend or neighbor nearby.
"I think the best rule of thumb is to expect the unexpected and expect that things may go wrong," says Pagano. "So if you don't feel your child is really old enough or mature enough to react quickly to a situation, then that child is not old enough to be left home alone."
Lily is still years away from that age, and Tara says until then, she'll never leave her child home alone.
"Not when they can lick a light socket, not when someone can knock on the door, not when they can drown in two inches of water," she says. "Would you ever forgive yourself if something happened to your child while you were gone? You know, is it really worth it? It's just not worth it to me."