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SEATTLE -- As parents start getting their children ready to head back to school, some are already asking questions about what the right age is to start letting your child stay home alone, walk or bike to school by themselves or even get a smartphone.

Dr. Mollie Hughes with Break Through Learning Center said it's hard to put a definite number on when a child is ready to stay home alone or walk to school by themselves, but discussed some specific factors.

"I think it really depends on how you've prepared your children for safety issues and how mature you feel they are, and I think it also depends on the neighborhood and if kids are walking together in a group," said Hughes.

Hughes said no one knows your child better than you do, so if you feel like they're ready - consider the following:

  • Will they be by themselves or with other kids from the neighborhood?
  • Is it going to be dark when they leave for school or come home?
  • Do they know not to answer the door?
  • Have they memorized your phone number?
  • Do they know what to do if there's a fire or power outage?

It's also important to make sure your child is confident about being alone. If they're scared or uncertain they they're probably not ready. As for staying in the house by themselves, there are no federal or state laws about when kids can be home alone or even baby-sit another child.

The state's Department of Social and Health Services notes most authorities agree a 12-year-old can stay home alone for an hour or two but shouldn't be responsible for other children.

If you've got kids you know it's impossible to keep them away from your phone and new figures show nearly half of kids grades 4 through 12 have their own smartphone. But is it a good idea for young kids to have their own personal access to the web, texting and everything that goes with it? Experts say it can be as long as there are boundaries.

Dr. Hughes says that at whatever age you decide your child is ready for more responsibility, like walking to school by themselves, then having a cell phone isn't a bad thing especially in the case of an emergency. She adds smartphones and tablets can be useful learning tools as well. So if you do decide it's time, KING 5's tech expert Brian Westbrook said there are safety nets available.

"They are going to want to activate parental controls," said Westbrook. "A lot of these are built into the smartphones; you don't have to buy anything, you don't need additional software. Just look for the software that's already installed and your carrier can be a great resource for this."

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