By Kate Merrill

BOSTON (CBS) –With kids headed back to school, parents trickling back to the office and a shortage of care providers, many families are in a bind during those after-school hours. So, when is it OK to leave a child home alone after school?

In some states, the answer is determined by law. In Georgia, for example, children as young as nine can stay home by themselves, but in Illinois, kids must be 14.

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Here in Massachusetts, it’s up to parents and that’s a good thing, according to Massachusetts General Hospital Child Psychologist Dr. Ellen Braaten.

“It gives parents the freedom to be able to determine whether or not a child is ready,” she said.

So, what should parents consider when making the decision?

Braaten said to look for signs of maturity.

“Do they do their homework independently? Can they get ready for school without you bothering them all the time? Do neighbors say, ‘Can your daughter or son come over and watch my little boy while I’m taking a workout class on YouTube?’ That shows that you’ve got a child who is starting to show that they are ready.”

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Where you live is also an important factor. According to Braaten, it has less to do with the safety of your neighborhood and more about whether there are other kids nearby, particularly if they are home alone as well.

“Kids are susceptible to peer pressure at that age,” she said.

Having a few trusted adults in the neighborhood is also a good thing. If you have someone who is close by, ask them to swing by and check on your tween. But according to Braaten, don’t spring it on your child. Make sure you let them know that’s a possibility.

A child’s personality is also something to consider.

“Are they hyperactive or really inattentive? Do they have a tendency to sit on the computer and play games for hours at a time and literally the house could be burning down around them, and they wouldn’t even notice?”

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Braaten said the most important question is – can they handle an emergency? She said a lot of kids never actually call anyone on the phone, so you might want to double-check that they can call for help if they need it.

Kate Merrill