We’ve answered some common questions about when your child is legally old enough to do some important things. By Marjun Ziarati
At what age can...
…my child drink?
In the UK, an individual must be aged 18 or over to buy alcohol of any kind. However, the law for drinking alcohol is slightly different:
- It’s legal for a child aged 5 and upwards to drink beer, wine or cider at home or on other private premises. However, government health advice advocates that children should be at least 15 years old, and only drink alcohol under adult supervision. Parents can be prosecuted if they allow a young child to get drunk and it could turn into an issue for child protection officers to deal with.
- Your child can’t drink spirits until aged 18 or over, whether drinking at home or elsewhere.
- If your child is 16 or over, they can drink beer, wine or cider while eating a meal at a table in licensed premises, but only if accompanied by an adult aged 18 or over.
- 16-year-olds or under may be able to visit a pub with an adult, but this depends on the individual pub’s rules, so you’ll need to check before going out as a family.
- It’s illegal to buy alcohol for anyone under 18 for consumption in a public place (unless eating a meal together as above).
- If unable to prove age with ID, it’s possible to be refused alcohol, whatever your age.
- The legal age for drinking at a festival in the UK is 18.
…my child have sex?
It’s important to talk openly with your child about relationships before they're old enough to begin a sexual relationship. The Family Planning Association offers excellent advice to parents on how to do this without embarrassing yourself – or your children.
Being emotionally and legally ready for sex can often be different things, but here’s what the law says:
- The age of consent to any form of sexual activity in the UK is 16 for both men and women.
- This age remains the same regardless of whether the sexual activity is between people of the same or different gender.
- Health professionals can provide contraceptive advice and treatment to young people under 16 if believed to be in the young person’s best medical interests, and the young person is able to give informed consent.
…my child sign up to social media
- In the UK, most social media websites and apps require your child to be 13 or over to sign up. However, there are apps where younger children can sign up without having to prove their age. For example, apps such as Facebook and Snapchat just ask users signing up to enter their date of birth. There is no checking procedure in place.
- In May 2018 the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) came into force. This EU legislation stipulates that anyone under 16 will need parental consent before signing up to online services, including social media. Member governments can set this age lower than 16 if they wish, as long as it's not under 13. The UK government has elected to keep the age of consent for signing up to online services at 13.
...my child get a paid job
- In the UK, the youngest a child can work part-time and get paid is 13. There’s an exception for children involved in acting and modelling – they will need a performance licence.
- Children can only start full-time work once they’ve reached the minimum school leaving age.
- In England, a young person must be in part-time education or training until they’re 18. In Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, it’s 16. Read more.
- School-aged children aren’t entitled to the National Minimum Wage.
… my child be left alone?
There isn’t a legal age under UK law for when you can leave your child on their own. As a parent, it’s up to you to use your own judgement about how mature your child is before deciding when it’s OK to leave them alone, in a car or at home.
‘It’s an offence to leave a child alone if it places them at risk’
NSPCC guidance suggests that babies, toddlers and very young children should never be left alone. Bear in mind that it’s an offence to leave a child alone if it places them at risk, and parents can be prosecuted if this is deemed to be the case.
The NSPCC also advises the following:
- Children under 12 generally aren’t mature enough to be left alone for a long period of time.
- Children under 16 shouldn’t be left alone overnight.
…my child babysit?
There’s no legal age for babysitting in the UK. If under 16, your child cannot be prosecuted for neglect or ill treatment of the children in their care. As a parent, you’re responsible for anything that happens to your child while you’re not there without an adult supervising them. It’s useful to bear in mind some of the points below when agreeing a suitable age for your child to start babysitting:
- How mature, confident and responsible is your child? Talk through what to do in the case of an emergency. Do they have someone nearby to contact? Do they have a parent’s mobile phone? Can they contact you if they need to?
- How far away will they be? Is it for a neighbour while you're also at home nearby?
- How old is the child they want to babysit? Avoid babysitting babies and toddlers until the sitter is mature and experienced enough.
The advice published on Parent Info is provided by independent experts in their field and not necessarily the views of Parent Zone or CEOP.
First published: September 2017
Updated: May 2018