One of the realities of today¹s society is the pressure for kids to stay home alone after school until a parent returns from work. “Home Alone” took on a whole new meaning after the movies about a youngster who found himself left behind in the family residence without his parents, and yet proved to be resourceful, independent, and even successful in foiling would-be intruders.
This story might be entertaining to watch on the screen, but it hardly represents the reality of today¹s latchkey kids. Did you know there is nothing new about kids being on their own at home? The phrase latchkey kids actually originated in the early 1800¹s, when kids who were responsible for their own care wore the key to their home tied on a string around their necks. Today, with an increasing number of parents who work, there are more kids who are home alone after school until at least dinnertime.
Here are some thoughts to determine if your child is old enough to stay home alone. There is no magic formula to measure a child’s readiness to assume self-care. Can your child:
-Be trusted to go straight home after school?
-Follow rules and instructions well?
-Handle unexpected situations without panicking?
-Stay alone without being afraid?
Obviously, the best scenario is for an adult to provide care and supervision for kids, while mom and dad are at work–at home or in some kind of after school program. When that¹s not possible, one solution is to prepare youths who will be staying alone with these guidelines:
-To check in with you or a neighbor immediately after arriving home.
-Establish “House Rules.” Post them where they can be checked daily.
-Include homework expectations, chores, use of the phone, computer and
-How to call 911, or your area¹s emergency number, and give directions to your home, in case of emergency. Leave a list of phone numbers for work, relatives, and friends.
-How to escape in case of fire.
-Never go into the house or apartment if things don¹t look right–such as a broken window, ripped screen, or opened door.
-To never accept gifts or rides from people they don¹t know well.
-Discuss transportation plans for all after school activities.
-To never let anyone into your home with asking your permission.
-It¹s best to not let people at the door or on the phone know your child is alone. Teach them to say, “Mom can¹t come to the phone (or door) right now.” Or better yet, buy a caller ID and tell your kids to only answer the phone for specific callers and let the answering machine take a message for all others.
-Explain how to carry a house key in a safe place (inside a pocket or sock). Don’t leave it under a door mat or on a ledge outside the house.
-How to use the door and window locks, and the alarm system if you have one.
-Keep a flashlight handy for power outages.
-Lock all alcoholic beverages and firearms securely.
-Provide a first aid kit for small cuts and scrapes.
Remember, no matter how mature your child acts, he/she is still learning life. Give your kids lots of encouragement, support, and treat their mistakes as learning experiences instead of failures. Show them how much you appreciate their helpfulness, self-reliance and cooperation while you are away. Reward them with your “quality” time when you can.
Latchkey Kids: Unlocking Doors For Children & Their Families by Bryan E.
“Keeping Latchkey ‘Tweens Safe” by Jane Lanigan Woman’s Day June 1, 2000