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Tips For Parents Of Latchkey Children

Updated on November 15, 2014
When properly guided, a latchkey kid can learn responsibility through the experience.
When properly guided, a latchkey kid can learn responsibility through the experience.

The Profile Of A Latchkey Child

Eleven year old Samantha walks a short two blocks home from school every day. She hurries down the sidewalk, only stopping to wave to her friends along the way. She knows she must be home by 3:15 to catch her mother's phone call; even a lapse of five minutes will cause her mother concern. She reaches her home, punches in the code at the door and enters just in time to pick up the phone. Sam, as her mom calls her, is a latchkey kid.

Wikipedia defines a latchkey kid as a child who returns home from school to an empty house because his or her parents are away at work, or often left at home with little or no parental supervision. The term "latchkey" originated from a 1944 NBC documentary on World War II when one parent was called to war and the other parent had to work; thus, creating the children who were left at home. A latchkey to the house door was strung around the child's neck for safekeeping so that he or she could enter the home after school.

Today millions of children are left at home while parents work and are faced with having the responsibility of caring for themselves and sometimes their siblings. Depending upon the situation and the child, a child's latchkey experience can prove beneficial and build responsibility and self-confidence.

Statistics On Latchkey Kids

Percent or Number
Fact
2.4 million
Children under 12 home alone before or after school.
7 million (of 38 million)
5 - 14 year olds left to care for themselves six hours per week.
13%
Children home alone 10 hours per week. (65% are 12- 14 years old)
600,000
5 - 8 year olds fend for themselves
3.4 million
Under care of sibling
22%
Children from homes with income twice the poverty level. (11% are at poverty level)
*****
Children of single fathers are more likely to be left home alone.
Source: Child Advocate Home Alone
10/2000 report, based upon 1995 statistics

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When Is It Safe To Leave Your Child Alone?

When I was a Director of Child Care, parents of middle school children often asked me if it was safe to leave their child home alone. At the time I was in a state that did not specify any age, but the health agency recommended twelve years of age as a safe guideline. The US legal law system specifications are not defined for children under the age of 18 being left home alone. However, should harm come to a child, parents can be held responsible by child social services and may face court proceedings.

Generally, I advise parents to consider the maturity of their child along with the age. They should consider past behavior regarding homework, chores and play activities. Have they demonstrated good choices and followed set rules? Parents must also chat with their child about how they feel being left alone for a period of time. Some children consider the time alone to be a sign of growing up and desire the opportunity. Other children are afraid of being home without adult supervision.

As a precaution, I do not advise leaving children under the age of ten home alone, they are not capable of making logical (cause and effect) decisions regarding safety should an emergency arise. And, never should a child be left home alone overnight!

LatchKey Kids Defined

Questions To Consider

Here are some questions to ask yourself when considering leaving a child at home alone:

  • How long will your child be home alone? Will it be during the morning hours before school or the afternoon hours after school?
  • Will he be required to fix himself a snack or a meal?
  • Will she be alone? If siblings are under her care, is she capable of this and willing to do so?
  • How child-safe is your home?
  • Do you believe your neighborhood is safe?
  • Is there someone close by who he can call if there is an emergency?

There are all questions that must be answered prior to making a decision to leave a child home alone. Rules must be set for guiding a child regarding the questions above. For instance, if required to make a meal is he allowed to use the stove?

Rules to discuss with your child are:

  • Must she remain indoors or can she play outside in the yard?
  • Can he ride his bike? And if yes, where?
  • Can she go to the neighborhood playground?
  • Is a visit to the next door neighbor allowed?
  • Can friends come over?
  • If the phone rings, should he answer it?
  • Is the use of computers, laptops, or TV an option?

Latchkey Kids Learn Responsibility!

Making Latchkey A Successful Experience

The average latchkey child is left home alone between 3 p.m to 6 p.m., and an average of six hours per week. When you consider this is a child, the time can be equitable to an adult's work day. Therefore, parents should consider how their child would fill the time they are alone. Boredom and loneliness are factors affecting the use of time left alone. If left without guidance, a child will resort to negative behavior and it may lead to depression, poor self-esteem, and reduced school performance.

Check-in: Set a rule on calling to check-in with a parent as soon as they enter the home. Some parents install an in-home security system to monitor a child's activity at home. Depending upon the brand, the system can be accessed from a computer or cell phone.

Technology Usage: Will your child be allowed to watch TV or use the computer? If so, you may want to consider adding parental codes and locks for safety and security measures. I highly recommend this regardless of permission, the temptation to explore may present itself and you want to ensure your child is protected from harm. Also, set a time frame for usage, two hours daily is recommended by the American Pediatric Association.

Homework: Allow at least twenty minutes for your child to unwind before requiring them to complete homework assignments. Setting homework time as a standard after school is the best guard against poor school performance. Ideally, this should be accomplished prior to any other activity such as TV and playing games.

Chores: Assignment of household chores will help your child to learn responsibility and to make good use of time. Younger children can tidy their rooms or feed the family pet. Older children may be able to set the table for dinner, and even begin simple meal preparations (make sure the chores are age appropriate). Having chores build self-confidence in children and allows them to contribute to the family household.

Awards/Discipline: Discuss with your child the consequences of not following the rules. Punishment should be age appropriate and match the rule broken. Setting up a reward system encourages obedience and sets a positive attitude towards following rules. A Friday night pizza, or special in-home movie event is always a great incentive.

Contact List: Make sure your child knows his address, phone number, your work number and the phone numbers of people to contact in case of an emergency. Posting phone numbers by the main home phone or in a highly visible area is recommended for convenience in dialing. Some parents provide their child a cell phone programmed to dial certain numbers, usually their safe-contact adults such as mom, dad, grandparent, or a trusted neighbor.

Quotes Regarding Children. . .

In the United States today, there is a pervasive tendency to treat children as adults, and adults as children. The options of children are thus steadily expanded, while those of adults are progressively constricted. The result is unruly children and childish adults. —Thomas Szasz

While we try to teach our children all about life,
Our children teach us what life is all about.
—Angela Schwindt

It is a wise father who knows his own child. —William Shakespeare

A child of five would understand this. Send someone to fetch a child of five! —Groucho Marx

Trial Runs and Alternative Care

Although your child may be ready to stay at home alone, you may feel you are not. Consider having a trial run as a test for your child's readiness and self-care. Make a trip to the grocery store or jog around the neighborhood for an hour. This will give you both some indication of how it feels to be left alone. Discuss how each of you feel afterwards and set a plan of action for being home alone.

Alternatives to staying home alone are after-school and church programs, in-home child care (how about asking a grandparent to come over for awhile?), or asking a neighborhood mom to babysit. The local YMCA may offer child care and after-school programs at a reasonable cost.

Check your area for "Call Reassurance" (CARE) programs. These are often free to local citizens and monitored by the local law enforcement authorities. They provide services to latchkey children and only require online subscriptions by the parent. Children check-in with the service when they arrive home and can call for answers to questions they may have regarding home safety.

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    • teaches12345 profile image
      Author

      Dianna Mendez 3 years ago

      Sharon, you have made a great contribution with your comment. It is so key that everyone feels comfortable with this arrangement. It is better to get a sitter or child care services if there is any doubt or discomfort. I hope you are enjoying a wonderful weekend.

    • SharonBallantine profile image

      SharonBallantine 3 years ago

      You provide many good suggestions for parents who either already have kids spending time home alone or are considering it.

      One of the most important considerations is how both the adult(s) and child(ren) feel about the arrangement. When we check in with our Internal Guidance System it will help us understand the best path for our family and we may come up with alternative solutions that we would not have considered before.

    • teaches12345 profile image
      Author

      Dianna Mendez 4 years ago

      Alocsin, with the economic downturn here in the US, I can see more families having to live together. This is not such a good indicator of prosperity, but as far as children, the comfort of having more caring adults in the home is a benefit. Good to hear that Malaysia's children are well taken care of within the home. Thanks for adding this valuable insight. Hope your day is wonderfu.

    • alocsin profile image

      alocsin 4 years ago from Orange County, CA

      Excellent advice, as always. I'm currently vacationing in Malaysia, and it's interesting that there are no such things as latchkey kids because of the societal structure. Most families are extended, and I'm staying in a household right now with two school-aged kids, two working adults, one single adult and four elderly retirees. There's always someone at home when the kids return from school, which takes a lot of worry off the two parents who have to work all the time. Voting this Up and Useful.

    • teaches12345 profile image
      Author

      Dianna Mendez 4 years ago

      Leah, even though your childhood had some negative years, you have come out better for the wear. Wish we didn't have to learn like that though. I remember having to be home alone after school when my mom worked. I also knew not to open the door and there were times my sister and I hid. What memories! I also stayed home with my child until he was in junior high, but even then I tried to be home right after he was off school. Thanks for your sharing from experience and helping others to understand the life of latchkey kids. Blessings!

    • leahlefler profile image

      Leah Lefler 4 years ago from Western New York

      I was a latchkey kid - I started staying home alone at age 9, and by age 10 I was home alone through the summers as well. By age 11, I was also watching my younger sister after school and through the summers. There were definitely low points to being a latchkey - in the winter, my parents didn't return from work until after dark and this scared the daylights out of me. I would turn on all the lights, but then get yelled at for having all the lights on. I would hide when someone knocked on the door - we had random solicitors and I was afraid they would know I was home alone. Before I had my sister full-time, I would get bored and play with the neighbor kids - sometimes going out of our immediate neighborhood.

      Of course, then I had my younger sibling to take care of - she was 3 years old and I was her caretaker. I wasn't always the best babysitter - an 11 year old child is not the same as an adult.

      There were some positives - I was always extremely responsible and knew how to care for children long before I had my own. The negatives far outweighed the positives, however, and we made a large financial sacrifice so that I could stay at home with our children. I don't want them to have the same childhood I did.

    • teaches12345 profile image
      Author

      Dianna Mendez 4 years ago

      Mama, I was a latchkey kid during my Junior High years. It was in a time when you didn't have to worry so much about a teen being alone at home. I agree that it is better to be at home, if possible, for a child. Hug your kid for me!

    • Mama Kim 8 profile image

      Sasha Kim 4 years ago

      I was one of these for almost my entire childhood!! ^_^ I didn't mind too much and it really helped my single mom. As long as I can continue to be a stay at home mom... my children will NOT be home by themselves... I'm not as trusting ^_^ great hub, voted a bunch

    • teaches12345 profile image
      Author

      Dianna Mendez 4 years ago

      I had to insert Groucho's quote -- he is such a great comic classic! Thanks Clevercat for stopping by here today. Be well and safe out there.

    • theclevercat profile image

      Rachel Vega 4 years ago from Massachusetts

      I love the idea of checking in! Great hub! I also love the sidebar quotes, especially Groucho's -- "A child of five would understand this. Send someone to fetch a child of five!"

      Voted up and interesting.

    • teaches12345 profile image
      Author

      Dianna Mendez 5 years ago

      Jamie, I hate that little children have to be at home alone -- at any age. However, ten plus ages can handle it for an hour or so if mature and in safe zones/homes. Thanks for you add here. I would have hated being home alone in the evenings too. Take care and enjoy your weekend.

    • rajan jolly profile image

      Rajan Singh Jolly 5 years ago from From Mumbai, presently in Jalandhar,INDIA.

      Some fine tips and thoughts about how to go about the whole thing. With more and more children being forced to become latchkey kids out of circumstances that force both parents to be away from home, this hub treats this topic very realistically.

      Voted up, useful and sharing on G+1.

    • Jamie Brock profile image

      Jamie Brock 5 years ago from Texas

      teaches- Ah.. memories :) There were many days that my sis and I would be at home waiting for my mom to come in from work. Being at home alone during the day never bothered me it was just at night that I really hated it. I was shocked to see in the statistics that children as young as 5 years old are latch key kids. That is really scary.. my son is almost 5 and I would never DREAM of leaving him home alone! He would not be able to handle that either.. he would be far too scared and actually traumatized by such an experience. I'm really shocked and surprised that there are kids that young that are left alone :( Great hub.. and love all the areas you covered for the ones who may actually benefit from the responsibility. Great hub.. voting up :)

    • teaches12345 profile image
      Author

      Dianna Mendez 5 years ago

      Yes, the stats are scary, Glimmer. I hope that we can see an end to the child left at home alone some day. Take care and enjoy your week.

    • Glimmer Twin Fan profile image

      Glimmer Twin Fan 5 years ago

      Useful and interesting hub. So important these days and while we are fortunate that I can stay at home, when my daughter is older we will probably be in this situation. I love the tips you gave and was amazed at the statistics in your table. Scary that 5 year olds are being left alone, hopefully they are with older siblings. Shared.

    • teaches12345 profile image
      Author

      Dianna Mendez 5 years ago

      Rosemay, it is a challenge for working parents as their child grows older. Wish all kids could have a parent at home through their childhood years. However, life is such and we must deal with it wisely. Thanks for your added wisdom and you have a great week.

    • Rosemay50 profile image

      Rosemary Sadler 5 years ago from Hawkes Bay - NewZealand

      This is a great hub, there are so many latchkey kids because both parents or single parents need to work. assessing their maturity and making sure they are safe are two very important issues which you have made some great suggestions for.

      A thumbs up from me.

    • teaches12345 profile image
      Author

      Dianna Mendez 5 years ago

      Hi TeacherJoe! I know what you mean by the dog being a babysitter, we actually had a couple of pets like this - they knew how to help and watch out for us. Enjoy your week and God bless you too.

    • teacherjoe52 profile image

      teacherjoe52 5 years ago

      Good morning teaches.

      Very good advice.

      Living on a farm, we had too much to do to get into any trouble. Our dog made a great babysitter.

      God bless you

    • teaches12345 profile image
      Author

      Dianna Mendez 5 years ago

      Vellur, safety is the top priority for families when it comes to children. I know that was mine when my son was in school. I was fortunate to be home with him, or work part-time until he reached junior high. Thanks for you value added here today. Blessings.

    • Vellur profile image

      Nithya Venkat 5 years ago from Dubai

      A great hub, very useful to determine whether a child is mature enough to handle the whole latch key routine. Great pointers on how to take care and making sure that they are safe. Safety is the most important factor.

    • teaches12345 profile image
      Author

      Dianna Mendez 5 years ago

      It is my hopes that these children are kept safe. Overall, most kids are pretty good at handling the time alone. Great to see you here, Alicia.

    • AliciaC profile image

      Linda Crampton 5 years ago from British Columbia, Canada

      Your hub contains very useful information, Dianna. You have some great suggestions for keeping latchkey children safe and for helping their time alone to be productive.

    • teaches12345 profile image
      Author

      Dianna Mendez 5 years ago

      Ha, ha, Dr. BJ! I do believe Groucho may be equal to Dr. Szasz in this respect! Your comment adds to the hub flow and I appreicate your support. Enjoy your day.

    • drbj profile image

      drbj and sherry 5 years ago from south Florida

      Not only are we psychically on the same wavelength, Dianna, but we share an admiration for two great wits as evidenced by the quotes you included: Dr. Thomas Szasz, the eminent psychiatrist, and Groucho Marx, the eminent comedian.

      Voting an Up for these realistic and relevant latchkey kids' tips.

    • teaches12345 profile image
      Author

      Dianna Mendez 5 years ago

      Thanks for stopping by, Eddy. I hope it helps parents to make the best decision for their children. Enjoy your weekend.

    • Eiddwen profile image

      Eiddwen 5 years ago from Wales

      A great hub teaches which I am sure many readers will benefit from. .

      Thanks for sharing and have awonderful weekend.

      Eddy.

    • teaches12345 profile image
      Author

      Dianna Mendez 5 years ago

      Ignugent, safety first is important when it comes to children. Glad you and I see eye to eye on that one. Thanks for coming by here today, friend. Walk well and strong!

    • teaches12345 profile image
      Author

      Dianna Mendez 5 years ago

      Janine, as always, your presence is a welcome bit of positive news. Thanks for your support and sharing. May your day be filled with all good things.

    • teaches12345 profile image
      Author

      Dianna Mendez 5 years ago

      Dr. Pooja, important assessment on maturity is needed in order to decide if being left home alone is wise. Thanks for your support and for sharing. I hope your day is going well.

    • teaches12345 profile image
      Author

      Dianna Mendez 5 years ago

      The girls, it concerns me that children are left home alone, but as you say, parents sometimes do not have a choice. The best thing to do is educate your children, and make sure they are safe. Prayer always works as well! Blessings!

      Millionaire, I know what you mean. When I was a child, I had to come home to an empty home once in a while and you just trust that all is well. Glad you both made it through that season. Thanks for your add to the conversation. Have a great day.

      Michele, thanks for stopping by here today. It is a reality of our working society today -- I pray for these kids and their safety. Blessings!

    • Michele Travis profile image

      Michele Travis 5 years ago from U.S.A. Ohio

      Thank you for writing this hub. Even though I was not a latchkey kid or my daughter, this is very good information for parents whose children are latchkey children.

      Voted up.

    • Millionaire Tips profile image

      Shasta Matova 5 years ago from USA

      I was a latchkey kid, as was my daughter. You've outlined a great list of considerations and tips. One day, my daughter told me that when she came home the door was already open. She went ahead inside. Luckily we must have left the door open, and no-one had come in, but it was scary to think about other alternatives. She hadn't thought of that as a potentially dangerous situation, and I hadn't thought of it to tell her.

    • the girls profile image

      the girls 5 years ago from Los Angeles, California

      Thank you for sharing your expertise on child care. Just heard the term today. Considering a child's maturity is a big factor if it is worth the risk and safety of having a latchkey child. Most of the time though, the parents have no choice but to work and earn a living, with the kids at home by themselves after school.

      Voted up and the buttons beside it!

    • profile image

      ignugent17 5 years ago

      It is always good to know if you can trust your child to be alone. Thanks for this information.

      Parents will always keep in mind the safety of their kids.

      Voted up and more.

    • Janine Huldie profile image

      Janine Huldie 5 years ago from New York, New York

      Dianna, gives wonderful food for thought to parents who have to consider this option. Great job really laying it all out here and have of course voted up and shared all over!!

    • Dr Pooja profile image

      Dr Pooja 5 years ago

      In the present time with both parents working kids are left to do a lot of things on their own and this has its pros and cons . I agree with you maturity of the child is an important assessment to be done . Great hub!Shared !

    • teaches12345 profile image
      Author

      Dianna Mendez 5 years ago

      I was one as well for a short time, but two of my siblings were home with me. I can't remember getting in trouble, but I'm sure there were some days we did! Thanks for stopping by. Enjoy your weekend.

    • billybuc profile image

      Bill Holland 5 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Although I have heard the term for quite some time, I really didn't know what it referred to. Turns out I was one for a few years. Anyway, great suggestions on the subject. Well done Dianna!