It’s that time of year again when the days are longer and warmer. Days spent with the family outside, cookouts and the water. School is on summer vacation and that means freedom for our kids. What it means for parents is more time that the child might have to stay at home alone and without parental supervision. Today’s parents both work and some families have just one parent in the primary home. Work is necessary but so is the safety of our kids. Latchkey children is a term that is used to describe children who have to stay at home alone at least some part of the day. Parents need to work and this a situation that worries the parent as they are concerned about their kids while still trying to work.
It is estimated that from 5 to 12 million children between the ages of 5 and 13 are at home alone for some period of time everyday. In many cases, their parents either cannot afford child care or none is available. Children who look after themselves are about 3 times more likely than those supervised by adults to be involved in accidents, engage in delinquent behavior or become a victim. Not all parents can be with their children all hours of the day. Parents must deal with the concern about how their children will cope being alone and what they will do during routine activities and potentially dangerous ones.
Some kids enjoy the challenge of taking care of themselves and like to have some added responsibilities. Some kids get lonely, bored, and scared. Parents can look at this time their kids are alone as an opportunity to discuss safety and crime prevention. This is also a positive time to help build self confidence and self-esteem. The more parents get involved with their kids and use this as a learning opportunity, the level of anxiety and possibility of dangers decreases.
Parents should set rules and limits while the child is home alone, slowly increasing responsibilities. Communicate to your children why they must be left alone and go over what they may or may not do to decrease their risks of injuries or becoming a victim. This will also decrease the parents worries and anxieties while they must be away.
Parents are encouraged to make available a “phone a friend” lifeline. This is not meant to replace the regular contact with the parent but it allows for a safe call in the cases where a parent can not get to the phone while at work. Designate this “phone a friend” and have the phone numbers available for your child.
Parents should check with your local city/town school and recreation departments for summer programs. Churches, neighborhood organizations such as the Boys and Girls Clubs or the YMCA are all good places to check.
If your children are to be alone at home, you need to go over routines that they need to follow. For example, household chores, taking care of pets, homework or summer reading. Make sure you go over policies that will pertain to them while they are home alone. These policies should include, who and what friends may come to the house, what to do when the doorbell rings, where and who the child may visit. Make sure you tell them what time you will be home.
Things you should teach your children before they are left alone:
- Memorize their name and address, including city and state.
- Memorize their phone number, including area code.
- How to use the phone including cells and land lines.
- Make sure they know how to make emergency, local, and long distance calls. Show them how to reach an operator.
- Tell them to never go into their home if they find a door or window broken. They need to call 911.
- Show them how to work the home’s windows and how to lock and unlock them. Make sure that they are locked when they are home.
- Tell them to never go into anyone else’s home without your permission.
- Tell them to avoid playing alone or walking alone.
- Tell them a stranger is someone that you do not know or do not know well.
- Tell them if they feel that they are being followed, either by foot or by car, to run to the nearest public place, neighbor’s house, or a designated safe house.
- Tell them to make sure that they tell you if anyone asks them to keep a secret, offers them gifts or money, or asks to take their picture.
- Make sure they know that they need to always be able to tell you if something happened while they were alone that made them feel uncomfortable in any way.
The necessity of working sometimes makes it difficult to balance work and childcare. In any case, if your child has special needs, is too young, or is unable to take on the needed responsibilities of the latchkey child, it is important for parents to make sure the proper care is used.