With a new school year underway, many parents and caregivers fret about latchkey children who spend time on their own before or after school. According to some estimates, more than three million kids under 12 are home alone at least part of the day. That’s inevitable given the number of single-parent households and families in which both parents work.
We all want our kids to be safe and secure, so we did a little research. Here are some basic tips to help make sure your kids know how to handle being home alone:
- Have your kids check in with you or a responsible adult as soon as they come home. They can call your office phone or your cell phone. If you are unavailable, they should leave a message.
- Set up guidelines for answering the telephone. Let calls go to the answering machine, if available, unless caller ID indicates that a family member or friend is calling.
- Establish clear rules for keeping doors locked and answering the door. In most cases, young children should not open the door unless it’s a family member or a well-known and trusted neighbor or friend.
- If Internet access is allowed, establish standards and clear restrictions, such as setting up parental guidelines for websites and chats. Also remind children that talking to strangers is just as bad an idea online as it is in public.
- Make sure your child knows how and when to call 911— an important reminder for all of us. If you see anything suspicious or threatening in our community, call the police immediately.
You can get various perspectives on this topic by typing “latchkey kids” into a search engine such as Google, Bing or Yahoo.
Finally, don’t worry that your children will suffer emotional or psychological damage by fending for themselves a few hours a week. According to one news story, a report cited by the American Psychological Association found that the success of latchkey kids depends more on what kids are doing with their time after school, rather than the fact that you’re not with them 24-7.