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Preparing Your Child to Be a Latchkey Kid
All over the US, children are going home after school and spending time alone until their parents get home from work. This is what a latchkey kid is. The term came about because they have their own key, usually on a chain hung from their neck, to unlock their home each day when they’re done with school.
They typically have no adult supervision for two to three hours each evening while they wait for their parents to come home. There are more than four million grade-school-aged latchkey kids because there are a lot of dual-income parents and single parents in the workforce today. But this number is down from its high in the 80s when over half of all children were latchkey kids.
It’s very difficult to find affordable childcare for this age group. However, before you choose to let your child become a latchkey kid, there are many things to consider - such as the laws in your area, whether your child is mature enough, and your own financial and emotional situation.
1. Latchkey Kids and the Law
If you’re considering letting your child become a latchkey kid, then you need to find out what the law is in your state, city, and county. For the most part, allowing a child to stay home before the age of 8 is not recommended or even legal today. It was done in the past with great regularity but now the laws have changed the rules for parents.
Most professionals agree that children between ages 8 and 10 shouldn’t be home alone for more than a couple of hours. Ages 11 to 12 can be home longer but should not be left alone late at night. Kids 13 to 15 can be alone at night, but not all night long. Between 16 and 17 years of age, being left overnight a couple nights is okay. But, keep in mind that your decisions should be made based on the law in your area and the maturity of your child.
2. Dangers of Being Latchkey
Let’s be clear before we continue. There are some inherent dangers in being a latchkey kid. But you can mitigate each of them if you’re honest about it and aware. Sometimes you have no choice but to take risks, but when you know what the true issues are, you can at least get in front of them and help your child come out on top.
Loneliness, Boredom and Fear
Many studies show one of the biggest problems with latchkey kids is that they are often lonely, bored, and even afraid. That’s why it’s so important to set up ways to mitigate these issues. Children who have these problems are more likely to fall for those who seek to prey on children through the internet and other means. Talk to your child about stranger (and even relative) danger, and proper behavior that adults should have around kids.
Problems with Peer Pressure
Children starting about middle-school age who spend more than three hours a day alone tend to fall for peer pressure more. They also tend to be more likely to be involved with drug and alcohol use and even sexual activity, due to not following the rules you set about not having friends over. If you never check in or show up unannounced, they will learn that they can get away with it and since their frontal lobes aren’t closed yet, they may make bad choices.
Sexual Promiscuity and Behavior Problems
Children left alone for long periods of time tend to suffer from sexual promiscuity and even behavior problems more often than children who aren’t. But, many children left alone don’t, so there has to be a way to prevent this issue. Open communication, double checking on your kids, and asking others like a trusted neighbor to tell you what’s going on can help.
Many children who are latchkey kids also seem to have more issues with conduct disorders and have more issues academically. However, some of this is traced to parents not having time to spend with their kids or money to spend on tutors, health experts, and so forth. If you are aware in advance of this problem, you can know what to watch for in your latchkey child.