Each day millions of children are left to take care of themselves after school . With government funding slashed due to budget cuts, fewer employment options and the extra cost of childcare parents are left with one option, leaving their child home alone.
I grew up a latch key kid. I literally had a shoelace with a hanging key tied around my neck, tucked into my uniform so no one could see. After school I was told to go straight home, lock the door behind me and entertain myself till my parents came home.
Each day I did just that. I called my mother to say I was home and was alone for another 2-3 hours.
As a girl I always found myself in front of my mother’s vanity and big walk in closet. I played dress up in her high heels and twirly skirts. I mastered the art of applying three complementary colors of eye shadow and dance around the house putting on a fashion show for my imaginary audience.
As working parents, about eight years ago we had to leave our oldest alone each day during the week. We were able to drop her off at school in the morning but then she was home alone for about an hour till we came home that night. The walk from the bus stop was short and there were several families on the block to keep an eye on her. It was the right decision at that time for that child.
Today child care costs keep rising while flexible work schedules are tougher to find. Long days in the office are taking the place of once welcomed and encouraged flex-time schedules. Parents are having to take jobs at a further distance or with different shifts in order to provide for their families.
Before you decide to go the latchkey kid route, go over some safety tips and rules to ensure your children are dependable and mature enough to handle the responsibility.
- Check your local and state regulations. Many states say children should be at least 12 years old to be left alone.
- Go over the house rules. Make sure everyone is clear about what is and is not supposed to be done while the child is home alone. This can cover computer time, phone conversations and homework.
- Stay connected. Make sure your child has access to emergency phone numbers for you and other friends and family. Keep your child updated if you are running late due to work, traffic or other situation.
- Protect your children. You may trust your children completely but take the step to lock up alcohol, prescription medications and firearms. This would be an ideal opportunity to research protection against online predators, spam, identity theft and malware.
Make the decisions that work for your family. If you are unsure and nervous about leaving your child home alone it probably isn’t the best answer. Connect with other community families and try to work out a shared care program. Discuss with your employers if a flex schedule would best suit your needs one or two days a week. Research school and government programs that may offer free activities, lessons, tutoring or sports in lieu of child care.
key image courtesy of NomadicLass via Flickr