The school year is starting and this year, your son will be coming home to an empty house. While it may not be the most desirable situation, it is one many parents face. Sometimes the latchkey situation is unavoidable and can mean the difference between the family’s ability to afford adequate food and housing or not. While not ideal, many children face this situation every day. It’s up to you to create an environment at home that will help your child feel safe and secure.
Latchkey children usually engage in the following activities:
• Get themselves off to school
• Come home to an empty house where they remain until parents or family members return
• Cook meals for themselves and/or their siblings
• Do cleaning chores
• Work on homework by themselves
• Supervise and care for younger siblings
• Use the Internet
• Play video games
• Watch inappropriate movies on cable
These children may spend two to three hours alone before a parent or caregiver comes home. While children will tell us that they don’t mind coming home to an empty house, they often harbor worries that accompany being alone.
Consider the possible negative impacts of being a latchkey child:
• Fear of being alone
• Fear of someone breaking into the house
• No adult supervision to help make good choices
• Possible feeling of being overwhelmed by the household responsibilities
• Lack of maturity to be responsible for younger siblings
• Lack of ability to handle conflicts between siblings
• Resentment towards parent(s) for putting them into the latchkey situation
• Child lacks anyone to talk to about a bad situation or great news from their day that they want to share immediately
While being home alone is one solution, there are other choices available to families. Consider learning more about one of these alternatives:
• Extended daycare, often offered by groups with children’s programming
• Boys & Girls Clubs
• Church daycare or youth programs
Protect your child by taking action:
1. Give them emergency contact numbers of friends or neighbors who you trust.
2. Create house rules and discuss them as a family. Post house rules in plain view.
3. Discuss security measures. If a problem arises, be sure your child knows how to contact you or the police. Make sure your children understand and can carry out these measures.
4. Instruct them on the proper use of 911.
5. Keep all firearms in a gun safe or locked up to avoid child access.
6. Make sure cable and Internet access has the proper controls to avoid dangerous websites and chat rooms.
Len Edwards is a former officer with the Memphis Police Department and serves as executive director of the Commission on Missing and Exploited Children (COMEC).