With the start of school, parents have to make arrangements for their childrens’ care during after school hours. For single-parents or families where both parents work, this is an important decision. Children have been staying home alone after school for many years. In the early 19th century, children wore house keys on a string around their neck to school, so they could get into their homes, and were known as Latchkey Children. The term is now self-care children.
Experts advise not leaving kids under age 12 at home alone. Many factors are involved in ensuring the safety of the child. Their maturity plays a large part in deciding if they can handle the responsibility of being home alone, and taking care of themselves and maybe other siblings. It is very important that parents prepare their child in a reassuring way that they know they can trust them to stay at home alone. Here are some basic safety rules that parents should instruct them to do and know:
- Know their full name, address, and phone number.
- Know their parents full name, where they work, and phone number.
- Don’t go into the house if a window is broken or door is partially open.
- Don’t play alone on the way home.
- Call parent or trusted neighbor to check in as soon as they arrive home.
- What to do in case of fire.
- Do not open the door to strangers. Do not let them know they are alone.
- Lock the door, once home.
- Carry house key in a hidden place; do not put name and address on the key.
- Go to that trusted neighbor in case of emergency, or being uneasy.
The above rules should be taught to children that have other after-school options, in case of times when the babysitter is not available, or other emergency circumstances lead to them having to stay home alone for a day or two. A good example of this is the past H1N1 pandemic, when working parents did not have access to their day-care facilities, and had to miss work or leave their kids at home alone.
There are an estimated five million kids between the ages of 5 and 13 that stay home alone. That’s a frightening figure. The neighborhoods they live in, or types of kids that hang around may not ensure a secure harbor. Children that are home alone should be given a schedule to follow that allows them snacks, free time for television or computer, and homework. Once the parents are home, they need to spend time with their child and let them know they are interested in what they have done while there alone. Certain safety monitors on computers should be in place. Too many predators exist in cyberspace.
Parents should look into other options like after-school programs offered by churches, PTO’s, and public libraries. They can also consider joining with other parents to pay a stay-at-home mom to keep their children.
There are several Latchkey phone programs that are sponsored by community organizations such as the police department, sheriff’s offices, or volunteer groups. They offer automatic phone systems that call the child at home at various times of the day the parent has chosen. If there is no answer, or answer to repeated calls within a designated time, the system automatically calls the parent and others on the list, as well as sends out an email alert. Programs such as this are beneficial to children at home alone, and senior citizens, as well.
Good luck to all students and parents as this new school year begins. Good planning for your children and staying in touch with them will assure that they have a safe year and learn responsibility.