Home Alone: Keeping Latchkey Kids SafeJul 30, 2022 07:03PM ● By Ann Marie O'Phelan
When Southwest Florida resident Shelly Miller was in high school, she was a latchkey kid. “I’d come home every day after school to an empty house,” she says. Her working parents didn’t get home until 6pm. “They left me notes and told me to call when I got home.”
This is the reality for many families these days, with parents working outside of the home. And the Covid-19 pandemic introduced a whole new generation of latchkey kids, as child-care options have been harder to come by.
Safe Kids Worldwide (formerly the National SAFE KIDS Campaign) recommends that children not be left alone before the age of 12, and older siblings shouldn’t supervise younger siblings until at least the age of 15. These are general age guidelines; each child must feel comfortable, confident, and willing to be home alone. The child should be mature enough to follow the rules, have basic problem-solving skills, and know what to do in case of an emergency.
To get children ready, parents and caregivers should start off with short periods of time spent alone and gradually lengthen the time. Practice scenarios should be discussed such as what to do in case of a fire. The kids should have ready access to their phones, and important phone numbers and addresses should be prominently displayed so the information can be quickly relayed in an emergency. Backups, such as safe neighbors or grandparents, should also be available to step in if needed. Structured routines, such as homework and snack time, also help children feel secure. The general safety of the neighborhood should be taken into consideration.
The more practice and preparation that children receive ahead of time, the more likely the success. If in doubt, the best bet is to find an after-school program for them until the time is right.
Ann Marie O’Phelan is a Southwest Florida resident and a regular contributor to TOTI Media.
SAFETY TIPS FOR STAYING HOME ALONE
The Florida Department of Children and Families offers these safety tips for latchkey kids.
Place all emergency numbers (doctor, hospital, police department, fire department, poison control center, emergency medical services) and the phone number of a friend or neighbor in a visible place near all phones.
Make sure your child knows your fire escape plans. Remind your child to get out of the house immediately if the smoke alarm sounds and to call the fire department from a neighbor’s house.
Show your child where the first aid kit is and how to use the items in it.
Prepare a snack or meal for your child in advance, preferably one that does not need to be heated.
Tell the child where you will be, how you can be reached, and when you will return home.
Make sure your child has your cell phone number and/or that it is programmed into the phone to be used in an emergency. Knowing your child can reach you in an instant will help you, and your child, feel more at ease.
Have your child call you to check in when arriving home to an empty house.
Set ground rules for: leaving the house; having friends over; cooking; answering the phone/door; using the Internet.