Children who stay home alone, either for a few hours after school during the
school year or for the summer months, are commonly referred to as "latchkey children."
The phrase "latchkey" originates from the early 19th century, when children in a similar
situation would wear the key to their home tied to a string they wore around their neck
and were responsible for their own care.
Families living on one income is a rarity, making it almost unperceivable to think
of a parent being home on a daily basis to greet their child when he/she comes home from
school. The birth of the two income household was the beginning of the Latch Key Kid.
Many parents are forced into this situation due to various reasons. One of the most
common reasons is when a child becomes too old for a babysitter, usually when they
become a preteen.
According to the After school Alliance's recent study 14.3 million children
(4 million of them being in middle school) head home after school each day to empty
houses. Our elementary schools are great about providing after school programs for
their students, and there are always day cares willing to get children off he bus and take
care of them until parents arrive. But, what about the middle school children, those
children in grades 6th-8th ages 10 - 14? When school is out many of them go home to
an empty house, fix a snack and then "veg out".
The hours between 3-6pm. on school days (referred to by law enforcement
officials as a "danger zone") juvenile crimes are most likely to take place as well as
children are most likely to become victims of violent crime, be involved in all kind of
accidents, experiment with drugs or alcohol, and become pregnant. According to the
website After-School All-Stars a disconnected community is in jeopardy of becoming
an unsafe community. Criminologist Robert J. Sampson aserts, communities
characterized by (a) anonymity and sparse acquaintanceship networks among residents,
(b) unsupervised teenage peer groups attenuated control of public space, and (c) a weak
organizational base and low social participation in local activities face an increased risk
of crime and violence."
Experts worry that this unsupervised period of time leads to an increase in
juvenile crime, teenage pregnancies, drug and alcohol abuse and a list of many other
youth problems. Just think about this, Have you seen what is on local television in the
afternoon? Do you want you twelve year old daughter, niece, or neighbor thinking every
mother is having to test 3-13 men to determine who the father of her child is? This is
what unsupervised children see every afternoon. Yeah, they probably still see it when
adults are present, but at least then a adult is around to add to the "information" the child
has just received.
Lack of adult supervision and participation in self-care for both children and
adolescents have been linked to: increased likelihood of accidents, injuries, lower social
competence, lower GPAs, lower achievement test scores and greater likelihood of
participation in delinquent or other high risk activities such as experimentation with
alcohol, tobacco, drugs and sex. Teens who are unsupervised during after school hours
are 37% more likely to become teen parents.
We expect our young teenagers to act like little adults, expecting them to take
care of themselves, the housework and most of the time younger brothers and sisters.
But we don't like it when they act the way they think adults act. All adults drink,
smoke and have sex right? Well, ask just about every 13 year old and they will tell
you "yeah, adults get to do all kinds of cool stuff!" In all reality that is probably what
they think! They are just children, they are not yet responsible enough to make adult
decisions. They still need adult supervision and...