Giving your kid the Latch-Key

Is your child ready to become a Latchkey Kid?

When I was still in school, there were some days that my mom wasn’t there when I got home. I would have to use my key to get in, make myself a snack, and then do my homework before I could watch TV or play outside. I would make sure that I would get everything done as told. And I would ensure that my younger sister was watching TV or otherwise occupied. And then I would go down the hall to my parents’ room, close the door behind me, and search the room for anything interesting I could find. Eating from my mom’s secret stash of chocolate, snoop for the hidden Christmas presents, thumb through my dad’s vintage Playboy magazines (for the articles, of course), try on all my mom’s jewelry, and watch TV from the comfort of their huge bed .

I flippin’ loved those days.

Oh, don’t look at me that way. You know that you were just as rotten as me when I was a kid. Honestly, it’s not like there was anything that interesting in my parents’ rooms. It’s just that when a room is otherwise off-limits in the light of day, it is incredibly intriguing. And now that my son has finally graduated into “latchkey kid” status, he is probably doing the same thing. The clue?

“Did you know mom has a sink in her room???” Taz exclaimed to his sister a full week and a half after we had moved in.

Dear God. I haven’t let the kids into my room enough. It is surely the Pandora’s Box of our house, waiting to be opened in times when I’m not around. Don’t laugh. Your kids are currently searching for any incriminating evidence that you are human while you are reading this at work. And that brings up a very important question.

When are kids old enough to be left home alone?

Both of my kids got their own key to the house when they were 9. It wasn’t a set rule in our family, that 9 equals being old enough to be left alone. It was more about gauging when they were ready for such a responsibility. Were they self-sufficient enough to make something to eat when they were hungry? Could they finish their homework on their own? Can they entertain themselves without my help? Will they make smart choices when I’m not on top of them? I started testing the theory by allowing them to stay home alone for short periods of time, like when I went for a walk. Then I’d make it a little longer by going to the store without them, or taking a little time to run errands while they stayed home. I drilled them on what to do in an emergency, had them memorize my cell phone number and their grandparent’s number, and had them practice using their keys in the door lock. And eventually, I felt comfortable enough to let them stay in the house on their own.

Of course, I think it was me that needed the most prepping for this major change. I don’t care how ready your children are, the moment that you give your child a key is also the moment that you wonder when CPS is going to catch up with you for abandoning your child. I felt like someone would surely turn me in once they found out my child was home and I wasn’t.

But besides some snooping the kids may or may not be doing, the kids are doing fine. They call me every day as soon as they walk in the door, letting me know they made it home ok. They follow the normal rules that apply to their after school routine. And they are even a huge help in taking care of a couple chores before I get home 2 hours later.  I think the added trust I have placed on them makes them feel important, and they take that responsibility to heart.

Are you thinking of letting your child stay home alone? There are a couple things you need to think of. First, their age. Sure, California has no law set for when a child can stay home alone. But logic tells us that a child younger than age 7 (sometimes older) isn’t capable of knowing what to do in situations should they go wrong. Some kids ages 8-12 are fully capable of staying home alone in a familiar environment, like their own home for a short period of time (like after school, for example). Older than age 12 allows for a little more freedom, but still isn’t old enough to stay home alone overnight. Only you know if your child can handle the responsibility of staying home alone. Second, there should be clear cut rules set up for when they get home, the same routine they should adhere to every day (homework before fun). They should also know the things they are NOT allowed to do, and the consequences should they decide to ignore these rules. Third, they should know your phone number by heart so that they can call you as soon as they get home, and if they have any questions. There should also be a list of phone numbers to neighbors and family member available to them should they need anything. Fourth, and most important, they should be trained on what to do in case of an emergency. Discuss different kinds of emergencies and the actions they should take, including when it is appropriate to call 911.

And finally, a good way to ensure they stay out of trouble is to occupy their time with a small chore. It not only helps lighten your load once you get home, it keeps them from doing something naughty, like say, snooping in your room. Of course, a good lock does that too.

Do you have a child that is nearing latchkey kid status?  Or maybe you already have one.  What are your thoughts on kids staying home alone?

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2 thoughts on “Giving your kid the Latch-Key”

  1. No parent wants to admit they have latch-key kids. But in this day and age, it’s sometimes a necessity. I was a latch-key kid because I was raised in a single parent household and my mom had to work to support us. As a parent I stayed home with the kids as long as I could, but I finally had to go back to work and hand out keys to my kids. And now the grandkids are there. The most important thing a parent can do for their latch-key kids is to set up boundaries. And with boundaries comes consequences for messing up. And now, after all that I must address my eldest daughter:

    You rotten no-good kid! How dared you go through my room when I wasn’t there when you were a kid! I should refuse all babysitting requests! Oooohh, that really hurts, doesn’t it?
    Honestly, so what if you knew where my chocolate stash was. That was my decoy stash. I still have a couple of ultra hiding places you’ve never been able to find where I stashed the really good chocolate. You just found the cheap stuff.
    Going through the Christmas presents? Just spoiling your own surprise on Christmas morning.
    Playboy magazines? I’m so glad you found the “articles” so enlightening. Parts is parts, even if some of the parts hopefully scared the daylights out of you.

    I guess the parents’ room is the most special place in the house. So many secrets, so many treasures. Maybe parents should think about that when they leave their room unattended. Some things just aren’t for children’s eyes, and other things can prove to be too much of a temptation. Put the money and the valuables away (including the Godiva box). Don’t leave anything embarrassing out where the kids can see it. Get a lock and use it. And let the kids know that the parents’ room is off limits.

    Honestly Crissi, my chocolate???

  2. Hey, just like parts is parts, chocolate is chocolate. And regarding the Playboys, scared the daylights out of me. As a snooping kid, I wondered if you and dad were even aware that they were in your room, just like I wondered if you guys knew you owned a record album of Pink Floyd’s “Dark Side of the Moon” and Funkadelic’s “Maggot Brain” that I would play over and over on your record player when you were away from the house.

    Being a parent now, I am definitely more aware that nothing I do or have is hidden. And more than locks, I need to watch my p’s and q’s because kids find out EVERYTHING.

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