“Latchkey Kid” is a term that came into existence during World War II. It was used to describe the large number of youth who were left without direct adult supervision. During this period of time, most Americans were involved in the war effort. Many fathers were in military service and many mothers went to work outside of the home to support their families and help our country win the war. As a result, there were fewer adults available to watch younger children. Is this still a problem in society today? For twenty years following the end of the war, America experienced a period of great economic growth.
Jobs were abundant and wages were good. Fathers could financially support their families and mothers usually stayed at home with their children. The phrase “latchkey kid” was seldom used during this period. But for the past twenty years, however, the phrase has been born again. The number of children left without supervision is now increasing with every year. Family instability, single parent homes, and two working parent households are on the rise.
More children have less supervision today than ever before. The growing number of latchkey kids and the rising number of problems children must face has created great concern among parents and other professionals. They have begun to seek answers to a number of important questions. What are the effects of leaving young children to care for themselves before they are emotionally ready? How can we ensure the safety of children who care for themselves? Only recently have these questions began to seek national attention. According to the U. S.
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Department of Labor (Essence magazine), 30% of mothers with children under age 13 allowed their children to stay home alone after school. However, only 1% of these mothers reported that they would leave their children in self-care if they had a choice. There are many reasons why this happens. The most common reason is employment. Single parents may have to work outside of the family for financial support. Two – parent families may need the extra income.
In some cases, children are left unsupervised because their parents are pursuing other interests or goals, such as furthering their education. In other cases, children may find themselves alone because their parents are unable or unwilling to provide adequate care. Children in the last category are often referred to as abused or neglected youth. Latchkey kids must usually accept more responsibility for taking care of themselves. They nay also need to perform many household chores. Older children may be responsible for the care and supervision of younger siblings, acting as junior parents.
When parents are not available for extended periods of time, even very young children may be forced to make adult decisions in an effort to solve daily problems. It is important for parents to remember that the roles of their children should fit their stage of development. Working parents must often rely on their children to help with household chores. Many children want to feel like they are contributing to the family unit and will accept household responsibilities. Children who are expected to handle responsibilities beyond there maturity level have a risk of developing emotional problems. Some children need structure and time consuming activities to reduce boredom.
Other kids may feel burdened by excessive responsibilities. Most experts suggest that parents and children work together to decide how and when certain tasks should be performed. Older latchkey kids can be very helpful to the family in the care and supervision of younger siblings. The ability to adequately handle this responsibility, however, depends on the level of maturity and other personality factors of the older child. Some studies have shown that younger children are sometimes abused by their older siblings. Parents should not automatically make older siblings responsible for the care of younger siblings.
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The personalities and relationships of the children involved need to be considered. When parents use their authority, they need to do so carefully and with clear directions concerning each child’s roles and responsibilities. Studies show that many latchkey kids experience significant feelings of fear, isolation, and boredom. Approximately 40% of children in self-care admit to worrying about staying at home without adult supervision. Their main worry is of burglary.
Nearly 30% of girls and 20% of boys report being afraid to play outside. About 20% of the calls to supportive telephone services for children in self-care are from youth experiencing feelings of loneliness. An additional 15% of these callers are sad, worried, scared, or crying. Accidents in unsupervised and under supervised homes are a major cause of injury and death for young children. About six thousand children die each year as a result of accidents and fires in the home.
20% of all calls to fire departments result from fires started by children. Many calls to police departments are from children who need to be reassured about their safety. The majority of these children are unsupervised. Parents of latchkey kids need to insure that the home environment is as safe as possible for their children by taking the necessary precautions. Keep the home in good physical repair.
Teach children to put toys away after using them. Do not allow children to use dangerous appliances without adult supervision. Lock up tool, weapons, dangerous chemicals, and medications. Emergency telephone numbers should be kept by the phone and children should be taught how to call for help.
Experts say that parents should identify potential emergencies before giving their children self-care responsibilities. Parents should then discuss the best way to handle these situations so that children clearly understand what they should do. Parents may decide to have drills to make sure that each member of the family knows what to do in an emergency situation. Latchkey children who realize they have back-up support tend to feel more confident about handling emergencies. Studies suggest that latchkey kids are at higher risk to develop social and emotional problems than are children with ongoing adult supervision. Children in self-care often tend to have higher rates of discipline problems and illegal school absenteeism.
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Furthermore, latchkey kids tend to score lower than supervised children on tests designed to measure social adjustment and academic achievement. Communication is the key to helping latchkey kids feel emotionally secure. Latchkey kids often need added reassurance that they are loved and that their ability to handle self-care responsibilities is valued. Families that practice close communication when they are together, as well as when they are apart, provide a strong sense of emotional security for their children. Parents who must spend extended time away from their children may find it helpful to write notes or telephone their children regularly to let them know that a loving parent is only a telephone call away. Peer pressure usually has its strongest influence on children from the fifth through the ninth grades.
Studies suggest that kids who report home after school and follow an established routine on their on are no more susceptible to peer pressure than supervised children. Kids who are at home are less susceptible than those who go to a friend’s house. Those who visit a friend’s house before of after school are less susceptible than those who hang out. Also, latchkey kids whose parents know their whereabouts are less likely to be influenced by peer pressure. School administrators and teachers generally encourage parents to take an active interest in their child’s education. Parents should regularly meet with teachers and other school staff to learn about their child’s behavior and educational progress.
Parents can improve the educational process by setting study hours and checking homework. Those who take an active interest in their child’s education greatly reduce the potential for school related problems. As children mature and learn to make their own decisions, they grow less dependent upon parents and peers. How children express their emotions provides an indication of their ability to be self-reliant.
Children who express their emotions in immature ways are generally less self-reliant and less capable of self-care and sibling-care responsibilities that are children who express there emotions in mature ways. The behaviors of children also provide an indication of their ability to be self-reliant. Children who have mastered certain behaviors and tasks are generally more self-reliant and can handle bigger responsibilities. All youth under the age of sixteen who are regularly left at home for extended periods of time may be considered “latchkey kids.” Children between the ages of 6 and 14 are the major focus of concern. The extended periods of time without adult supervision usually occur during non-school hours, such as before the school day has begun and after it has ended.
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Also included are those days when school is not in session, such as holidays and summer vacations. It is estimated that as many as ten million American children regularly care for themselves before or after school. Many latchkey kids begin their self-care responsibilities at about eight years of age. Many places have solutions to this problem. Most communities offer summer programs to help children and their parents by offering supervised recreational activities. Many latchkey kids go to camp or visit relatives during the summer.
However, not all families can afford to pay for such alternatives. Parents anticipating the need for childcare during the summer may want to contact their school, church, Y. M. C. A.
, Y. W. C. A. , or local children’s services agency for information about summer latchkey programs.