Why Latchkey Kids Need Supervision
If you and your spouse work, the hours between when school ends and when you arrive home from work can be tricky. When is a child old enough to stay home alone? Are so-called "latch-key kids" at higher risk for problems than children who come home to a parent?
"During middle childhood, youngsters need supervision. Even children approaching adolescence -- the 11- and 12-year-olds -- should not come home to an empty house in the afternoon unless they show unusual maturity for their age," says Edward L. Schor, M.D., author of The American Academy of Pediatrics: Caring for Your School-Age Child.
In fact, the statistics provide many reasons why your child should not be home alone; studies have found that latch-key kids are more likely to use alcohol, cigarettes, and illegal drugs than children who are supervised after school.
That said, you don't have to quit your job or feel wracked with guilt because you can't. Here are some choices that can help your child during those hours before you get home.
Instead of letting your child stay home alone, exhaust your options. Look to family members, neighbors, and after-school activities or sports to keep your child busy.
"More and more school systems are creating after-school programs in elementary schools. Many towns also have community programs at Boys & Girls Clubs, community centers, at the Y, or in private programs," says Linda Mason in The Working Mother's Guide to Life.
Or look into an after-school babysitter who would meet your child at your home. As a last-ditch effort, check around with your child's friends' families. Maybe one or two would be willing to watch your child until you arrived home from work for a small fee.
"If alternate adult supervision is not available, parents should make special efforts to supervise their children from a distance," says Dr. Schor. "Children should have a set time when they are expected to arrive at home and should check in with a neighbor or with a parent by telephone. Parents and children should agree upon a regular routine for the child that is written down and posted in a conspicuous place alongside emergency telephone numbers."