Unlocking Independence Safely: A Guide for Parents of Latchkey Kids

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Need to Know from SafeWise
  • Today there are around 7.7 million latchkey kids in the U.S.—double the count in 2000.1
  • One in five children come home to an empty house after school.2
  • State age recommendations for leaving kids home alone range from six in Kansas to 14 in Illinois.3

If you belong to the Gen X or Millennial generation(like me), the term "latchkey kid" might resonate with you. Being a latchkey kid implies that you were left home alone during childhood—a badge of independence many of us wear proudly.

Today, parents face similar challenges as previous generations when deciding when and how to leave kids at home safely. As kids return to school, parents return to offices, and financial pressures drive some to take on second jobs, a new generation of "digital latchkey" kids is emerging.

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But the good news is—this time—we've got technology on our side. We talked to parents to put together tips and tech recommendations to help ensure the safety and well-being of all kids when they're home alone.

Girl child opening home smart door lock, unlocking the code.

1. Assess your child's readiness to be home alone

Before leaving your child home alone, it's essential to assess their maturity level and comfort with this responsibility. Generally, kids aged 10 to 12 are the youngest to be left home alone. Ensure they know what to do in emergencies and provide them with a means to contact you if something goes wrong.

2. Consider a smartwatch for younger kids

Smartwatches have become popular accessories for kids who are too young for smartphones but need their own device. Brands like Gabb and TickTalk offer smartwatches that allow kids to reach parents directly through text or voice messages.

These kid-focused gadgets often include built-in GPS location services, helping parents keep an eye on their child's whereabouts. Some smartwatches also feature reminders and checklists to help kids manage chores, homework, and extracurricular activities.

3. Look at smartphones for older kids

If your child's not ready for a full-fledged smartphone, consider kid-friendly options from brands like Bark, Gabb, and Pinwheel. These phones have built-in digital guardrails, like closed networks that limit kids to contacts entered by parents and restrict access to the broader internet. They offer calling, texting, and video chat capabilities while filtering out inappropriate content and providing parents with comprehensive reports.

4. Use smart locks and never worry about another lost key

Gone are the days of physical keys and the panic of losing them. Smart lock technology has advanced significantly in recent years. Kids can now use Bluetooth, PIN codes, or even their fingerprints to unlock the front door. These smart gadgets can send notifications to parents, operate on schedules, and even allow remote locking and unlocking, ensuring your child's safety.

5. Don't forget old-school tech like security cameras

Affordable indoor security cameras with features like two-way audio, night vision, and video recording are widely available today. These cameras are valuable for working parents, allowing them to check on their kids from anywhere. Indoor cameras can help ensure homework is being done—not video games—while outdoor cameras provide visibility into the backyard and driveway, making it easy for parents to monitor their child's comings and goings.

6. Get your child ready to stay home alone

Before leaving your child home alone, ensure they know how to call 9-1-1 and have at least two trusted adults to contact. Discuss what's expected of them when they're home alone and set clear boundaries on what's off-limits.

Surprising benefits of latchkey days

While it can be challenging to leave your kids home alone, it can provide them with valuable life skills and independence when done supportively. Many adults who were latchkey kids in their youth credit those experiences with teaching them how to take care of themselves, cooperate with siblings, and balance responsibilities with leisure. These skills continue to be valuable in adulthood.

Navigating the world of latchkey parenting in the digital age involves:

  • Assessing your child's readiness.
  • Utilizing technology to ensure their safety.
  • Providing them with the guidance they need to thrive independently.

When approached thoughtfully and responsibly, being a latchkey kid can empower your child with essential life skills they'll carry into adulthood.

Sources

  1. ChildCare Aware of America, "How the pandemic has forced a new generation of latchkey kids." November 2021. Accessed September 7, 2023.
  2. Youth.gov, "Benefits for Youth, Families, and Communities." Accessed September 7, 2023.
  3. World Population Review, "Age a Child can be Left Home Alone by State." March 2023. Accessed September 7, 2023.
Katie McEntire
Written by
Katie McEntire
As a renter, pet-owner, and woman living alone, Katie McEntire takes safety seriously. She’s tested devices like pet cameras, home security systems, and GPS trackers in her own home and devices in the name of safety. In addition to testing, writing, and reviewing for SafeWise, she also makes videos for the site’s YouTube channel. She’s been featured on publications like TechGuySmartBuy, Forbes, Healthy Moms, and Digital Care. Katie has a Bachelor’s degree in Technical Writing from Austin Peay State University in Clarksville, Tennessee. She’s held previous writing positions at Overstock.com and Top Ten Reviews.

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