Latchkey Kids: Here’s What You Need to Consider

Maskot / Getty Images

Maskot / Getty Images

As a mother of three kids under the age of 10, I find it so hard to imagine my children walking down a busy sidewalk alone. Yet, as a small kid in elementary school, that’s exactly what I did. I remember walking the two blocks from my house to the local school and back every day. I had a key that I wore around my neck because when I got home in the afternoons, my mother was still working.

Sure, the ’80s were a very different time in parenting. But these days, in the era of legal battles over ideas like free-range parenting in which parents are having to sue for the right to let their kids play outside by themselves, it may seem extreme that latchkey kids are even allowed.


On the flip side, we also live in a time when childcare is so over-the-top expensive that in many (MANY) cases, the cost rivals that of a mortgage and more and more mothers are choosing to be stay-at-home-moms or are choosing to work at home to avoid the crippling cost of daycare.

With all of that in mind, here is a quick primer of what you need to know before you opt to transition your child into staying home alone:

What does it mean?

Latchkey kids are kids who come home from school and are alone, without parental supervision or a babysitter, for a period of time.

Is it legal?

Yes. Although, each state has different legal age requirements for when a child is old enough to be alone. You can check here to find out how old kids in your state must be before they can be left alone at home.

Your child’s disposition

It is true that some kids are more impulsive than others and may not be a great fit for staying home alone at the age of 9 or 12 or even 15 for that matter. According to Protect America the “rule of thumb” is to never let kids under the age of 12 be home alone. That said, you’re the parent! If your child meets your states’ legal requirements for being allowed to be home alone and you believe that your child would make good choices in order to stay safe while you are gone then it is entirely up to you as the parent to make the right choice for your family.

Things to consider

Before you let your child become a latch key kid, be sure to set some hard rules about what is considered safe and what is not. For example, will you allow your kids to bring home friends without you being there? Are they allowed to cook in the kitchen? Can they play outside? These are all things to think about.

Also, be clear with your child what your expectations are. Should they come home, do their homework, and maybe a chore? Will you be calling in periodically to make sure they are safe?

Create an emergency plan

Even if you lay out the best rules and create the best plans for afterschool, there may still be times when an emergency pops up. Make sure your child has a list of emergency phone numbers, and details on what to do in various situations such as there is a stranger at the door and they won’t go away, there is a fire, or something happens and you can’t get home at the right time. All of these kinds of situations should be thought out and planned for.

First aid kit

Make sure your child knows where the first aid kit is located and how to use the items within it as well as how to call for help.

Lots of Gen X’ers will remember being the latch key kid, and it is true that many of them, myself included, find it hard to imagine our own kids being left home alone, but if this is the right choice for your family then make sure that you cover all the safety bases so that the experience can be a positive one that helps your child build a sense of independence and trust in themselves and also in you.

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