day thousands of children arrive home from school to an empty
house. Every week thousands of parents make decisions to leave
children home alone while they go to work, run errands, or
for social engagements. It is estimated over 40% of children
are left home at some time, though rarely overnight. In more
extreme situations, some children spend so much time without
their parent(s) that these children are labeled "latch key
children", referring to the house or apartment key strung
visibly around their neck.
"Home Alone", and its sequel, have portrayed a child's survival
skills in a very humorous, but unrealistic manner. The realities
facing children who find themselves home alone are very different.
There are many issues and potential risks and dangers that
parent(s) should consider before a child is placed in this
situation. Parent(s) should consider the following:
- o Age
of parental "rules and expectations"
to access parent(s) or other adults (e.g. phone numbers)
unsafe situations (e.g. medical emergencies, fire, alcohol,
drugs, strangers, guns, etc.)
and how to answer the phone or doorbell
of phone, 911 for emergencies
of computer (internet)
and visitors coming to the house
of unstructured time (e.g. watch TV, videos, etc.); and
to "adult" cable TV; internet chat rooms and adult web sites
not possible to make a general statement about when a child
can be left home. Many states have laws which hold parents
responsible for the supervision of their children. Older adolescents
are usually responsible enough to manage alone for limited
periods of time. Parent(s) must consider the child's level
of maturity and past evidence of responsible behavior and
good judgement. When a child is ready to be left alone, a
graduated approach should be used starting with a very short
period of time (i.e.1 hour).
should talk with their youngsters to prepare them for each
of the issues or potential problems listed above. In addition,
parent(s) should strive to make their home as safe as possible
from obvious dangers and hazards and rehearse the developed
"emergency plan" with their children. Parents should also
teach their child important safety precautions (i.e. locking
the door, dealing with strangers or visitors who come to the
house, use of the stove, etc.)
home alone can be a frightening and potentially dangerous
situation for many children and adolescents. Parents should
strive to limit the times when children are home alone. Parents
should prepare their children in advance for how to deal with
situations that may arise.
information see Your Child (1998 Harper Collins)/Your
Adolescent (1999 Harper Collins).
#46 Updated 12/00
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training beyond medical school in general (adult) and child
and adolescent psychiatry.
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