HOME ALONE: IS YOUR PRETEEN READY?
by Tania K. Cowling
One of the realities of today's society is adolescents
staying home alone until a parent returns from work. Home Alone
took on a whole new meaning after the movies about a youngster who found
himself left behind in the family residence without his parents, and
yet proved to be resourceful, independent, and even successful in foiling
This story might be entertaining to watch on the
screen, but it hardly represents the reality of today's latchkey kids.
Did you know there is nothing new about kids being on their own at home?
The phrase latchkey kids actually originated in the early '800's,
when kids who were responsible for their own care wore the key to their
home tied on a string around their necks. Today, with an increasing
number of parents who work, there are more adolescents who are at home
after school alone until at least dinnertime.
Here are some thoughts to determine if your preteen
is old enough to stay home alone. There is no magic formula to measure
an adolescent's readiness to assume self-care. Can your child:
* Be trusted to go straight
home after school?
* Follow rules and instructions
* Handle unexpected situations
* Stay alone without being afraid?
Obviously, the best scenario is for an adult to provide
care and supervision for preteens, while mom and dad are at work--at
home or in some kind of after school program. When that's not possible,
one solution is to prepare adolescents who will be staying alone with
* Have your child check
in with a parent
or neighbor immediately after arriving home.
* Establish House Rules.
Post them where they can be checked daily. Consider including homework
expectations, chores, and use of the phone, computer and kitchen appliances.
* Make sure your child knows
how to call 9'',
or your area's emergency number, and give directions to your home, in
case of emergency. Leave a list of phone numbers for work, relatives,
* Make sure your child knows
how to escape in case of fire.
* Warn your child never
go into the house or apartment if things don't look right--such as a broken window,
ripped screen, or opened door.
* Warn your child to never
accept gifts or rides from people he or she doesn't know well.
* Discuss transportation
for all after school activities.
* Tell your child to never
let anyone into your home with asking your permission.
* It's best to not let people
at the door or on the phone know your child is alone. Teach them to say, Mom
can't come to the phone (or door) right now. Or better yet, buy a caller ID and tell your
preteens to only answer the phone for specific callers and let the answering
machine take a message for all others.
* Explain to your child how
to carry a house key in a safe place (inside a pocket or sock). Don't leave it under
a doormat or on a ledge outside the house.
* Show your child how to
use the door and window locks, and the alarm system if you have one.
* Keep a flashlight handy for power outages.
* Lock away all alcoholic
beverages and firearms securely. Definitely off limits.
* Provide a first aid kit for small cuts and scrapes.
Remember, no matter how mature your preteen acts,
she or he is still learning about life. Give adolescents lots of encouragement,
support, and treat their mistakes as learning experiences instead of
failures. Show them how much you appreciate their helpfulness, self-reliance,
and cooperation while you are away. Reward them with your quality time when you can.