Home Alone!: Is Your Child Safe At Home When You’re Out Working?

As nuclear families with both parents out working becomes a solid reality in the city and elsewhere, many school-going children have nobody to take care of them once school lets out. A generation of latchkey kids has emerged. No parent wants to leave their child at home unsupervised, but many parents have no choice but to leave the kids home alone. Many are left for long periods – usually the hours between the end of school and a parent’s return from work. 

While older adolescents can handle the home-alone responsibility, when it comes to younger children, aged 8 to 12, parents need to consider the child’s maturity level and responsible behaviour as also emotional readiness for being alone. The latter varies greatly from child to child. How will your child do in an emergency situation? Is there a reliable neighbour that your child can feel comfortable calling? How does your child handle a phone call from a stranger or a visit of the salesman at the door? Can he/she remember instructions and phone numbers under pressure? One hears of worrisome possibilities like child abductions, Internet predators, and experimentation with smoking or alcohol. There are several concerns, which are of crucial importance if you are forced to leave your child home alone. However, once you’ve decided that your child is ready to be left alone for a few hours, you need to prepare him/her well. Go through a list of possible situations and prepare your child for any eventuality. Here is what you could look at:

In case of a phone call or a visitor: If someone calls or stops by the house, your child should never reveal that he or she’s home alone. They should have rehearsed some answers such as, “My mom/dad is busy at the moment. Can I take a message?”

The house key: Your child should always carry the house key with him/her. Best is to wear it around the neck attached to a long string that disappears inside the shirt/school uniform blouse. Don’t stand outside the door fumbling, someone may notice.

Suspicious circumstances: Your child has to know that he/she should never enter the house if something looks out of place. Is the door ajar? Is a window that is normally shut, open or broken? Ask them to watch out for all these signs.

A solid backup plan: Emergencies could be of any kind – even medical. Your child should be able to approach a reliable neighbour for such emergencies till you get home.

Internet safety: Children are vulnerable and more trusting than adults. They are also not equipped to deal with the dark side of the internet. Some of the potential issues could be

  • Inappropriate contact from people who may wish to abuse, exploit or bully them.
  • Inappropriate conduct like making personal information public on social networking sites.
  • Watching inappropriate content, which is sexually explicit, violent, extremist or other harmful material.
  • Gaining access to the financial information of the parents that could be stored on the computer and using it, like payment card information.

Enabling viruses and spyware by careless or misinformed use of their or your computer, smartphone, tablet or games console.

To avoid this in your absence from home and to ensure your child’s safety,

  • Make sure your child is accessing only age-appropriate content and have a list of websites your child is allowed to visit. Buy or download Parental Control Software.
  • Make him/her understand that revealing personal information online e.g. the name of their school or their home address is a No-No.
  • Explain to your child that being online doesn’t give them protection, and that they shouldn’t do anything online that they wouldn’t do face-to-face.

There could be other issues like could the friends come over? Is the child allowed to cook? Which appliances are safe to operate? If you discuss all these things in advance, you and the child will face fewer problems. And even if things seem to be going well, you should check up on the situation from time to time by coming home early, unannounced, to see what your son or daughter is really up to. Or ask a stay-at-home or elderly neighbour to check in occasionally. With good communication and by keeping in mind certain safety considerations, your child should be safe home alone.

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