Latchkey kid

Latchkey kid

Latchkey kid or latchkey child refers to a child who returns from school to an empty home because his or her parents are away at work, or a child who is often left at home with little or no parental supervision.


The term refers to the latchkey of a door to a house. The key is often strung around the child's neck or left hidden under a mat (or some other object) at the rear door to the property. The term is claimed to have originated from an NBC documentary in 1944, due to the phenomenon of children being left home alone becoming common during and after World War II, cite web | date = 1996-10-24 | url = | title = The Maven's Word of the Day | publisher = Random House | accessdate = 2006-06-16] when one parent would be enlisted into the armed forces, so the other would get a job.

In the United States, a 2002 Census survey reported 5.8 million (15%) of all children between the ages of five and fourteen years living with a mother care for themselves an average of 6.3 hours per week and 65% of those children spent between 2-9 hours home alone. White non-Hispanic children are more likely to be left home alone than children of other races.cite journal | author = Overturf Johnson, Julia | url = | title = Who's Minding the Kids? Child Care Arrangements: Winter 2002 | publisher = U.S. Census Bureau |date = November 9, 2005 | accessdate = 2006-06-16]

Effects on children

The effects of being a latchkey child differ with age. Loneliness, boredom and fear are most common for those younger than 10 years of age. In the early teens, there is a greater susceptibility to peer pressure resulting in alcohol abuse, smoking and sexual experimentation.cite journal | author = Gray, Ellen B. | year = 1987 | title = Latchkey Children. | journal = ERIC Digest | accessdate = 2006-06-16 | url =] cite journal | author = Riley, Dave; Steinberg, Jill | year = 2004 | month = January | title = Four popular stereotypes about children in self-care: Implications for family life educators | journal = Family Relations: Interdisciplinary Journal of Applied Family Studies | volume = 53 | issue = 1 | pages = 95–101 | url = | doi = 10.1111/j.1741-3729.2004.00013.x | format = abstract]

Socioeconomic status and length of time left alone can bring forth other negative effects. In one study, middle school students left home alone for more than three hours a day reported higher levels of behavioral problems, higher rates of depression and lower levels of self-esteem than other students.cite journal | author = Mertens, Steven B.; Flowers, Nancy | year = 2003 | month = May | title = Should Middle Grades Students Be Left Alone After School? | journal = Middle School Journal | volume = 34 | issue = 5 | pages = 57–61 | url =]

Children from lower income families are associated with greater externalizing problems (such as conduct disorders and hyperactivity) and academic problems, while children from middle and upper income families are no different than their supervised peers.cite journal | author = Marshall, Nancy L., et al | year = 1997 | month = July | title = After-school time and children's behavioral adjustment | journal = Merrill-Palmer Quarterly | volume = 43 | issue = 3 | pages = 497–514 | url =] In 2000, a German PISA study found no significant differences in the scholastic performance between "latchkey kids" and kids in a "nuclear family". [cite web | url = | title = Zusammenfassung zentraler Befunde | work = PISA 2000 | accessdate = 2006-08-03]

Positive effects of being a latchkey child include independence and self-reliance. In some cases, being left home alone may be a better alternative to staying with baby-sitters or older siblings.cite book | last = Belle | first = Deborah | date = 1999-04-01 | title = The After-School Lives of Children: Alone and With Others While Parents Work | publisher = Lawrence Erlbaum Associates | location = Mahwah, NJ | id = ISBN 0-8058-2325-5]

Legal issues

The legality of the latchkey children's "alone time" varies with country, state and local area. In the United States, state and local laws typically do not specify any particular age under 18 when a child can be legally left without supervision. As a result, parents are often left without clear guidance as to when children may be allowed to remain at home without supervision. Parents can be held accountable by child welfare organizations or law enforcement if children come to harm while left without supervision if, in the opinion of the agency, the children's age or other considerations made such a choice inappropriate.

In 2003, this issue received attention in the United States when two children died in a New York apartment fire after being left home alone. Their mother, Kim Brathwaite, was a single mother who had left her children unsupervised when a babysitter failed to show up. Fearing the loss of her job, Brathwaite left the children, aged 9 and 1, alone while calling home regularly. The Brooklyn District Attorney's office brought charges of reckless endangerment against Ms. Brathwaite. [cite web | date = 2003-10-19 | url = | title = Daily Choice Turned Deadly | work = New York Times | accessdate = 2006-08-03 | last = Bernstein | first = Nina]

Community calling programs

Some communities offer services through the police departments and community organizations to check-in on latchkey kids. Calls can be made by community organizations or by volunteers.

Automatic calling programs such as Call Reassurancecite web | date = 2006-12-14 | url = | title = Call Reassurance and Latchkey Kids | publisher = Assistive Technologies | accessdate = 2007-06-17] call households during the week after children arrive home and require the child to answer the phone and positively acknowledge that they are OK. If the call is not answered, automatic calls can likewise be sent to the parents, police or other response centers.

This provides a single parent or two working parents peace of mind if no one is home when the child returns from school. If the child is missing, the parents and police can respond more quickly to this incident.


External links

* [ Josie Barnard talks about how it felt to be a latchkey kid] , on BBC Radio 4's Home Truths programme.
* [ Debate about the need for high quality childcare in the UK]
* [ The Library and the Latchkey] - Education Resources Information Center Clearinghouse on Information Resources, Syracuse, New York.

Wikimedia Foundation. 2010.

Look at other dictionaries:

  • latchkey kid — UK / US or latchkey child UK / US noun [countable] Word forms latchkey kid : singular latchkey kid plural latchkey kids Word forms latchkey child : singular latchkey child plural latchkey children a child whose parents work and who returns from… …   English dictionary

  • latchkey kid — latchkey ,kid or latchkey ,child noun count a child whose parents work and who returns from school to an empty house …   Usage of the words and phrases in modern English

  • latchkey kid — noun see latchkey child * * * latchkey kid noun [countable] [singular latchkey kid plural latchkey kids] [singular …   Useful english dictionary

  • latchkey kid — noun see latchkey child …   New Collegiate Dictionary

  • latchkey kid — noun A schoolchild who carries their keys to the house because there is usually no parent home when school finishes. Syn: latchkey child …   Wiktionary

  • (a) latchkey kid — mainly American a child who is often in the house alone because both parents are at work. My dad came home at seven in the evening and my mom only an hour earlier so I was a latchkey kid …   New idioms dictionary

  • latchkey child — latchkey kid UK / US or latchkey child UK / US noun [countable] Word forms latchkey kid : singular latchkey kid plural latchkey kids Word forms latchkey child : singular latchkey child plural latchkey children a child whose parents work and who… …   English dictionary

  • latchkey child — noun a school age child who is home without adult supervision for part of the day (especially after school until a parent returns home from work) • Hypernyms: ↑schoolchild, ↑school age child, ↑pupil * * * noun, pl ⋯ children [count] : a young… …   Useful english dictionary

  • latchkey child — noun Date: 1944 a school aged child of working parents who must spend part of the day unsupervised (as at home) called also latchkey kid …   New Collegiate Dictionary

  • latchkey — latch|key [ˈlætʃki:] n 1.) a key that opens a lock on an outside door of a house or apartment 2.) latchkey kid old fashioned a child whose parents both work and who spends time alone in the house after school …   Dictionary of contemporary English

Share the article and excerpts

Direct link
Do a right-click on the link above
and select “Copy Link”