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Latch Key Children (page 3)

By — NYU Child Study Center
Updated on Jul 9, 2010

The environment and readiness: the neighborhood and the family

In addition to the child's readiness to be alone before or after school, certain characteristics of the home environment need to be considered. Some of these are easy to control; some are not:

  • the safety of the neighborhood, -- can a child safely walk home, or get from the bus to the door without risk?
  • are there adults nearby and accessible, always available, and familiar to the child or children? Is there a backup plan?
  • how much time is involved? How long must the child be alone? Is there a planned structure of activities planned for the time alone?
  • are there siblings? Pets? What are the ages of the siblings?
  • is the home equipped with dead bolts, fire extinguishers, smoke detectors, first aid kit, evacuation plan, emergency phone numbers by the telephone, flashlights and batteries, money in a hiding place known to the child, lights on timers so that the child doesn’t get home to a dark home in winter, all liquor locked, a cell phone for the child with the important numbers in it, a hidden key or a key left with a reliable neighbor who is sure to be home?
  • is there time to set aside every single day for a quiet talk, a review of the day, an opportunity to tell the child how wonderfully responsible he or she is, and a willingness to help the child with whatever is current in her or his life, homework, a problem with another child at school, a wish for a special snack?

Other options

In many communities there are activities for school age children whose parents work and cannot be at home in the afternoon. The importance of looking into these is stressed by our country’s most respected child development professionals. According to James Comer of Yale University, "the period between 10 and 15 years is a time when young people re-examine their attitudes and values. They are being pressured by peers. They need to be protected by responsible adults who will help them examine and counter some of these attitudes."

The activities available vary as does the cost. Some are more popular with children than others, and some are more rewarding, but all are preferable to sitting at home in front of the television. Things to consider:

  • many schools have after school programs, and some communities have "Y's" which offer after school programs
  • some after school programs are based on sports and playing on teams
  • some children benefit from being tutored in certain subjects. Some schools have after-school homework programs
  • some children are interested in, or can become interested in lessons in a variety of skills, piano, other musical instruments, ballet, art, theatre/drama, choir, glee club
  • some gyms and health clubs have programs for young children
  • public libraries have film programs and clubs organized around interests or activities
  • many communities have Boys and Girls Clubs
  • children can volunteer to do community service
  • children can also tutor younger children, an activity which usually benefits the tutors even more than the tutees, and is excellent for both

These programs can vary in cost or are free, depending upon the particular activity and the age of the child. All of them offer the opportunity to acquire skills and knowledge that are useful throughout life. Children who are not learning anything for hours every week are at a distinct disadvantage compared to children who are engaged in enriching activities.

In the words of T. Berry Brazelton, of Harvard University: "During these all important bridge years between childhood and adulthood, kids really do need something constructive to do, and they also still need to have their activities supervised. Most of all, they need to know that their parents care about them, are involved in their lives, and have their best interests at heart."

References and Related Books

Ranks of Latch Key Kids Approach 7 Million (October 31, 2000) Christian Science Monitor,

Frances Smardo Dowd (1991) Latchkey Children in the Library and Community: Issues, Strategies and Programs, Phoenix, Oryx Press

Feldman, S. (1990) The Library and the Latchkey, ERIC Clearinghouse on Information Resources

Who's Minding the Children? (December 1988) Harvard Education Letter

James Comer, M.D., quoted in Latchkey Kids (March 1994) Parents Magazine

Great Transitions, Preparing Adolescents for a New Century (1994) The Carnegie Corporation of New York

AboutOurKids Related Articles

A View From the Middle: Life Through the Eyes of Middle Childhood 

About the Author

Frances Kemper Alston is Director of Dependent Care Consultants, a child and elder care counseling, information and referral agency that provides services to the NYU community. She is also author of Caring for Other People's Children.

About the NYU Child Study Center

The New York University Child Study Center is dedicated to increasing the awareness of child and adolescent psychiatric disorders and improving the research necessary to advance the prevention, identification, and treatment of these disorders on a national scale. The Center offers expert psychiatric services for children, adolescents, young adults, and families with emphasis on early diagnosis and intervention. The Center's mission is to bridge the gap between science and practice, integrating the finest research with patient care and state-of-the-art training utilizing the resources of the New York University School of Medicine. The Child Study Center was founded in 1997 and established as the Department of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry within the NYU School of Medicine in 2006. For more information, please call us at (212) 263-6622 or visit us at www.AboutOurKids.org.

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