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My parents were divorced and separated by the time I was in school. My mother worked full time, and didn't get home until several hours after school ended.

As a result, I was what is known as a "latchkey kid", meaning that I had a key to the house, and after school, I would return home to an empty house, and be on my own for several hours each day (if I recall correctly, from about 3 p.m. until roughly 6 p.m.).

That was roughly 30 years ago, though, and a lot has changed since then (at least in attitudes about child safety, research, etc.).

Is this practice still considered acceptable?

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How old is the child the answer may be very different for a 4 year old and a 13 year old? –  Warren Hill Jan 29 at 16:36
    
@WarrenHill the tags I used indicate ages ranging from "primary school" to "middle school". Our tag wikis put that from 5 to 11, although I can't fathom a 5 or 6 year old handling that. I believe I started when I was 7, so lets say 7-11 years of age. –  Beofett Jan 29 at 16:43
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Seriously, read "free range kids" by Leonore Skenazy. It is informative, talks about how to help kids grow into independence (and the ability to safely be latchkey kids if needed among other things) and really puts some perspective on our hyper-aware parenting these days - oh! and all with a sense of humor. –  balanced mama Jan 30 at 4:32

3 Answers 3

I had no real problem with our two eldest having keys at 9 and 11 respectively - but they had strict instructions as to what they could do (homework, a bit of TV or a book) and couldn't (cook, leave the house etc) and we knew that in the worst case we could probably call on a neighbour to pop round and get them.

Part of our approach is that we were like you, and would head home sometimes to an empty house and back 30 years ago that was fine. I like to treat my family the same way, as in real terms the risks have reduced.

It will depend on your kids though - are they the responsible type?

Ours know that one slip up would remove a lot of their perks, so they behave pretty well :-)

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I suspect the answer depends on circumstances - not only specific age, but the kid, the local laws, the school regulations, the neighborhood, etc. Elementary schools may not allow a child to go home on his/her own; and local laws may prohibit it for certain age ranges.

Personally, I don't worry about the safety side of this, so long as you're in a reasonably good neighborhood and don't live too far away (no crossing major streets, etc.), and the child is 7 or 8 and reasonably mature. Child abductions by strangers are extremely rare, and even at that age a mature child should understand not to take candy from strangers or go with someone they don't know. This is conditional on the neighborhood being reasonably safe, however; the larger danger in an unsafe neighborhood is from other children (gangs, bullying, etc.), especially as they get into middle school and high school.

Supervision is probably more relevant, to me - is the child someone who you can trust to come home when he/she is told, to do his/her homework without being prompted, etc.? I certainly could and did; my brother would've had more trouble especially by high school.

My kids may or may not be latchkey kids, depending on when my wife goes back to work full time; but we live a block from the elementary school and in a very good neighborhood. I'm sure we'll allow them to walk to/from school as soon as they're allowed. We'll see how mature they are at that point - I'd like to hope they're quite mature for their ages, but only so much we can do on that part :)

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I would note that the laws seem to vary substantially state-to-state (and country to country). I live in Illinois and the law is apparently under 14 may not be unsupervised, which seems crazy to me - while most states have younger ages or no law at all. –  Joe Jan 29 at 18:20

I've had a key since I was 10. I don't recall thinking about it being a good or bad thing. I could go out and play outside, I could stay at home and play some console games, read or do my homework. Sure, I broke some things while experimenting, I even set a ping-pong ball on fire (it burns AND bounces around when you drop it, not a good combination). It didn't stop my parents from trusting me.

If my child is reasonably responsible by the time she reaches the "law allows her to be left alone" age (there wasn't such law when I was little, as far as I'm aware of) I'll give her a key. Especially that nowadays there are mush less dangers at home than there used to be.

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