A latchkey kid or latchkey child is a child that comes home from school every day or most days without a parent being home because the parent or both parents are working. This term “latchkey” specifically refers to a lock on a door and was coined in 1944 after an NBC documentary was made on this occurrence of children forced to live in this manner during and after the second World War, when ‘Dad’ enlisted and ‘Mom’ had to go find work (Mertens 57-61). The term might not be used as loosely as it was back then, but ‘latchkey children’ still exist today.
Although unsupervised children can potentially cause harm to other children, and have long lasting effects towards how authority will handle these young people once they are older, there are plenty of afterschool programs available and ways to keep these latchkey kids off of the streets during afterschool time while parents are away at work. The issue arises here: With an overall increase in unemployment, coupled with a decrease of higher paying vocations, the gap between the working poor and middle-to-upper class is ever expanding (Collins 1). The minimum wage rate is rising, as is the cost of living.
Therefore, it is almost impossible for parents to watch their kids during afterschool hours when they are obligated to work, the cost of living has gone up a great deal, and there are very few places where free afterschool programs are held. Obviously if there are issues with two parents working, then there are issues with children growing up in single parent homes. Studies have shown that “Among the 22 percent of working poor families headed by single mothers who paid for child care, 40 percent spent at least half of their cash income on child care, and another 25 percent spent 40 to 50 percent” (“That’s a family! ). As mentioned earlier, there is no lack of single parent homes in the United States. When given the option to either spend half their wages on childcare, versus having the kids stay home alone (often times with other friends or siblings), professional care becomes less and less of an option. So what happens when there is no other option but to leave a child alone? What happens to the child? A study by the FBI was done in 1991, 1992, and 1993 to eight states analyzing the juvenile crime rate during the day.
Nearly half, about 47 percent of the crime was during afterschool time—between the hours of 2-8pm (Safe and Smart) and those numbers have increased. Youth crime rates are rising, incarceration statistics for teenagers are swelling and teen pregnancies are abundant (Tucker). Besides the juvenile crime rate being close to half during afterschool hours, The Carnegie Council on Adolescent Development found that 8th graders who are alone 11 hours a week are twice as likely to abuse drugs as adolescents who are busy after school.
The Council also found that teens that have sexual intercourse do it in the afternoon in the home of boys whose parents work (Alston 3). They are more likely to become depressed, anxious, and tamper with marijuana and alcohol. The problem makes sense: because there is no supervision, there is no guidance in proper socialization. Adolescents who are home alone are more likely to experiment with things that they should not be, or even fall into peer pressure. Regardless of these facts, there is indeed a solution.
Things such as clubs, tutoring, and afterschool programs are the best option. These are not only places where a child can go with supervision, but these are places where a safe environment is a given and children can interact with one another and have fun. Boys and Girls clubs, YMCA, and PAL are just a few of the places where children can go. After school programs are designed to invite youth to participate outside of the traditional school day. Some programs are run either by a primary or secondary school, or by externally funded non-profit or commercial organizations.
These after-school youth programs can or meet inside a school building or elsewhere in the community, for instance at a community center, library, etc. Some programs do require a small fee, but there are certain circumstances where payment plans can be put in place. However, not all afterschool programs require a fee. In the community of Hemet, there are afterschool programs at a child or teen’s school absolutely free. If the child is in elementary school the program usually takes place on-campus. In high school or middle school, these programs take the form of a particular club or sports team.
In closing, children are the gateway to our society’s future. That might sound cliche, but if we do not start investing in the lives of our younger ones, by keeping them off the streets, getting them involved in activities, or providing a safe place to be when parents are working, our future as a community will rest in the hands of those who were not socialized properly. References Alston, F. (2010). NYU child study center. Latchkey children. Retrieved from internet. Collins, J. (2006). Latchkey kids: an American epidemic.
Journal of sociology. Retrieved from EBSCOhost. Dowd, F. (1991) Latchkey children in the library and community: issues, strategies and programs. Phoenix, Oryx Press. Mertens, B. (2003). Should middle school students be left alone after school? Middle school journal 5:57-61. Safe and Smart (1998). Making afterschool hours work for kids. That’s a family! : Statistics on US Families. Women’s Educational Media. Accessed May 7, 2012. Tucker, J. (2006). “Latchkey teenagers more prone to crime. ” Oakland Tribune 21 June, 2006. ?
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