As exciting as the new school year is, back to school routines may be fraught with worry about little ones riding buses by themselves, or with thoughts about wondering what a good age is for your child to be home alone. According to SafeKids, home can be a dangerous place for children, especially when unsupervised. They report that in 2010, 127 children died from falls at home. Half of those children were between the ages of 15 to 19. Preparing for the worst, such as when older kids are left home alone unsupervised, can mean life or death for your child this school year.
We all know how important it is for children to have their names inside of their things, including backpacks, lunchboxes and winter coats. Sometimes, parents like to monogram these items on the outside with their children’s initials or name. Don’t do this. While walking down the street or waiting at bus stops, perfect strangers may approach children, and address them by name. This makes it easier for the adult to convince the child that they really do know the family, especially with younger children in elementary school. Writing children’s names on the inside of possessions helps prevent loss when the child leaves her coat on the playground at school, but it is not a good idea to have names on the outside of possessions.
Working parents have the additional responsibility of scheduling childcare arrangements for the hours between the end of the school day and the end of the workday. Different states have different rules about how old a child should be before she is allowed to be home alone. The Latchkey Kids website has a list of rules by state.
In general, the National Safe Kids Campaign recommends that no child younger than the age of 12 be left alone. However, different children grow into maturity at different rates. Not all 12-year-olds are ready to be home alone. Even if somebody else’s child is allowed to be home alone, do not succumb to pressure from your child if you don’t think he or she is ready. If there is no appropriate daycare arrangement in the vicinity, consider hiring a baby-sitter. As for teenagers, installing an alarm system can help provide a sense of total home security for parents.
The National Crime Prevention Council encourages parents to get to know other families in the neighborhood, and to have a “safe house” children may go to. For example, if you know the family across the street, then on days your 12-year-old’s after-school activity is cancelled, he can go to the neighbor’s house until you can get home.
Instruct your child to call you when events are cancelled, and let you know where they are and what they’re doing.
Another issue working parents face is what their children are doing online while unsupervised. The FBI’s website reminds children that people can easily lie when online. For example, a grown man may claim to be a 12-year-old girl.
Ideally, you should monitor your children’s Internet access. However, it is also extremely important you teach them to never to give out personal information, such as full name, address or phone number via the Internet. Children must be taught never to post or send pictures of themselves, either.