How to Keep Your Latchkey Preteen Safe this School Year

“Although I had been a latchkey kid in middle school eons ago, I was still nervous about leaving my daughter by herself…”



back to school
©Tuja66 Dreamstime Stock Photos & Stock Free Images

It’s back-to-school time again, and if you are working full-time outside of the home then you may be faced with how to handle after school care for your preteen.  Middle-school-aged children are beginning to discover their adolescent independence and part of this journey includes the desire to be as autonomous as possible. They no longer want to have adult supervision be referred to as “babysitting” or “childcare” and they may insist that they are old enough to stay home alone.


When my oldest daughter was twelve, she begged and pleaded with me to me to let her stop attending the afterschool program and start riding the bus home instead.  Since my husband and I were both working full-time, she would have to walk home from the bus by herself and then spend three to four hours home alone every afternoon. Although I had been a latchkey kid in middle school eons ago, I was still nervous about leaving my daughter by herself for this length of time each day knowing that I wouldn’t be there if she needed help in an emergency. I addressed this by establishing a few guidelines that she agreed to follow and we set up a safety plan together.

Here are a few ways to keep your latchkey kid safe (and you anxiety-free) while you are at work.

Ensure your preteen has access to a phone.

This is essential to any minor that is staying home alone. Review with your preteen what circumstances are appropriate for calling the 9-1-1 emergency dispatch line and what information to report. Make sure they know their home address and phone number.  If possible, install a landline for your child to use in case of emergencies. When 9-1-1 is dialed, land lines can be easily traced by emergency personnel even if your child is unable to speak. In some counties, an ambulance or police officer may be automatically dispatched to the address to check on the caller. This can be life-saving for your child if a true emergency arises while they are home alone. If your preteen has a cell phone, you can teach your child how to use the one-touch emergency call option. Program your contact information into the cell phone using the prefix ICE. This stands for In Case of Emergency and is one method emergency personnel can use to locate your contact information if your child is found unconscious. This article has additional tips on how to use a cell phone during emergencies.

Arrange for your preteen to send you scheduled updates.

Set up specific times for your child to text or call you with updates so that you know when they arrive home, that they have locked the doors, and that they are safely inside.  If your child has access to a cell phone or computer with a camera, ask them to text or email you a “selfie” picture with the afternoon update. This will reassure you that they are home safe and provide you with a current picture should an emergency arise. Because most parents do not remember what outfit their older children wore to school each day having a recent photo is imperative if your preteen should go missing.

Teach your preteen how to maintain home security and personal safety.

Stress to your preteen the importance of not opening the door if someone knocks, keeping the doors and windows locked at all times and setting the security alarm if your home has one. When my daughter first started staying home alone, there were a handful of times that I arrived after work to find her keys still hanging from the doorknob outside. I explained to her that even though she had dutifully locked the door from the inside, it didn’t matter since anyone could’ve easily unlocked it. She was still having trouble remembering to take her keys out of the door. To help her remember, I insisted she text a photo to me of the front door knob after she removed the keys. Some scientific studies have shown it takes at least 66 days to establish a habit, so I had her do this for two months. Though she complained about it a little, it was very effective and she no longer leaves her keys in the lock outside.

Develop a network of emergency contacts.

It is important to establish at least one contact person that your preteen can ask to help them if they are not able to reach you. Where we live, the power and phone line services are frequently interrupted by afternoon thunderstorms, making it difficult sometimes to contact my daughter from work. When this happens, I am able to call one of our neighbors, who agreed to check on my daughter as needed. My daughter knows that she can go to this neighbor’s home in an emergency. We also keep a list of emergency contacts posted on our refrigerator, as well as storing them in my daughter’s cell phone.

Teach your preteen what to do if there is a fire.

Before leaving your preteen home alone for the first time, make sure you review proper fire extinguisher use and fire escape routes with them. Check your fire extinguishers to ensure that they are not expired and that the pressure gauge needle is still in the green zone, indicating that it is ready for use. Store them where your child can easily access them and walk your child through the steps of operation. Keep your fire escape route and safety plan posted on the refrigerator and stored on their cell phone (if they have one).

After we settled into a routine, I was no longer anxious about my preteen staying home alone after school and my daughter enjoyed her new independence.

For my Amazing Single Mom on Father’s Day

“…in spite of incredible adversity, you are both my mother and my father.”

Three-hundred and sixty-five days a year, you are my parent. You sweat, toil, and work for me every moment. Alone and doing the job of two, in spite of incredible adversity, you are both my mother and my father.

You’ve wiped my tears, patched up my scrapes, read to me, helped me with homework, and have always freely given hugs, love, support and advice. Feeding my body and nourishing my soul, you’ve been the pillar upon which I leaned, embraced, and pushed against while I struggled to understand myself and the boundaries of the world around me.  Continue reading “For my Amazing Single Mom on Father’s Day”

Food Phases: How to Deal When Your Teen Goes “Raw”

“Crap, now I have to figure out how to get protein in my preschooler AND my frickin’ teenager!”

Last month I was enjoying a rare date night out with my hubby. In the middle of dinner I received this text message from my teenager:

text #1

She’d apparently watched a documentary called Fed Up about the food industry and informed me via text that she will no longer be eating any processed foods. No more meat, dairy, eggs, bread, cooked foods, or typical teen snack foods (i.e. candy and chips) for her. Being a professional mom, I played it cool, like it was no big deal. I kept a poker face when my husband inquired if she was OK, and I didn’t let on that her text was anything out of the ordinary. Unbeknownst to the outside world, Continue reading “Food Phases: How to Deal When Your Teen Goes “Raw””

Why the Woman Crossed the Road

“…it was just expected that if you were female, men would holler at you.”

The news this week has been filled with headlines about Brock Turner and rape culture.  As a woman and a mother of two girls, it has been a stark reminder of what it is like to live in this world dominated by violence, sexism, and “good ‘ol boy” attitudes.  Growing up in the South, I’ve been groomed to accept that I should always take a man with me when negotiating car sales, arranging house repairs, or hiring lawn maintenance crews.  I automatically park in well-lit parking spaces as close to the store as possible if  grocery shopping at night and I lock my doors as soon as I get in my vehicle to leave.    I’m not surprised when my husband calls to check on us when the girls and I walk home from the park at dusk.   As a teenager and young adult, I was never surprised to hear the catcalls of men driving by while I was jogging near the road – it was just expected that if you were female, men would holler at you.   Continue reading “Why the Woman Crossed the Road”

8 Ways to Give Your Child a Positive Body Image

“By the time I reached third grade, I refused to wear my Kmart Wrangler jeans because I thought they made me look fat…”

Feature photo credit: Lisa Wixed

As parents, we’ve often heard how our approach to health, food, and our body image can indirectly impact our children’s views of themselves.  Children emulate what they see and hear around them and strive to be like the adults they admire.  So how can we, as parents, give our children a healthy body image?  I’ll address this further in a moment, but first, let’s take a peek into what can happen when we don’t consider how our approach to diet and exercise affects our kids. Continue reading “8 Ways to Give Your Child a Positive Body Image”

Cats & Dogs: A Commentary on Marriage

Illustration credit: Trinity Moss

I must admit, it’s been a rough weekend.  Albeit the Facebook album of our kids, standing on the sidewalk smiling and cheering at a parade in the sunshine of a beautiful spring morning, may portray a different image.  Trust me on this though – it was two days filled with constant irritation, frustration, nasty looks, and sarcastic comments between my hubby and me.  As he put it (during one of the many arguments we had in 48 hours), “We are like two gears that should be rotating together to help each other, but instead we are grinding against one another.”  Going to the grocery store, attending the parade, what to feed the children, how to manage the behavior of our firecracker preschooler we call “the baby,” – we just couldn’t agree on anything, no matter how small.  Continue reading “Cats & Dogs: A Commentary on Marriage”