When Do Trust Your Kid Enough to be Home Alone?

Janelle Harris
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Latch keyI still remember exactly how excited and proud I was when my mom gave me the key to our apartment. It meant she trusted me. It meant I was growing up. It meant I didn’t have to go to that mickey flickey babysitter before and after school anymore. (Booyah! Buh-bye Mrs. Chambers!) That along with those pretty good sized nubs prodding bumps into the front of my shirt? Shoot honey. I was on the fast track to womanhood, far as I was concerned.

The freedom came with some rules and regulations laid out by my mom — the colonel — who told made it clear that I was to follow them to the letter or risk being back on Mrs. Chambers’ plastic sofa faster than a wool hat wrecks your hair. 

I nodded my head, staring at the key gleaming in the palm of her hand. Her voice, by now, had blended into the background like Charlie Brown’s wonk wonk wonk-ing teacher.

I managed to make out: don’t open the door for anyone, don’t announce that I was home alone, come straight home, and with that, come home by myself. No friends over while I was immersed in my latchkey-ness, she warned, because someone might fall or get hurt or something without adult supervision.  

I couldn’t invite my besties over fast enough.

Don’t judge me. I had new bedroom furniture to show off to boot, and that black lacquer bedroom set just would not sparkle with showroom newness unless I got them up there to ooh and ahh over it as quickly as possible.

That kind of defiance is the very reason why I’m reluctant to let my own 12-year-old daughter have a key to stay home alone.
That coupled with the fact that I blossomed into a key-bearing middle schooler back in the 90s, when things were still a little more civil, but 2011 is crazier. Plus, our neighborhood, though not quite bad enough to qualify as “the ‘hood,” is still nestled smack dab in the middle of southeast D.C., which is not foreign to random outbreaks of group fighting, seedy characters, and even a little gunfire from time to time.

So really, it’s not that I don’t trust Skylar so much as it is I don’t trust the elements against her good decision-making. If she defies my instructions — like I defied my mama’s back in the day — there’s a whole other set of consequences waiting to whoop her, perhaps before I do. And that’s what really, really scares me.

Still, I want her to grow up being not just book smart but street savvy. She’ll be starting high school in about a year and a half (oh Jesus! I’m clutching my chest like Fred Sanford) and that means learning how to handle herself with some independence under her wings. She’s got to master the beast that is public transportation, learn what to do in case someone approaches her and she needs to brandish some self-defense, and a whole rack of other things she takes for granted because when Mommy is with her — in the house or out in the world — she doesn’t have to worry about them.

Just writing that sentence literally made my heart race. I’m nervous y’all.

What’s the ideal age for letting a child have a key to the house or stay home by themselves? What are your rules for making sure it all goes smoothly?


Image via woodleywonderworks/Flickr

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