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Latchkey Girls

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Leave Those Kids Alone

When I was 12, my mom started working full-time. There wasn’t the money to hire a sitter for those after-school hours, nor even the thought of it. No one in my neighborhood, a small working-class community in Brooklyn, did that.

So I would walk home from school, and then my older sister and I would take care of our younger sister, who is six years younger than I, when she got home from school, until Mom came home by dinnertime.

Our afternoons consisted of making snacks, doing homework and the occasional chore for my mother such as folding laundry — and television. Plenty of TV.

We didn’t think of ourselves as “latchkey kids,” but that’s what we were: Mom gave us keys and left us to take care of ourselves until her workday ended.

My mother told me that even when one of us was sick, including my sister who was in elementary school at the time, she would often go to work and leave us home alone.

My sisters and I turned out more than fine (there may have been the occasional summer party during our teenage years, but Mom doesn’t need to know that!) — and yet, the thought of letting my 8- and 9-year-old gals do the same thing now, or in the not too distant future, more than freaks me out.

The question is, why? What has changed from the way we grew up in the late ’70s and the ’80s? Nowadays, leaving your children on their own might not just be frowned upon, it could get you arrested.

Remember the Maryland family accused by authorities of child neglect for letting their kids, ages 6 and 10, walk home from a playground about a mile from their house? And some states have laws against leaving young children home alone.

There is also something more than ironic about the fact that latchkey kids like myself are raising our own children in a time when helicopter parenting or over-parenting is, sadly, all too common. These parents are often too protective and have excessive interest in the life of their children.

How could individuals who had so much freedom as kids end up over-scheduling their own children and constantly hovering over them?

In my conversations with a range of people, including a psychiatrist, an author and several latchkey kids who are now parents themselves, the consensus was that a combination of factors are to blame:

The social pressures of parenting today; a desire, conscious or unconscious, by latchkey parents to raise kids differently; and fear stemming from the 24/7 coverage of tragic events involving children.

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