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Latchkey Children

Prevalence, Dilemmas For Parents, Mixed Empirical Findings, Programs, Conclusions

Latchkey children are defined by the authors of The Facts on File Dictionary of Education as: "School-aged children who are typically unsupervised after school hours because of working parents and, therefore, who carry a house key to let themselves in after school." This straightforward definition overlooks children who have a parent at home, but the parent offers little or no appropriate adult supervision. Children and young teenagers who have access to some type of after-school care but fail to attend that care on some days and so are unsupervised are also overlooked by this definition. Siblings not much older than those they supervise may also inadequately care for young children. The term "latchkey children" also promotes a number of stereotypes not yet clearly born out in empirical studies. Examples of such stereotypes include all latchkey children: are more likely to abuse tobacco, alcohol, and other drugs; are more sexually active; are poorer students academically; have inadequate self-concepts; are more self-reliant; are more fearful, apprehensive, and insecure; have little inner control; and are more likely to be involved in criminal activity compared to adult-supervised peers. Given the stereotypes attached to the term "latchkey children," it might better be replaced with a term such as "unsupervised children" or "self-care children."

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Social Issues ReferenceChild Development Reference - Vol 5