When “Home Alone” was shown in the nineties of the last century, it became one of the most successful Hollywood comedies, and achieved global profits of nearly half a billion dollars. What is interesting is that the film is still one of the most popular films among various age groups. .
The secret of this fame can be understood when we contemplate the events of the film, which revolves around a rare and funny paradox, a child of about eight years old, who is accidentally left by his family alone at home, and when a gang decides to steal the house, the young man defends his home in a series of comic situations , until the police come and everyone has a happy ending, except, of course, the thieves.
But while the film achieved a tremendous success, we realize that the reality does not seem that funny when we have to leave our children alone at home, a phenomenon that has increased greatly with the outbreak of the Corona epidemic during the past year, and some countries had to take several measures to control it, including, of course, the closure Schools, kindergartens and daycares.
This led to the emergence of a parallel crisis related to the lack of childcare options, a crisis faced by the children of male and female workers in the medical care fields, who faced double pressure at work.
The term latchkey kids refers to children between the ages of five and thirteen who look after themselves from school until parents come home from work.
The term first appeared in a BBC documentary in 1944 to describe the phenomenon of leaving children alone, where one parent volunteered to participate in the war, and the other was forced to find work, while the children returned alone from school armed with keys hanging around their necks. , or left under the door pedal. (1)
But the real concern about the children of the keys rose in the late seventies and early eighties of the last century, specifically in the United States of America, with rising divorce rates and increasing job opportunities for women, about 3 million children aged 6-13 years were forced to stay home alone after school Until the fathers return from their work (2).
During the Second World War, mothers did not face the criticism or social blame that mothers have faced since the 1980s, due to the lack of awareness about the negative impact of children being alone before this time. The studies of social psychologist John Bowlby on attachment theory, which were issued in three volumes, published from 1969 to 1982, had a great social impact in this context, in which he confirmed the existence of an emotional biological relationship that generates a kind of connection between the child and the caregiver, and he saw Bowlby says the separation of children from their mothers at an early age has horrific effects. (3)
Generally, it is advised not to leave children under 8 years old at home alone for any period of time, while children from 8 to 10 years old can be left for a period not exceeding 90 minutes. As for children from 11 to 12 years old, they can be left alone for a period not exceeding 3 hours, and from 13 to 15 years they can be left without supervision, provided that this does not include overnight stays alone. (4)
Legal standards differ from one country to another on this matter. In Britain , for example, the law does not stipulate a specific age, but leaving a child alone is considered a crime if it exposes him to danger. While the matter in the United States varies from state to state, for example, Maryland sets the minimum age at 8 years, while Illinois prohibits leaving a child under the age of 14 without supervision. (5)
The age factor is one of the most influential factors on the child, and while the effect of being without care for long periods of time on children less than 10 years old is reflected in the prevalence of feelings of loneliness, boredom and anxiety, fears are linked to a greater degree in adolescence with some behavioral phenomena such as smoking, drug abuse or sexual promiscuity, It can be even more difficult if children find themselves having to take care of younger siblings, forcing them to play the role of adults and take on their responsibilities before they are ready enough.
In this context, the feelings of the parents themselves appear to be reflected in the feelings of their children, as it was found that children whose parents feel secure about their arrangements tend to feel comfortable, while children whose parents feel guilty about having to work and worry about the presence of children at home suffer from feelings of anxiety and fear. So it seems that the only way to avoid panic and anxiety is to make sure that they are equipped with the necessary skills to keep themselves safe. (6)
If there is no other option, and you decide to leave the child alone, you should make sure to support him with what he needs, so that he can benefit from early self-responsibility. Here are some tips that will help you both to benefit from this experience and pass it safely:
- psychological support
Praise the child and encourage his or her ability to be independent and to fulfill self-care responsibilities. But be aware that some children show maturity beyond their actual age, which makes their parents double the burdens placed on them, without taking into account the actual age of the child. Also, make sure you allow them to express their feelings, and encourage siblings to respect each other and connect with one another.
Besides, be sure to set a flexible schedule for the child to do the school tasks required of him, with a list of some useful and entertaining activities within a flexible time frame.
- Safety and security measures
Make sure that the child is able to deal with his responsibilities, and that he is able to open and close the door. You do not want your child to have a key and then sit on the threshold of the house because he cannot turn the key in the hole in the door, and also make sure that he does not tell anyone that he has the key to the house with him.
Teach your child about being alone at home. Train him to tell the phone caller that the parents are busy and can’t answer, while making sure not to open the door to strangers, whatever their arguments.
Warn the child not to enter the house if he finds something suspicious, such as an open door or a broken window, and make sure the child saves your phone number and emergency numbers, with a list of police and fire department phone numbers and other important phone numbers.
Make sure he can handle utility-related emergencies, such as a power outage or a leak in the sewage system. Things that may seem insignificant like knowing the location of the main water valve and emergency gas valve may one day have a big impact. (7)
- Kitchen and dining
Make sure your child knows what they are allowed to use in the kitchen and what they are not, and do not allow them to use the gas stove, and if you allow the use of the microwave, explain to them the safety rules for its use, and make sure to keep knives and sharp tools out of their reach.
- digital solutions
Use the digital solutions available, whether there is a GPS tracking watch with the child, or a mobile phone with which you can track his location.
You can also install a surveillance camera inside the house, preferably accompanied by an audio system that allows you to talk to the child.
- External support
Expand support to include trusted relatives, friends and neighbors, and make sure they’re ready to help if your child needs them or can’t reach you in an emergency. (7)
In the end, as difficult as it may be, these hours alone can become an opportunity for your children to mature, explore themselves, develop their skills, and take responsibility.