Latchkey kids originally emerged during the World War II era, when fathers went away to war and mothers joined the workforce to help keep factories running and support their households. However, more recent societal trends of single-parent households and households where both parents work have led to the creation of more latchkey kids. Another reason is that many afterschool programs have been forced to close due to hard economic times.

The end result is the same – children who are frequently home alone, waiting several hours until the adults get back from work.

Today’s tech-savvy generation

Unlike the WWII generation, today’s latchkey kids have a bevy of gadgets at their fingertips. And even though safety on the Internet poses a concern, parents should realize that technology can also be used to help them stay connected to their children.

For instance, home automation is helping families stay safe (and in touch) through monitoring on mobile devices and home security services. While home automation capabilities are generally used to manage home alarm systems and adjust lighting and thermostat controls, features such as video surveillance let parents check in on kids through security camera footage streamed directly to their smartphones.

Smartphones provide another way for parents and children to stay in touch. (Keep in mind that if you want your child to call and check in to let you know they’re home, they can make a call from anywhere using a smartphone or cellphone. Have them call from your landline if you have that option.) Smartphones also give kids the ability to access the Internet, which presents another set of concerns. Make sure you set guidelines with your child about responsible technology use before letting them have a smartphone, even if the main purpose is to get in touch with you when they come home from school.

In addition to smartphones and mobile technology, parents have access to a host of devices designed to help them keep track of their latchkey kids, assist them in getting in the home safely and even limit their TV time so they’ll focus on homework and chores. Most of these technologies for latchkey kids (and parents) start at $100, but the peace of mind will be well worth the cost.

Go-to guidelines

Besides having technology to help the new latchkey kid generation, tried-and-true ground rules are a must. Make sure your child or teen knows what he or she is and isn’t allowed to do when parents aren’t home. Are they allowed to have friends over or go to their friends’ homes? If they are allowed to visit at a friend’s house, do the parents need to be home? Those are a few examples of issues to cover so your kids know what is expected of them and what is not permitted.

Guest Writer: Stacy Waxman