Are We Okay?
I think we are, right? I am speaking to the now adults who lived in the time of play until it’s dark outside, coming home alone after school, spending most of your summer break unscheduled and probably alone, watching R-rated movies before we were 17, and who knows what other gasp-worthy things.
I want to know when childhood changed from the carefree 80’s/90’s life to what we are living in now. Was it safer then? I can tell you from the podcasts I listen to that the answer is no. So what has changed from the time when we were kids and our parents letting us basically grow up feral to the ultra-regulated kids now?
Love it or hate it, it is a huge part of our lives now. From the moment babies are born, they have a phone shoved in their faces to grab a shot of every moment of their lives (literally sometimes from the moment they’re exiting the birth canal). Look, I am just as guilty as the next mom; I have thousands of pictures of my kids, whereas my parents maybe have hundreds of me. We learn quickly that a 30-minute uninterrupted meal or shower is worth breaking our no TV rule (all hail Bluey, am I right??), guilty again as the mom with kids wearing headphones and watching a show at dinner.
Aside from having movies or game access anywhere we go, technology has also made our homes and lives safer. We now have home security cameras that alert our cell phones the second anyone approaches our homes, and silent security systems that have called the police even before we have time to. We have apps like Life 360 that track our family’s every move. I cannot even express the amount of calm this app has brought my “mom of a teen driver” heart. iPhones with Facetime so your kids can do more than just call; they can see you and you can see them, and text messages are so nice for when your kid needs to reach out to you in a discreet way.
So with all this access to our home and family, it seems like we would feel safer about allowing our kids to have more freedom and be more independent.
The Home Alone Debate
This topic is tough. Only three states currently have laws regarding a minimum age for leaving a child home alone: Illinois, 14 years old; Maryland, 8 years old; and Oregon, 10 years old. There is a lot that goes into the decision of when it is acceptable for you to leave your child alone such as the maturity level of the child, what safety measures do you have in place, does your child have access to a phone (and the number to call in case of an emergency), and how long will you be gone? The website for Child Welfare has a great resource about what factors to consider and preparations to take when leaving kids alone and how to make sure they’re comfortable and feel safe.
I came home after school alone for the majority of my childhood. I would come inside and make a snack, then turn on the TV and do homework until my parents came home. My summer vacations consisted of two weeks in Pensacola with my grandparents, another two weeks on the Oregon Coast with my other grandparents, and other than that, it was hanging out with friends (riding our bikes miles away from home), and going to the pool. That was it, and that is how the majority of my friends’ home lives were too.
When my kids were younger, there was the rush to get them registered for a camp or some sort of activity, all balancing whether it would work with my night shift sleep schedule (spoiler alert: most summer camps do not, nor do they work for working parents). If it did not, would I have someone to carpool with or did I need to pay for before / after care too? The financial aspects of summer camps are difficult, too. Many families do not have the means to enroll multiple children in activities for the whole summer. When my kids were little, I really did feel like our summers, which were supposed to be the time for fun and relaxation, were more overscheduled than our school years. As they got older, I limited camps to a week at a time, in between would be time for us to play and go on adventures, and most importantly, enjoy the summer.
Working the night shift has allowed me to give my kids the independence of being home alone without really being home alone. There is a rule to not wake me up unless the house is on fire or you’ve had to use an epi-pen. They have learned how to make food for themselves and keep themselves entertained. Now that they are older, they come and go to friends’ houses, actually cook meals, order their own Door Dash, and basically are ready to move out alone (just kidding, I am keeping them here forever). It’s not just staying home that I wanted to teach them how to be alone, but also things like travel. When they were little, I would have them find our gates and if we had to use a shuttle, which stop to get off at, and where to find our baggage. It was fun for them and also a great learning experience. Since they could talk, they have had to order their own food at restaurants. Little things that help give them confidence and independence later in life.
We constantly stress to be aware of your surroundings at all times, to avoid going places alone (no matter the neighborhood or time of day), behave like your parents are with you (don’t be an a**hole), and know your emergency contacts numbers in the event you don’t have your phone, never turn off your location, and check-in every so often. Other than these things, I am not sure how much more I can prepare them for the outside world. I wanted independent and confident kids, and they’ve turned into independent and confident teens. Hopefully, this will pave their way to becoming independent and confident young adults.
I am always a little surprised that the generation of latchkey kids has turned into a generation of parents that hold on a little too tight. I have had to check myself a few times and my mom has checked me more than a few. I have loosened up quite a bit, even though I am still worried unless they are home and in their beds, but I do hope I have given them the right tools to live independently once it is time.