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Posted: Sep 18, 2008 20:16

WHATEVER HAPPENED TO 'LATCHKEY KIDS'?

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By: Lon Woodbury

A big issue in the 1980s and 1990s was the phenomena of what was called Latchkey Kids. Essentially, this was seen as a byproduct of the expansion of two-income families and single parents, that is, kids were on their own after school because there were no adults at home.

The concept of kids raising themselves and being on their own without adult supervision in the afternoon and early evening was considered dangerous and a serious problem. Since then, we have a increasing percentage of two-income families and more single parents, but the problem of latchkey kids seem to have gone away, at least so far as public discourse. If we are to believe the news media, the problem seems to have gone away and maybe even been solved.

What happened? Has the problem been solved and Latchkey Kids a problem only of the past? Have parents learned how to juggle their schedules so an adult is at home when the kids return from school? Have day care and after school activities expanded so there is a place for children to go so they no longer are without adult supervision?

I don't think so. The network of private parent-choice residential schools and programs are full of children that in the past would have been called Latchkey Kids. Many of the students in these schools and programs have been raised by their peers, learned to accommodate to and listen to negative peer pressure, and are used to ignoring adult influence.

Being motivated by a natural desire to control their own lives and be accepted as adults, but not yet allowed the rights and responsibilities of adulthood, they have looked to peers for guidance and to develop their life style in irresponsible activities of expanded childhood with few if any responsibilities. Those who succumb to this adult-free lifestyle often make self-destructive decisions and desperately need the intervention offered by Emotional Growth/Therapeutic schools and programs to help them out of peer driven life styles. These kids still need adult help in order to grow up!

The disappearance of the concept of Latchkey Kids as a problem might be an example of what sometimes is called "defining deviancy down." What used to be considered a serious problem is now considered a normal part of adolescence and is simply accepted as a fact of life. We have gotten used to the existence of Latchkey Kids. So far as public discourse, it is no longer considered a problem. It seems to just be part of the reality in our society we have to accommodate.

However, those of us who work with struggling teens are aware that not only does the problem identified in the past as coming from Latchkey Kids still exist, it seems to be expanding. We seem to be seeing more kids who are living totally without any parental or adult supervision or control at all, not just in the afternoons after school. The numbers of teens in juvenile justice facilities are increasing, especially among females. Research is showing that more and more young people are refusing to grow up and are avoiding adult responsibilities into their twenties and even older, especially among males.

The problems that were identified as coming from the existence of Latchkey Kids in the last decades haven't gone away Perhaps we don't hear about them any more because it understates the problem of teen and young people's self-destructive decisions due to lack of adult supervision or control.

"Home Alone" only after school is maybe only a minor factor contributing to the phenomena of the apparently expanding teen culture, where teens exist independently from adult influences, rejecting adult responsibilities and developing more self-destructive tendencies. Apparently we don't hear about Latchkey Kids anymore because the problem has become so much more that words fail us. However, in the schools and programs in our network, the problem remains obvious.



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