Traveling to and from school
There is no "right" age for kids to start walking or biking to school alone or with a friend. Each family needs to consider the maturity of their child, how many busy streets have to be crossed, and if these streets have lights or crossing guards.
Being left home alone
Ensuring the safety of children who are home alone after school is a big safety concern for many parents. Often, the rule given to children is, "Don't let a stranger inside the house." It's a good rule, but ineffective. Kids expect strangers to be "scary" when indeed someone who means to do your child harm can look like an everyday person. And some of the greatest threats to a child’s safety can come from someone on the Internet and not at the front door.
Here are a few rules you should teach your child if he or she will be left home alone:
- Keep all doors shut. Instead of telling kids not to let a stranger in, the real rule should be: “Keep the doors shut and locked at all times.” If someone comes to the door, your child can communicate with this person through the door.
- Have a check-in time. Ask your child to call to let you know that he or she has arrived home safely. Set a consistent time for the child to call you each day. Give him/her about 10 minutes leeway to allow for a slow bus or any other event that might occur and disrupt the schedule. You can start to worry if he/she doesn't meet this deadline. Find a close neighbor who is usually home around this time. If you can't be reached, make sure your child knows to call this person to check in. Grandparents can provide an excellent "assist" to parents, and if living in town, might welcome a call from a grandchild to say he/she is home from school.
- Have a plan. Remember that kids who are home alone are much more likely to encounter dangers such as fire from burning popcorn or falling down the stairs than being abducted by a stranger. It is very important that your family has a plan and that your child knows how to react to different situations. Run practice drills and make sure your child does not hesitate or deviate from the plan that you have enacted.
- Rules for Internet use. Children need to know what is okay to do until mom or dad get home, and what is not. Instruct them to get started on homework, let the dog out, and have a snack. Be clear on what friends can come over, and what Web sites they can visit and which are off limits. These are decisions and rules that you should discuss with your child and decide on, before school begins. There can be structure to a child’s afternoon, even if no one else is home, leaving less opportunity for an unsupervised child to get into trouble.