Back to School Safety Tips for the Newest Generation
technology and proactive planning can keep kids safe when they’re home alone after
For parents who work or simply can’t be home in the afternoon, back-to-school safety can be a major worry. Once the afternoon bell rings, they’re left with a worrisome chunk of time between the moment their child leaves school and the time an adult arrives home from work. Some kids are unsupervised for an hour, while others can be home alone for three or more. Most of the time everything’s fine—but something bad happening is every parent’s biggest fear.
No matter how safe your neighborhood feels or how responsible your child acts, it only takes an electrical spark at the wrong moment or a burglar targeting your house to put an unsupervised kid in harm’s way. One in 25 kindergartners through fifth-graders arrive home to empty houses every day after school, Parents magazine reports, leaving parents scrambling for the best home alone safety practices to protect them. As kids get older, this number increases, with “10% of students 4th grade and older” spending “a few hours home alone each day,” according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
Overall, this new generation of “latchkey kids” adds up to 15.1 million children nationwide, a 6% increase since 2004. They represent every income level—in fact, Parents reports that more than half come from middle- or upper-class households. Most laws are purposely vague about what age kids can stay home alone, recognizing that a lot has to do with the capability and maturity of the child. Only three states currently have laws that specify a minimum age: Maryland (8), Oregon (10), and Illinois (14).
By making home security a high priority on back-to-school checklists, parents can feel confident that children will be safe when they’re home alone after school. We did the homework for you—compiling a list of safety tips and products that help ensure that your kids eating too much junk food is your biggest worry.
simple back to school safety tips
Creating a safe environment is essential to boosting kids’ confidence when they’re home alone, as well as their ability to handle problems or emergencies. After all, when people know what to do and expect, they react more calmly and decisively – and children are no exception.
a route home is essential for back to school safety
Whether walking home from school or the bus stop, parents and children can work together to plan the most direct path. Choose a route with the least street crossings and remind kids to steer clear of vacant lots, fields, parked cars, or any other area where there aren’t many people around. Encourage them to walk with friends when possible.
Talk frankly about “stranger danger” and make sure they know not to talk to strangers or accept rides, even if the person seems friendly or helpful. At the same time, teach them about the individuals they can go to for help in an emergency or if they see something that makes them uncomfortable as they approach the house, such as police, a teacher at school, trusted neighbors, or other parents with children.
2. Help kids learn important
Having an emergency phone list on display in prominent places like the refrigerator and by any phone is vital when kids are home alone. But it’s equally important to help kids memorize their home address, their home phone number, a parent’s mobile number, and the number of a trusted neighbor. They should also know how to use 911 in an emergency.
3. Teach kids what to do if
someone calls or comes to the door
It’s not unusual for burglars to knock on the door of a house they’re targeting to verify if someone is home. And unfortunately, 65 percent of burglaries occur during the day when adults are least likely to be around. Children should know how to securely lock all doors once they’re inside, and to never open them again until their parents are home—even for deliveries or mail. You could instruct kids to speak with visitors through the front door without opening it and to never let anyone know they are alone in the house.
Many times, the sight of security cameras by the front and back doors is enough to convince burglars to choose an easier target. For greater peace of mind, parents can also choose a home security system that offers smart doorbell cameras with infrared night vision. Not only do these cameras make it easy for kids to see who’s there without opening the door at any time of day or night, but the live feed can also be sent to parents’ smartphones. Some products even enable kids to hear and speak to visitors through two-way audio and have motion sensors that send alerts about activity around the door, even if the doorbell isn’t pressed.
Parents and children should choose a password that a trusted friend could give during an emergency to signal that it’s OK for kids to open the door and let them inside. Along these same lines, children should let the answering machine pick up calls from unfamiliar numbers on the caller ID.
4. Establish back to school safety rules in the home
Help ensure a safe afternoon by addressing some important ground rules ahead of time. Discuss whether kids can use the oven or pool when home alone, rules for having friends over or leaving the house, and even screen time. Even microwave ovens can be a source of serious burns; parents may want to prohibit their use or explain how to use them properly when no adults are present. For parents who do decide to let kids cook, make sure smoke detectors and fire alarms are working and ideally hooked up to a security system for monitoring.
5. Make children comfortable
using the home security system
Modern security systems are so easy to use that there’s no question a child could do it. Teach kids how to arm and disarm the system—setting it to “stay” with no delay so that the alarm sounds instantly if a window or door is opened. Show them how to hit the panic buttons on the keypad and explain how pressing it will send police to the house immediately, instead of having to wait for the alarm company to check in after the alarm goes off.
Some alarm systems also include a panic pendant that kids can wear to instantly call for help from anywhere in the house. If possible, let children hear the difference between the burglar, smoke, fire, and carbon monoxide alarms so they recognize the sounds if they go off and understand what to do.
kids safe with remote access and alerts
Many working parents require their children to call or text when they get home each day—but kids will be kids, and there are going to be days they forget. Fortunately, smart security systems offer instant alert features that send parents a mobile notification informing them when their children arrive at home and punch in their code.
In fact, many offer complete interactive control, alerting parents if kids forget to arm the alarm so they can do it remotely. Some smart systems can even be programmed to automatically lock the door or allow parents to lock it remotely, so children are always safely secured inside the house. These systems can also be used to automatically or remotely turn on smart lights as the days grow shorter so it appears the whole family is home.
Smart systems keep parents informed of any safety problems at the house, sending instant alerts so they can respond quickly. Along those lines, many parents also choose to install alarm sensors that notify them if kids access potentially dangerous areas in the house like gun, liquor, or medicine cabinets.
the house—and the kids
Knowing where unsupervised children are and what they’re doing is one of the biggest challenges working parents face. Thanks to smart security systems, parents can minimize the worry of waiting for their kids to check-in. Indoor security cameras let you see, speak, and hear what’s happening inside the house in real-time on your smartphone or another device.
Parents can observe the moment their kids arrive at home and check in periodically from the office or on their commute—even communicating via two-way audio features on indoor cameras. Not only do these cameras reassure parents that their children are happy and safe, but it makes it much harder for kids to leave or let guests into the house without permission.
worry about lost or hidden keys
Even responsible kids lose keys. Not only is a lost key in the neighborhood a security risk, but in the old days, it could mean that your child might be locked out of the house for hours. Even worse, spare keys hidden outside often feel like easy pickings for burglars—and some children simply forget their keys in the door, inviting anyone to come in. Smart door locks eliminate the risks of physical keys by integrating with smart home security systems, giving children easy access to their homes by entering a unique code.
a trusted neighbor to check-in
As a rule, the fewer people who know that kids are home alone after school, the safer. But building a relationship with a trusted neighbor who can act as an emergency contact or an extra set of eyes is always a smart strategy. If the neighbor is aware that the children are home alone, he or she can keep an eye on the house and check in if anything seems out of sorts.
Have a plan in place if something goes wrong – and practice, practice,
Consider unexpected situations that can happen when children are home alone and help them practice the right way to handle these scenarios. Preparation is key to keeping kids as safe and calm as possible if emergencies occur. Have a stocked first aid kit available, show them where it is, and practice some simple first aid procedures.
Practice how everyone should exit from different parts of the house if there’s a fire, and what they should do once they are outside. Come up with a plan for what should happen if a burglar breaks into the house when children are alone: pressing the panic button if they have a pendant or they are near their security hub; getting outside and running to a safe place if possible; and hiding and calling 911 if not. Determine good hiding places in the house, such as bathrooms with doors that lock.
Parents should also discuss what children should do if they come home and spot an open door, a shattered window, or a torn screen. Kids are naturally curious, but the last thing any parent wants is for them to surprise a burglar. Be sure they understand these could be signs of a break-in and they should never enter the house. Instead, teach them to seek help from a trusted neighbor, call you or the police, or walk right back to school if it’s close and find a teacher or police officer. They could also walk to a nearby, familiar business and ask for help.
planning and instruction—and smart security systems—boost back to school safety
Potential dangers lurk when kids are home alone, from intruders to fires to curiosity about areas of the house holding unsafe items. Following these back-to-school safety steps helps ensure arriving home to an empty house after school is a positive experience that builds self-confidence and independence.
And by adding the protections of a smart security system, parents can gain greater peace of mind that their children are safe and secure when they can’t be there—and everyone will be instantly aware of any problems.
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