Latchkey Kids: The Problem with Leaving Children Alone at Home

Not giving your child enough time and attention can impact their personal development. In this article, we'll take a look at what happens when kids are regularly left alone.
Latchkey Kids: The Problem with Leaving Children Alone at Home

Last update: 18 April, 2018

Latchkey kids is the term sometimes given to children who carry the keys to their home around their neck or in their pocket.

They’re responsible for letting themselves in after school, because nobody is at home waiting for them.

As this has become more and more common, a generation of young adults have grown up as latchkey kids.

Concerns about latchkey kids allude to something very important for children: spending time with their parents. This is a key part of their psychological and physical development.

A latchkey generation

Balancing family and professional life means that, sometimes, parents aren’t able to spend as much time as they’d like with their children. This is becoming more and more common, particularly in large cities.

Being left alone for a large part of the day can lead to behavioral disorders, obesity, depression and difficulty expressing feelings, among other issues.

Latchkey kids can also suffer physical symptoms. These include altered sleep patterns, appetite loss, weight loss and gastrointestinal disorders.

As a result, academic performance and behavior at school are also likely to be affected.

Causes of latchkey kid syndrome

These are some of the factors that have led to more and more children growing up as latchkey kids:

  • The rise of the nuclear family. In the past, grandparents and other family members were around to offer care and guidance.
  • The empowerment of women, which has led to a large number of families with two working parents.
  • The increase in the cost of living has made long working hours a priority and a necessity, particularly with kids to feed and educate.
  • A highly competitive job market is another factor pushing parents to stay late at the office.
  • The need for higher education to compete in the workplace means that parents must save money for their children’s future.
Latchkey Kids

Consequences of latchkey kid syndrome

Now we’ll take a look at the consequences of children being left alone until late in the evening.

These are most serious in children under 12 years of age. This is a very important stage of children’s development.

1. Anxiety

Latchkey kids can easily become isolated and avoid social situations, stress or conflict.

2. Panic attacks

Symptoms may include visual alterations, such as mild hallucinations or deformation of real objects.

3. Adjustment disorder

Another consequence is that children are forced into a role that isn’t suitable for their age. In response, the child may develop what is known as an adjustment disorder.

4. Independence

Since latchkey kids have less contact with their parents, they learn to get by all by themselves during the day. This means they have greater freedom and become more independent.

5. Exhausted parents

Parents of latchkey kids will often get home exhausted at the end of the working day, without enough energy to even talk to their children.

Moms and dads may even arrive home late at night, when the children are already sleeping.

“What is done to children, they will do to society”

-Karl A. Meninger-

6. Loss of authority

In terms of the parent-child relationship, a lack of quality time spent together can lead children to lose respect for their parents’ authority.

7. Agression

Latchkey kids may become aggressive or arrogant towards their parents, or may display rebellious behavior due to the lack of everyday boundaries.

8. Friendships

For some latchkey kids, friends fulfil the role of family. Children who are home alone every day can get a lot of support from their friends.

The problem arises when children surround themselves with friends who aren’t ideal role models.

9. Eating habits

Children who are left alone will learn to feed themselves. This means they don’t stick to family mealtimes, and may lead to poor diet.

Left to their own devices, latchkey kids eat more junk food.

Latchkey Kids

10. Lack of affection

Last but not least, latchkey kids may not feel loved and cared for by their own parents. This makes it more difficult for them to love or trust others.

It may be necessary for both parents to work long hours these days. But, as parents, we can take measures to avoid the distant relationships characteristic of latchkey kid syndrome.

To build a close bond with your child, communicate and exchange ideas. Show an active interest in their life to ensure that the child doesn’t feel ignored.


All cited sources were thoroughly reviewed by our team to ensure their quality, reliability, currency, and validity. The bibliography of this article was considered reliable and of academic or scientific accuracy.

This text is provided for informational purposes only and does not replace consultation with a professional. If in doubt, consult your specialist.