JACKSON, Miss. (WJTV) – Youngsters who take care of themselves a few hours while parents are away, often Monday through Friday after school, are called “latchkey kids.”

“The biggest thing we need to worry about is to make sure we have things planned and rehearsed. The kids need to know a safe way of handling things and that we have plans already scheduled for the kids, so in the event of an emergency, they know how to handle themselves,” explained Eric Phillips, community relations advocate for American Medical Response (AMR).

Since injuries are the leading killer of children and teen-agers, AMR urges parents to keep their latchkey youngsters safe from the many hazards of fending for themselves.

“Around most homes, it is important to recognize if they’re are cleaning materials around the house, you probably need to keep them under lock and key. You should teach the kids where they are and when it is important to use them,” said Phillips.

Parents who adopt the latchkey lifestyle must tend to these safety issues:

  • Check your home thoroughly for safety risks. Eliminate the risks or teach the child to avoid them. For example, the parent might teach the child never to use the stove, but, instead, to use the microwave. If there is a gun the house, for the children’s sake, put a trigger lock on the gun and then put the gun in a locked cabinet.
  • Teach the child when and how to call 9-1-1. Post the number “911” near each ground line telephone.
  • Be sure each child knows his or her full name, complete home address and home phone number, your full name, the exact name of the place where you work and your work phone number.

“Parents should really pay attention to how that child carries themselves generally. They have to be responsible enough to take care of themselves while they are alone and to not get into any mischief or have any problems. If they do have problems, they need to know solutions on how to fix it,” said Phillips.

In some communities, half of all children starting at age five to 13 spend part of their day at home alone. When school resumes, some parents go back to work, which increases the number of children who take care of themselves for a few hours each day.