The Benefits Of Being A Latchkey Kid

I’m a proud latchkey kid. You got a problem?

When an idea is shared on the Internet quickly and at great scale — popularly called a meme — it risks jumping the shark into the land of cliche.

Which is why I’m hesitant to cite “The ‘Busy’ Trap” essay from the New York Times.

It’s a well-written piece that hit a nerve with a lot of people. My synopsis: We all feel overcome by overly busy lives, which are really not that busy, but seem that way because they are filled with self-inflicted, overly-sanctioned and trivial ambitions. Busy is a horrible proxy for quality of presence and an even worse predictor of life outcome.

Anyway, what really resonated with me was author Tim Krieder’s sentiment about latchkey parenting.

Even children are busy now, scheduled down to the half-hour with classes and extracurricular activities. They come home at the end of the day as tired as grown-ups. I was a member of the latchkey generation and had three hours of totally unstructured, largely unsupervised time every afternoon, time I used to do everything from surfing the World Book Encyclopedia to making animated films to getting together with friends in the woods to chuck dirt clods directly into one another’s eyes, all of which provided me with important skills and insights that remain valuable to this day. Those free hours became the model for how I wanted to live the rest of my life.

Indeed, I was a latchkey kid to the fullest extent. While I had no choice in the matter (middle-class broken home with divorced parents living in opposite ends of the country), I think I was responsible and mature enough to put the situation to good use.

I’m not saying I turned out good or a success — that’s all relative and depends on the eye of the beholder. But being a latchkey kid made me who I am. It offered me freedom to think and to explore, and to exercise a few hours of independence everyday. It helped form me into someone who not only is comfortable thinking independently, but yearns for hours of downtime to think independently and without distraction. My latchkey upbringing helped me develop wings and more trusting relationships, especially with family.

Will I condone latchkey parenting for my kids?

I’m not sure.

In fact, I’m torn.

Perhaps there’s an optimal balance, taking into account the personality, maturity and development of my kids, along with their environment.

Published by Max Kalehoff

Father, sailor and marketing executive.

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  1. Latch key kid here. Problem is today’s LKs have so much tech available, it’s easier for them to “latch” onto that, rather than going outside or picking up a book. Thoughts?

          1. I’m a present day latchkey kid. It used to be just me, my sister, and when we were younger a babysitter. At home we did a whole lot of similar things to what the author talked about (worldbook encyclopedia ftw 😛 and of course hanging out with the neighborhood kids and reading: when I was younger I usually went through 2 or 3 novel-length books a week). As the years have gone by though, our house has been ‘technologically updated’ and my sister is now away in college whilst I stay at home (except during cross country season) all by myself. After a while, I grew distant from the neighborhood kids, and I read slower than ever because I always feel like I need time to process what I’m reading and wallow in the suspense. I do spend a whole lot of time on the computer, as well as eating emotionally (I’m a shy homebody who doesn’t have any particularly close friends). In some ways, the internet is such an appeal because I feel a lot closer to interacting with people than being on my own all the time. The internet frequently has the interactive qualities that I could never have while I felt for the protagonists I read about. In some ways, the internet has been a life saver in its comforting ways, but sometimes I do feel like I’m being sucked in and it’s been wasting my life. Please don’t pick on my generation. We’re lonely enough as it is.

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