Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Are Tweens Today the Next Generation of Latchkey Kids?

Calling all moms! Did you read the recent article in the New York Times, "Recession Drives Women Back to the Work Force"? Whether you work outside the home, stay at home, or work part-time, this article is worth the time out of your busy day to read.

Steven Greenhouse writes about the record number of mothers returning to the workforce after "opting out" while their children were young. The reasons cited for returning to work are all due to the recession - a new economic necessity because a spouse was laid off, retirement losses that were too great, or just the new daily financial need. The reasons and even the trend itself is controversial (do you remember the "Opt-Out Revolution" article a few years ago?) as economists and researchers argue about the demographic chameleon of mothers in the workforce. Many say that the moms who do work work out of necessity and that only a very small group of affluent moms have the luxury of opting-out of work. Work-life balance guru Sylvia Ann Hewlett, says that, "Women are at a watershed moment." And even more disturbing, studies have found that for every two years a woman is out of the labor force, her earnings fall by 10 percent, a penalty that lasts throughout her career. We already knew that women get paid less than men for the same work, but now there's also a literal parenting penalty that only moms must pay?!?

With record numbers of moms returning to the workforce, will we see a new generation of latch-key kids amongst tweens today? After all, if both parents are at work out of economic necesity, no one is at home at 3pm to meet the kids after school. Certainly some families are fortunate enough to have extended family nearby, but the costs of after school care is often prohibitive. Are tweens old enough to stay home unsupervised for a few hours? What is the "right" age to allow this?

What will our tweens need to manage in this new reality? Will this cause them to grow up a little too early, or is increasing independence a good thing? Clearly, tweens need to be comfortable with being on their own for a few hours, know how to handle contingenices (a lost key, a stranger at the door, etc.), and know all the key contact numbers. But since the last generation of latch-key kids, there are new challenges to deal with: balancing the need to access the Internet for homework versus the need to monitor online usage and visitation, and the question of whether or not your tween should have a cell phone, are just two of the technogical issues to address. What differences do you see between the latch-key generation of the past versus a new one today?

Please join this discussion and post your comments below.

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