The term "latchkey kid" first appeared to describe young children taking care of themselves after school while dad fought in the war and mom went off to work. But the anxiety over latchkey kids really exploded in the United States in the late 1970s and early 1980s. Latchkey kids were prevalent during this time, a result of increased divorce rates and increased maternal participation in the workforce at a time before childcare options outside the home were widely available

Latchkey kids are kids between the ages of 5 and 13 who take care of themselves with no adult supervision before and after school on a regular basis. The term self-care is also used to describe these children.

Unsupervised time can make children independent and sometimes can lead to challenges and negative outcomes. School performance tends to be lower in latchkey children. Some studies show the number of latchkey students doing poorly in school is as high as 51%. Children tend to go home and watch television rather than engage in more stimulating activities.

Although millions of people now in their 40s and 50s look back fondly, even nostalgically on their latchkey experience, that's not the case for everyone. In one study, middle school students left home alone for more than three hours a day reported higher levels of behavioral problems, higher rates of depression, and lower levels of self-esteem than other students.

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