Alone, but quite at home
With an increasing number of women opting for full-time careers, children are left alone to fend for themselves. A peep into the lives of these `latch-key' kids.
The film "Home Alone" reminds most of us of the cute Macaulay Culkin who fends for himself when he is accidentally left behind by his parents who go away on a vacation trip. But `home alone' today has a different meaning. With the cost of living sky-rocketing, double income families are on the rise. More and more women are opting out of their traditional role as housewife and preferring to pursue careers. As a result, toddlers and infants are put in day care centres or under the watchful eyes of their grandparents.
But the older ones are left to fend for themselves. This has probably given rise to a new class of children, called ``latchkey kids.'' They invariably return to locked houses, which they open with the spare keys that their parents have given them.
Priya and her brother, for example, belong to this class. She says she and her brother have been alone since the age of eleven. Her mother explains that theirs is a huge apartment complex and is pretty safe.
Children in such complexes and flats spend time with neighbours and friends. But, the scenario is different in independent bungalows and houses. Says Swetha, whose parents own a bungalow off Sterling Road: ``I used to be left at home with the servants. There were no neighbours and most of my friends lived far away. So, books and television were my constant companions."
But, most latch-key teenagers say that they like to make the most of this situation. Deepika (17) says that she spends most of the time she is alone on the phone. This is otherwise not possible as her mother would scold her for wasting time.
Several other teenagers said that they spent time surfing the Net or chatting when they were alone. This was because they needed company and it was the best way to pass time. They also said they watched television programmes that their parents would in normal circumstances have banned.
"When I am alone I invite friends home and have fun,'' says Deepika.
Studies show that latch-key children are more likely to indulge in smoking, alcohol and drugs. But it is also obvious that these children are more responsible and helpful at home.
Usha, who works in a bank, says, ``My daughter has been alone for the past five years and that is probably why she is so independent and has learnt to do a lot of housework." It is true that such children are neither spoon-fed nor spoilt. Most teenagers don't mind being alone. In fact, most of them say that they like it. But there is always the danger of boredom setting in. It is then that they invite their friends over for a bit of fun. Says Jai, who lives in an apartment, ``My neighbour's son is alone the whole day. He plays music so loudly that it is enough to wake up the dead.'' But the boy says this is not possible when everyone is at home.
"I always feel when I need to talk to someone there's nobody around. There are so many times when I have craved for the sound of a human voice and have found relief in dialling a friend.'' But how long can one engage in a telephone conversation,'' asks Shalini.
A few teenagers say that they use the time when they are alone profitably. Pavithra, 17, says that she spends the time painting and this has helped improve her skills. Most of such youngsters work undisturbed when they are alone.
Deepa, a voracious reader, attributes her reading habit to her loneliness. Left alone, she reads continuously for hours together.
But how do parents feel about these children?
Many admit that they are scared when their children are left to their own devices. But there is not much they can do about it.
After a certain age children do not want anyone at home to watch over them. Usha says that though her teenage daughter is quite responsible she's always scarred that she may forget to lock the front door or that she may lose the keys etc.
The phrase ``home alone'' has become popular parlance, these days. Above all, being ``home alone'' means independence and privacy to a teenager. As the popular saying goes, ``When the cat is away, the mice will play."
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