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Technology keeping kids safe when home alone


JANESVILLE (WKOW) — Summer can be a difficult time for parents, as they decide whether their kids are ready to stay home alone.

When school’s out and childcare is no longer an option for families, parents have a big decision to make.

“You’re put in a hard spot, as a parent, of fulfilling work obligations or career obligations and also trying to make sure your children are safe and comfortable where they’re at,” said Sara Schumacher, a Janesville mom.

Experts say once parents and kids feel comfortable being home alone, it’s best to start with short times away.

“Once a child starts asking questions about independence and staying home alone, that’s the best time to start having that in depth conversation about, okay, this is what this looks like, here are my expectations,” said Danielle Hairston-Green, director of UW-Extension’s Human Development and Relationships Institute. “You want to constantly check in with the child to make sure that they’re still comfortable with the plan.”

There are many technologies that can help ease parents’ minds, giving older kids some space while also making sure to keep them safe.

“This is a great time for a child to kind of establish your independence and establish trust and a relationship,” Hairston-Green told 27 News.

The Schumachers have developed a plan. Sara and her two daughters Madelyn and Lydia are all comfortable with, making plans together.

The family uses the Life 360 app. It keeps an eye on their movements using cell phone location services. It can map the kids’ route throughout the day and sends an alert to Sara when they arrive at home or school.

“I am not here to spy on them. I’m here to keep them safe,” she said.

The Schumachers say it provides everyone a sense of safety and a quick way to know if something’s wrong.

The family was grateful to have been using the app when 13-year-old Madelyn had a scare a few months ago, when she thought she was being followed home from school by a suspicious man.

“I always tell them, follow your gut feeling no matter what that feeling is, it’s there for a reason. So something seems off, then it’s off,” Sara said.

Madelyn ran away and police were able to use data from the app to see what path she took home. Police were not able to find the man.

Hairston-Green says there are a lot of free resources that offer similar services to help connect families.

The Near Parent app creates a support network of family and friends who can follow the kids and be contacted through iPhone.

Parents can also use the Glympse app to monitor their child’s location. It has a desktop web-based option and can be used on any smartphone.

Google Latitude connects Google accounts using the company’s mapping service and is available on any smartphone.

Hairston-Green also recommends using video messaging programs like FaceTime and group texting to connect with children.

They’re all ways to give a child some space and set boundaries.

“You want to establish trust with your kids. So there’s a space that they have that’s their own space, but when it comes down to making sure that your child is safe, that’s our responsibility,” Hairston-Green said.

She says UW-Extension also offers programs and resources for parents looking for more information when leaving kids home alone. The experts host weekly Facebook Live conversations on Thursdays.