When’s the best age to give your kids house keys?

House keysImage via zebble

As soon as you have kids, keeping your house secure suddenly becomes even more important. And as they grow up, you face the challenge of having to balance your family’s security with their needs and responsibilities.

Securing entry to your home is absolutely crucial. Sadly, long gone are the days when we would be perfectly happy to leave our front doors unlocked for our kids to come and go as they please.

So all new parents face a crucial challenge – deciding when the right time is for kids to get keys to the house. What considerations must be made, and what’s the right approach?

When is the right time?

To find out, we spoke to renowned UK parenting blogger Jo Middleton from Slummy Single Mummy. She said:

“I gave them both keys when they started secondary school. That felt like a bit of a landmark in terms of responsibility, as they were much more independent, then walking to and from school and sometimes organising their own after school activities. That was also the age they both had mobile phones for the first time.”

11 or 12 seemed to be a popular choice of age in a lengthy discussion on the topic in the Reddit parenting forum. However, a more popular choice was to let kids have keys as soon as they were required to be at home alone.

User mediocrity511 said:

“Give him a key once he has a need for it, then you feel he’s responsible to come and go as he pleases. It also means there’s natural consequences if he does lose the key, as he won’t be able to come and go until he finds it or he gets a new one.”

Jo agreed, saying:

“We’ve had plenty of incidences of keys being lost or forgotten. But having to wait outside the house because you’ve forgotten to take your keys (despite reminders!) is a valuable lesson!”

The law

When it comes to leaving your kids alone, be aware that in the UK the law states that although there is no particular age limit to when a child can be left alone, it’s an offence to leave a child alone if it places them at risk.

The National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children (NSPCC) advises that children under 12 are rarely mature enough to be left alone for a long period of time, and that children under 16 shouldn’t be left alone overnight. They also say that babies, toddlers and very young children should never be left alone under any circumstances.

With older children, you must use your judgement as a parent to decide whether or not it’s suitable for your child to be left alone. In the Reddit discussion, user InteralEnergy said:

“Have a talk. Critically probe their understanding of the responsibility you’re considering entrusting them. Run through ‘what if’ scenarios with them, and do this a few times over the course of some time to see if their reasoning is consistently sound.”

Doing it right

Once you’ve decided to give your kids a key, what’s the best way to go about it to ensure that they benefit from the added freedom and responsibility, but your home stays secure?

One suggestion if you don’t want your kid carrying a key round with them everywhere they go is to leave one in a safe place such as at a neighbour’s house. However, be wary that we don’t suggest leaving keys outside, no matter how well they’re hidden. You could install a key box outside your door as an alternative, instructing your child to return the key there once they’ve let themselves in.

Of course, there’ll come a time when you’ll want your child to have a key on them at all times. The point then is to make losing the key as hard as possible.

“I’ve encouraged big key ring collections for both of my daughters, to make house keys harder to lose,” said Jo. Other popular solutions are to fix a key to something harder to lose like a school bag or wallet.

Some parents are concerned at first about not knowing when their child has come back to the house. Verisure offers a great solution with the smart key reader. Personalised keys mean you can install the reader by your front door to monitor the entrance and exit times of individual family members from your mobile phone.

No matter what solution you go for, Reddit user ilith has some important advice:

“I first got the key at 11 and then my mother decided overnight that it was not the right time. I was crushed because it felt like they don’t trust me. So my advice is, if you finally decide to give [them] the key, do not go back on that decision.”