Now that school's back in session, many kids will be coming home before their parents do. They're called latch key kids. Channel 4's Crime and Safety Expert Ken Jefferson says there are rules that need to be in place for those kids home alone, or those taking care of younger siblings.
Years ago, Jefferson did the same thing millions of kids did: He walked home from school and arrived at an empty house.
"I did have to let myself inside and wait until my older siblings got there or my parents got there," explained Jefferson.
But he adds, those days were a bit different than they are now. It's estimated more than 1 million grade schoolers are so-called latch key kids, or kids who come home to an empty house.
Jefferson says it's important to educate them about the realities of the day and age we live in.
"Sexual offenders are real. they're out and about," warns Jefferson.
He advises parents to do a dry-run of the child's walk to and from school.
"You have to walk your child to school the first week or so. Show them the route. Show them where not to venture out. Look for suspicious persons walking by or riding by. Teach them what to do if someone tries to grab them and put them in a vehicle," said Jefferson.
We showed Jefferson video Channel 4 shot showing children veering off the sidewalk and cutting through woods on their way home from school.
"They're cutting through the woods, they're kicking the ball. They're stopping. Some of the same things I did as a child walking home from school," said Jefferson. "What I think is the parents need to teach their children to be on task."
A good way to keep them on task according to Jefferson, is give them a reward.
"Give them a special allowance or something for staying on task doing the right things they're supposed to do. You've got to keep them engaged with it," he said.
As for older children taking care of younger siblings, Jefferson says there are rules to follow.
"Get that younger sibling inside the house safely. Lock the doors, put the alarm system on if you have one, contact the parents and let them know they've arrived safely. The older sibling has to take on the responsibility of the parent," said Jefferson.