Throughout my son’s life, I’ve taught him how to stay safe: Don’t drink anything stored under a sink; never take a ride from strangers; never post your address online. But I recently realized that I never taught Ben how to use our home security system.
When we built our home 18 years ago, we installed a home alarm that was, unfortunately, hard to figure out. Even today, I’m not sure which sensors operate when I push “stay” or “away.” Consequently, I only arm the system when my husband travels or we head on vacation.
I’ve never let our son touch our system, no less given him the alarm code. When he was little, I didn’t leave him in the house alone. And now that he’s grown, he’s out of the house more than in and has no interest in learning about Mom’s alarm system.
But many families consist of working couples with kids who spend many, after-school hours alone in the house. These children should know how home security systems work.
When Is a Child Ready to Operate an Alarm System?
Even if you feel your child is mature enough to stay home alone, he may not be ready to operate a security system, which requires more than just emotional maturity, according to Kerri McDonald, president of the False Alarm Reduction Association.
McDonald said children are ready to operate a security system when they can:
- Memorize a four-digit security code and a false alarm password.
- Have enough composure and manual dexterity to punch in the security code within seconds while the system is beeping.
- Have the maturity to realize that turning off the alarm is their first priority upon returning home, before letting out the dog or letting in their friend.
Home Security Rules
When you decide your child is ready to operate your alarm system, teach him these cardinal rules.
- The alarm is not a toy! Kids love lights and sounds and pushing buttons, which basically describes a home alarm system. Teach your child that your alarm system is not a toy, but a tool to keep him safe. He should never “play” with the buttons, but only perform the tasks you teach him.
- Security is necessary: This is tricky, because you don’t want to scare your child to death while he’s waiting for you to return from work. But, you should tell him that although you don’t suspect anything terrible will happen, it’s still important to guard against bad people and events. Liken it to brushing his teeth so he won’t get cavities, or buckling his seatbelt so he’ll be safe in the car.
- Codes are private. Tell your child that security codes are secret, not something to share with his BFF or on his Facebook page. If anyone asks him for the code – including ex-spouses with whom you have not shared the information — he should say, “I don’t know,” then tell you right away.
Security System Skills
If you feel your child is old enough to control your home security system, here are the tasks he should learn.
- Memorize the security code and know where the code is written in case he forgets.
- How to arm and disarm the system, and how many seconds he has to enter the code before the alarm goes off.
- What do to if he accidentally sets off the alarm. Teach him that the monitoring station will call and ask for the security “password,” which he must memorize.
- What to do in a true emergency. If your security system has two-way talk or a panic feature, your child should learn what buttons to press and what to say when monitoring staff answers. Teach him short phrases, like, “There’s an intruder in the house,” or “My dad’s collapsed and we need an ambulance.” Also teach your child to call 911 first.