At What Age Should Older Kids be Permitted to Babysit Their Younger Siblings?

Do you let instinct or the law dictate at what ages your kids can start babysitting?

A mom in New Canaan, Conn., was recently arrested after she left her 13-year-old child to babysit her three younger children (one of whom is as young as 8 months old). She had gone to church and a neighbor found the mom’s 4-year-old, who had “wandered into the yard across the street,” according to NewCanaan.Patch.com.

The mom was charged with risk of injury to a minor. Connecticut’s Department of Children and Family says “it’s up to each parent, depending on their child’s readiness, but that ‘experts believe a child should be at least 12 before he is left alone, and at least 15 before he can care for a younger brother or sister. These are the minimum ages. Not every child is ready then.'”

The law about the babysitting age varies from state to state, but it’s likely the mom in this case isn’t alone in allowing her older child to watcher her younger ones even though it goes against the letter of her state’s guidelines.

So, was she wrong, or would you have done the same thing?

It seems to me as if in this case, the mom probably was wrong. If the 13-year-old couldn’t keep up with the 4-year-old to the extent that an across-the-street neighbor grew alarmed, it was probably too big a job for a kid so young. (Nevermind that the neighbor might have offered to help instead of call the police. No, it wasn’t the neighbor’s responsibility to watch the kids, but it sure would have been the neighborly thing to do if there was, indeed, a problem.)

On the other hand, there are plenty of responsible kids, age 13 and even younger, who safely watch their younger siblings on a regular basis, or even babysit kids who aren’t related.

I started babysitting kids in the neighborhood when I was as young as 12 or 13, and I’ve let a 13-year-old watch my two daughters, ages 9 months and 3 (although only after the former is sound asleep and we are no more than a handful of blocks away from home). I have no idea what the law says in Colorado, which is where I live, but I very well might be breaking it.

It’s one of those things that just has to vary from house to house — because in all seriousness, I think as a parent I know way more about my kids than the state in which I live on this topic. I appreciate the guidelines, but my instincts as a mom tell me way more than some laws, even if they’re designed to protect my kids.

There are some things I won’t do, like let my kids play alone in a park, but that doesn’t make me a helicopter mom. And I don’t think letting a carefully chosen tween or early teen watch my kids makes me a free range parent, either. I think it just means I can decide what works best for temporary childcare in my house. And if my neighbors feel the need to report me to the authorities as a result, well, then I can think about moving or hope they’re doing the same.

Do you let instinct or the law dictate at what age your kids can start babysitting?

Photo credit: iStock


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