My 12-year-old daughter and her friend came inside the house today looking like they won the lottery. They each had earned $10 for “babysitting.” I noticed a few of the younger kids from the neighborhood in our back yard, and assumed they recruited them for a feature film they seemed to be directing. Turns out that the moms of these kids had hired my daughter and her friend as young babysitters.
The moms needed to run some quick errands, and the kids were already playing in the backyard together. Their 6-8 year old kids certainly didn’t want to be dragged to the store to wear a mask or be told “don’t touch anything!” It was a win-win for everyone. The kids got to keep playing, the moms got to run errands, and my daughter and her friend couldn’t have felt more proud (or had more fun!).
WHY CHOOSE A YOUNG BABYSITTER?
Young babysitters like to PLAY.
When you use young adolescents (meaning 11-14 year olds) as babysitters, they aren’t playing because they have to. They are playing because they love it! They also don’t have a phone to stare at the entire time, or haven’t become that
addicted to their phone yet. Young babysitters can’t drive anywhere to make fun (a.k.a. use more of your money to buy ice cream or go to the movies). They have to rely on making fun out of what’s in front of them. They have to have fun by being creative and playing.
It’s beneficial to the adolescent babysitter.
Early adolescence is a time that kids are transitioning from “little kid” behavior to more mature activities. They may want to still play imaginary games, but they’re also worried that those kind of games are “babyish.” They may not be playing with their dolls and Legos much, but they aren’t quite ready to get rid of them, either.
Playdates have transitioned to games of Fortnite and creating TikTok dances. But kids in early adolescence still have one foot in childhood while they make this transition. Babysitting gives them an opportunity to embrace childhood a little bit longer. They can create a theatrical performance, build with blocks, play dolls, and not consider it “babyish.” It’s a chance for adolescents to escape the social stressors of their life and play with kids who are eager to see them. It’s a way to give a boost to an adolescent’s rocky self-esteem.
It encourages independence by not having an adult present.
If your kid isn’t capable of doing anything without first asking or being cued by an adult, they are what we educators and therapists call “cue dependent.” At Let Grow, their content focuses on empowering kids to do things without adults constantly supervising and cuing. A little kid being babysat by a young adolescent is essentially two kids figuring out how to do things without an adult present. It’s a wonderful opportunity for creativity to flourish.
The laws vary from state to state. North Dakota does not have a specific law that mandates ages that a child can be left home alone, but it does have guidelines. While Minnesota statute includes ‘lack of age-appropriate supervision’ as a form of neglect, it does not—as stated earlier—specify the age at which a child can be left unsupervised.
There are many considerations for each specific instance: How long will you be gone? Will a meal need to be made? Is your child easily scared and might not be comforted by a young sitter? Will the young babysitter’s mom be home nearby if needed if this is a first time? Is the young babysitter eager and excited to do this? Ask the young sitter if she is comfortable putting in a pizza, or making mac and cheese, or changing a diaper; or do they want to learn these things? Some 10-year-olds are more mature than 14-year-olds. But in the wise words of my neighbor Mary Leier, “Kids won’t ask to do what they’re not ready for.” No young sitter is going to say yes to babysitting if it’s not something they’re ready for, nor would their parent let them.
You can’t have too many adults love your kid.
My 13-year-old son Travis was lucky enough to have a mom in our neighborhood, Brooke, teach him how to babysit. (No, babysitting is not just for girls.) She had 3 sons, ages 3, 6 and 8. She started by just having him watch the older two here and there while she ran some errands with the younger one. As a teacher herself, Brooke knew that Travis would need some guidance and instruction, and she was willing to teach him. She then tried an hour while Travis watched all three of them; then 90 minutes, then 2 hours, and so on.
As time went on, Brooke’s kids got older and Travis got older, and they were kids growing and learning together without constant adult guidance and directives. Travis would come home and tell of the silly, fun games that they created. And through babysitting, he had added Brooke and her husband to his network of supportive adults. And I supported her kids as well.
You don’t have to pay as much.
LOWER YOUR PAYMENT; LOWER YOUR EXPECTATIONS. I once said to a parent of one of my young babysitters, “Well, she’s certainly not the cleanest.” (OK, I regretfully said that. It wasn’t the kindest thing to say.) The parent replied, “You should see her room! She can’t clean up after herself. The fact that food is put away is a major accomplishment and more than I see at home.” This young babysitter was 14 and watching 3 kids under the age of 5, over a mealtime. If I’m being honest, she really wasn’t any messier than my husband.
But, she was not a professional, college-aged nanny. I paid her like she was a 14-year-old kid, and I had wisely realigned my expectations with what a 14-year-old can do. I had also been lucky enough to start training this 14-year-old neighbor girl when she was 11 by paying her $5 to hang out with my toddlers for an hour here and there while I was home. This also allowed me to teach her how to change diapers and develop a relationship with her. If you have a young babysitter come over and play with your 5 and 7 year old while you work for a couple afternoon hours, you certainly aren’t going to need to pay them like you would a 20-year-old, and you’re certainly not going to get perfection.
You also allow a young babysitter to learn about finance. Our family does allowance: we buy needs, they buy wants. So the babysitting cash my son had in his pocket bought all the Dairy Queen blizzards he wanted.
Young babysitters are not too busy.
Especially not during the current pandemic. Their social calendars aren’t yet packed because they can’t drive anywhere. They are too old to sit in camps all day, but not old enough to have jobs. Younger sitters don’t have other income options, and they certainly are sick of sitting at home with their own siblings. Younger sitters are willing to plan their day around babysitting for a few hours, and don’t need a 40-hour work week to pay for school books.
No, a young babysitter probably can’t change diapers while managing a “tricky-fellow’s” antics and then take everyone to the park while walking the dog, followed by making dinner and cleaning the house and putting kids to bed after giving them all baths. But if you have an infant with younger kids as well, perhaps give an older adolescent (15-19) a chance versus hiring an adult. Really, it can be good for everyone.
We are all at a loss of how to work from home and keep our kids off screens. Or we just need a few hours to run an errand, finish paper work, or go for a run. Find a young adolescent whose mom is also wondering how to get them off screens. Ask them if they think their young teen might want to babysit and play, no screens allowed, for a little cash.
Moms of adolescents: spread the word that your child would love to babysit!