I was taken aback when a neighbor asked if my 10 year-old is babysitting. We just got to the point where we think she doesn't need a babysitter under certain circumstances. Staying home alone is one thing, babysitting is something entirely different.
Like most questions regarding tweens, or kids in general, the answer of when a tween is ready to babysit depends in large part on each individual child. While a bright line rule would be nice, most states don't have laws setting a minimum age to babysit. The Red Cross babysitting classes (see below) are offered for those age 11-15. If the Red Cross thinks before 11 is too soon, I'm willing to follow that.
Questions to Ask
Even at that age, though, there are many questions to consider before determining that a tween can handle being solely responsible for younger children, include:
- Is the tween mature?
- Does the tween follow directions and rules at home? Does the tween make good choices?
- How does the tween handle being left home alone? Has that gone well?
- Is the tween comfortable in someone else's home at night?
- Can the tween stay calm in an emergency? Would the tween be okay if the power went out or if he/she needed to call 911
- How does your tween handle stress? We all know that a crying baby or a temper tantrum can be stressful.
- Does your tween really want to babysit? Does the tween like kids? Can he/she be patient with them?
Dr. Jim Sears offers this quiz for parents to help them determine if a tween is ready to take on the responsibility of babysitting. Safe Sitter, a nonprofit with the mission to prepares young adolescents for babysitting, explains on its "Before Your Child Babysits" page that "[i]t's important to stress the seriousness of babysitting to your child when making this decision. When your child accepts the responsibility of babysitting, he/she is accepting the responsibility for a child's life."
Sitter's Own Safety
Does the tween babysitting have a back-up option? I remember when one of the three children I was babysitting as a 12 year-old was completely out of control, I called my mom down the street for help. Having back-up can be helpful, even if only to answer a question or provide reinsurance, be it the sitter's family, a neighbor, or the hiring family's relatives. It's an insurance option that will make everyone feel more secure.
Often deciding whether a tween is ready focuses on the tween's ability to ensure the safety of younger children, but please keep in mind that your tween needs to be capable and aware of maintaining their own safety. Ideally, the young sitter's parent(s) will know and feel comfortable with the family hiring their child. They should also know the phone and address of where their tween is sitting.
It is important that babysitting tweens be educated about babysitting, both in terms of providing safe care for children in their care, and keeping themselves safe. The Red Cross offers babysitting classes around the country for ages 11 to 15, and you can find a location near you on their website. The class runs 6 ½ - 9 ½ hours, depending on the option selected. If your tween does not have the interest or attention span to make it through a full-day class on babysitting, they're not yet ready for actual babysitting. The Red Cross also offers Pediatric First Aid/CPR, which is important to have when babysitting.
There are other options for babysitting classes. The YMCA offers babysitting classes. Safe Sitter offers classes that can be found here. Local hospitals also often have classes, too. It's worth revisiting whether a tween feels babysitting is a good fit for them after taking the class.
Our local police department offers babysitting safety instruction at the local junior highs and middle schools. The program covers
- Why it’s important to babysit only for those you know
- How to safely advertise your service
- What to ask before accepting the job
- What information is needed before the parents leave the house
- Babysitting courtesy
- What to do in an emergency
- Being escorted home
They also offer this checklist of info a babysitter should review with a parent before the parent leaves. PBS Kids also has an extensive section on babysitting, including this info on getting prepared before a parent departs.
Once training is complete, it makes sense to give the tween sitter a trial run. Start with training wheels, which is leaving the tween in charge but with a parent or responsible adult still in the home.
If you are the parents of a tween, trust your gut, both about whether your tween is ready and those for whom he/she would be working with and the overall situation.