Lessons from The Baby-sitters Club

Hi Folks! Here’s a lovely essay by The Wall Street Journal’s Laura Vanderkam about, well, the cultural significance of The Baby-sitters Club.

Yes, I know how ridiculous (or at least American Studies for Dummies) that sounds. And yet — you don’t sell 176 million copies of any series without making some kind of impression on society. And the impression young readers got from the girls in the Club was that kids their age could actually be responsible and make money. Like adults! As Ms. Vanderkam puts it:

Hidden in the plots that show that friendship is good and that teasing, racism and bossy boyfriends are bad, [author Ann M.] Martin imparts two more important messages that modern readers need to hear: Teen girls are capable of handling far more responsibility than we give them credit for, and they, like the rest of us, can choose to make their own way in the world.

Right on! One of the Free-Range notions is that kids long to be adults, and that’s a good thing. The human desire to grow up motivates kids to learn and strive and get a paper route. (Remember paper routes? Remember papers?) It is our job to help them along that path, rather than putting up a big, “CAUTION!” sign and marching them back to the ExerSaucer.

About a year ago I posted a query asking, “What age did you babysit? And what age babysitter would you hire now?” The discrepancies amazed me. Grown women who had cared for kids, even infants, at age 10 or 11 now wouldn’t let their 13-year-old stay home for an hour alone at night. And they sure wouldn’t trust their toddlers to a 12-year-old.

Scholastic’s Baby-sitters Club, about to be re-issued (with a new prequel, too!), reminds us that not very long ago at all, we trusted “tweens” to do more than just text. God, maybe we didn’t even call them tweens. — Lenore

69 Responses

  1. I’d love a link to that post.

    Paige (mother’s helper at 8, babysitter with parents down the street at 10, everything lady at 12)

  2. I LOVED that book series as a kid. I used to have five or six of them stack on my nightstand by my bed. Loved, loved, loved!! Brings back fond memories. My friend and I even tried to set up our own babysitting club based on what we learned from the book. Was not exactly as successful, but we had fun trying! I started babysitting at 11. I felt so grown up.

  3. I am too old to have read that series. But I was a tutor at 8, babysat my infant brother (daily) at 9, had my first paid babysitting job (for a 1-year-old) at 10, and was a full-time nanny (all summer, 3 kids aged 5, 4, and 6-9mos) at 15.

    Now, I might let an “experienced” teen watch my kid, but where am I going to find an experienced teen? There are teens next door who don’t so much as say hello when my girls and I stroll past. Times have changed, with most young people having little or no opportunity to take responsibility for younger siblings. And while I was a superb babysitter (naturally/IMO), I remember teen babysitters that my parents hired who left much to be desired. So at a minimum, I would need to be sure my kids knew how to tell me if something was amiss, before entrusting their care to a teen. Sorry! Then again, I have the same reservations about many adults I know.

  4. I actually have a card that I got in 6th grade from the American Red Cross, signifying that I had gone through their babysitting course and was certified as a babysitter. That means I was 12.

    Now, 12 is the new 5. It’s pretty shameful. 😦 Well, with any luck, the books will come out and people won’t just look at them as **complete** fiction!

  5. I remember walking my 5yo brother to school along and across a main road when I was in year 6 (I was 11, my sister was 9). The next year my then 10yo sister had to walk my 6yo brother to school.
    the same year I started getting all 3 of us ready for school in the morning because both my parents had early starts. That’s right, there were no adults at home when we had breakfast and made our lunches.
    On Saturdays both our parents worked so we were home alone for the day. We used to use hot oil and cook fries for lunch!
    (I can imagine a lot of non-free-rangers will be having nightmares tonight!)
    If we got bored we’d walk into town and visit mum at work.

    Amazingly enough… I was addicted to Baby Sitters Club when I was a tween!

  6. Helping out at company open-day childcare at 10, sitting for 3yo and 1yo at 12. Our regular sitter was 11 when she started, 18 when she was going away to university (and then I had random 15- and 16-year-olds until the kids were able to do without). My girls left alone for a couple of hours at 8-9, whole evening 10-11; all started babysitting at 11-12. (They’re 14 and 16 now, still going strong.)

  7. No, we certainly didn’t call them tweens. How I loathe that word.

  8. started at 11 (church nursery at 8)…and i leave my son with 11 & 12 year olds for hours regularly (ok, his main babysitter is 14 now, but she was 11 when i left him the first time as a 2 yr old). turns out, she’s as capable as i was (no shock).

  9. I loved those books. I was 12 when I started babysitting.

  10. Oh how I LOVED these books, because I WAS babysitting when I was 10– my younger sister (who has significant developmental delays) was my responsibility to walk home from school and hang out with until our mom came home. I was in 5th grade. By 7th grade, I was babysitting neighborhood children, and the summer after 9th grade, I was watching 5 kids at their house every weekday for about 6 hours/day. I was my own babysitter’s club. 🙂

    With 9, 3, and 2 year old children, I look forward to the day when I can let my oldest watch the younger two for a little while so I can get errands done or, as unbelievable as it sounds, go out with their father on a date! But, since we live in one of the few states that has very specific laws on the matter, while children can be left alone at age 8, they cannot be left alone in charge of others until age 13!

  11. I loved the Babysitter Club books! They were very inspiring to me, as I was reading about girls MY AGE who were for all intents and purposes running their own business.

    I started babysitting at about age 11 or 12 for close family friends and my aunt and continued to do so until I hit my late teens. My son is three and I would trust him with a responsible 12 year old, someone I knew and someone who knew him fairly well.

  12. My sister and I LOVED those books when we were growing up… we also were the BUSIEST babysitters in the neighborhood. We lived in a Campus “married student housing” when we started babysitter and there were LOTS of kids! We started babysitting when I was 11 and my sister was 9! From that point on we were as busy as we wanted to be until we moved away when I was 15….
    Our current baby sitter is 14…. My oldest don’t really need a babysitter (hello, they are 12/10), but the youngest (ages 7/5) need one and our oldest don’t like being home alone at night (we live way out in the country).
    My daughter is trying to find people to babysit for or be a ‘mother’s helper’ for…. but what we are finding is that no one thinks she is old enough…. even though she is allowed to babysit her younger brothers (during the day time) and learned to change diapers when she was 6…..

  13. I have at least one too many testicles to have read the babysitters club, but as the oldest kid in a big catholic (shudder, 8 kids) family I was left at home and in charge as early as 10. By the time I was 7 I was changing diapers, filling bottles and making sammiches. By the time any of us were 10 we could use the stove.

  14. LOVED the BSC books. I’m so glad to hear they are re-issuing them. I’ve been trying to find them for my neices and was told they were out of print. I also started babysitting outside of the home around age twelve.

  15. I think I was 12 when I started babysitting for a baby…but it was for our next-door neighbor’s baby and my grandmother was also home at the time. I think the mom would’ve been okay with me alone, but my grandmother was not. (She was ahead of her time – I grew up in the 70s and she worried CONSTANTLY that I would be snatched.)

    When my son was 6 I started having a 14 year old babysit. I hesitated at first, but at 6 I figured he was really old enough and the girl seemed mature and responsible. I very casually knew her mom and figured she would be responsible, plus she lives a block away so she had assistance nearby if she ever needed it. The main thing was I figured if I got her early we’d have her for a while. Other babysitters had been older and they kept graduating and going away to college!

    Unfortunately, we don’t hire a babysitter often enough (poor us!) so I have not groomed her as much as I would like. Also, as responsible as she is, she’s not as interactive as I’d like. She mostly lets him watch TV. We also hire another girl (who will of course be going to college this fall) who interacts with my son much more.

    Perhaps if the books are being reissued (and hopefully they won’t change the ages), this is a sign that a more free-range lifestyle is catching on?

  16. I loved little kids when I was an adolescent and I wanted to baby-sit so bad. I remember when I was just 7 or 8, my mom would occasionally volunteer in the church nursery and I would get to go with her. We moved and started going to another church that had a much lower view of teenagers. I was allowed to volunteer in the nursery, but I had to have an adult there I could only be a “teen helper” until I was 18. I think their reasoning was good to let young people work with an adult to learn, but an experienced 16 year-old doesn’t always need supervision, especially when there’s just one or two kids there.

    What bothered me even more though was that there was a such a shortage of children’s Sunday school teachers that they had to lump all the kids together, but when I wanted to volunteer at age 16, they wouldn’t let me. There were times it was so bad that all kids from toddlers to 10 year-olds would go into a room with one “teacher” and just watch a movie while their parents had real Sunday school classes. Meanwhile I had to sit in a room with all the youth and watch some other movie because no one could be bothered to plan a lesson for us. They did actually let me be a group leader at Vacation Bible School though, partly because they were just desperate for help.

    I finally had my first paying baby-sitting job when I was 16. I baby-sat a 4 year-old girl that I knew from church, and her 12 year-old brother who had a developmental delay so he couldn’t baby-sit his younger sister. When I was 17, I started working as a substitute for a family friend who had a home day-care but needed to leave early some days for night classes. I enjoyed doing that so much and I also baby-sat for some of the clients on weekends and nights, at their homes. Honestly, caring for up to 5 toddlers at a time was some of the best work experience I could have had at that age.

    If I ever have kids, I’ll try to remind myself of how mature I was at a young age, I’ll be wiling to consider kids as young as 12 to baby-sit. It will really depend on the individual, but I think some people are responsible enough at that age.

  17. I baby-sat a 6-week-old infant for an evening at age 12. It was a big thing for me, felt momentous, still a clear memory 40 years later.

    My youngest brother was born when I was almost 11, so I had plenty of diaper changing experience. My family was across the street.

    My parents had started leaving the 5 of us in charge of ourselves for their Saturday dinners out when we were 12, 11, 10, 7, and 1. At first, they fixed our supper, but before long we graduated to cooking our own meal and cleaning up after. OK, so “cooking” often meant mac-n-cheese out of a box, but that led to experimenting in the kitchen.

  18. This was post was perfect timing for me! For the past year I have been prepping my son (7.5) and my daughter (turning6) of all the things they need to know to be able to stay at home without me for my short runs into town.
    For the past 2 years I have prepped them about strangers, fires, escape plans and scenarios, 911, we have made special phone books for them with important numbers to reach people they can trust, etc. I am so excited for my son to turn 8! He hates going on the short errands with me, and so I decided to prep him to be able to stay home for those when he is 8. He is so excited and motivated by this he takes all our preparation very seriously. I also have a fabulous neighbor next door that is home all day everyday, and she agreed that I could just give her a ring to let her know I am leaving and my kiddos will be home – just for an extra buffer. She is always calling my kiddos over to entertain her granddaughter, so she herself can take a break in the day (usually a nap).

    The reason your post is perfect timing is because lately when I have told some people my plans, they have scoffed at me and told me I was crazy. I was a bit unnerved to say the least. Now I have a bit of insight into their reasons, “12 is the new 5” and such. However, I still plan to go along with my plans. I have worked hard to foster independence in my children and I am not going to back down now. We have come so far.

  19. catgirl said:
    We moved and started going to another church that had a much lower view of teenagers. I was allowed to volunteer in the nursery, but I had to have an adult there I could only be a “teen helper” until I was 18. I think their reasoning was good to let young people work with an adult to learn, but an experienced 16 year-old doesn’t always need supervision, especially when there’s just one or two kids there.
    ****

    Our church has a similar policy, but it’s entirely due to liability issues. The insurance requires that there be two ADULTS in the nursery at all times. I know we are short enough on volunteers that they would LOVE to be able to use teens, but alas, “cover your tail” wins again.

  20. The Baby Sitter’s Club was a HUGE part of my life. I literally have every book! And I agree about the deeper message—I always felt such a surge of independence and inspiration when I read those books, seeing what those young kids (my age at the time) were capable of doing. I loved it then and I love it now. I still remember so many of the story lines! Should be required reading in school!

    -adrienne
    http://wearegoodkin.com/

  21. I was a “helper” in the infant room of the daycare where my mom worked and for various church functions starting at age 11. I babysat for money between ages 12-15, once I turned 16 I got a regular part-time job. Back then, that’s who did babysitting – teens old enough to want spending money but too young to work fast food or retail. It was also how you got references for the applications for the fast food/retail jobs.

  22. I had a paper route at twelve. My ten-year-old siblings and I delivered The Vancouver Sun after school every day. The public bus dropped us off from school, we schlepped, then walked home. We also went to strangers’ homes to collect money once a month. My brother’s ankles were regularly gummed by an angry, toothless poodle.

    I haven’t seen a kid deliver a paper in decades.

  23. @ Joie, I started leaving my son home alone while I did short errands at 7. He was very excited about the responsibility and treated it very maturely. He loves that he can call me if he has a problem or question (I had to spell paleontologist recently since he was doing homework). My biggest fear has nothing to do with him being hurt. My fear is that he’ll open the door and let our dog out – our dog who dreams of running the Iditarod and would be 10 miles away for before I got home! The fear is unfounded because one rule is that he not open the front door, but I have lots of fears about that dog getting out (since she has in so many devious ways).

  24. I think that I was too old for these books. But at 12, I became the regular babysitter of a 4 and 6 year old. I watched them both day and night, by myself with no parents around, often into the wee hours of the morning. I even went on vacation with them at 15, where I was sometimes in charge of 5 kids. I was 14 when my brother was born so I started babysitting infants. At 14, I once babysat essentially triplet infants (my brother and a set of twins who were 1 month older) and the twins’ 6 year old sister. At 17 or 18, I babysat my then 3 year old brother for several days while the parental units were out of town for work.

  25. Oh, how I loved these books. They were so far below my reading level (12th grade when I was in 4th) but they were so much fun and they introduced me to the world of girl fiction and Apple/Scholastic.

    I never got into babysitting I must admit, but I did learn a lot about divorce, diabetes and being independent.

  26. I think SKL makes a good point. I have two kids 7 yrs old and 8 months old and I would have no trouble leaving them with an experienced Jr. High kid, but where to find one these days? Frankly, the 7 year old would be fine with an inexperienced 12 year old, but not the baby. With the ever juvenilization (?) of pre-teens and teens, it’s hard to find 12 year olds with any kind of experience at being responsible. It’s frustrating.

    Also, in the state where I live it’s illegal to have children under the age of 12 watching other kids. Sigh.

  27. Hi Lenore,
    I can’t seem to find a contact email on your site, so I’m commenting here in the hopes you’ll see it and respond.

    My name’s Kate Seldman, and I’m the Health Editor at Opposing Views in Los Angeles.

    We’re a growing media platform that publishes expert opinion and analysis from such groups as PETA, Humane Society, the FDA and Amnesty International.

    In an effort to expand our Parenting and Health section, we’re currently reaching out to qualified experts on the subject, and I thought Free Range Kids would be a strong addition. For example, your post on the difference between independence and neglect would be a great fit for our site.

    So, if you’re interested, I’d love if you became an expert on Opposing Views.

    What does that mean exactly? Essentially, you’d give us permission to republish your work (via your RSS feed) on our site.

    Along with full attribution, we’ll promote your work by putting it on our home page and inserting it into Google News, Facebook and Twitter.

    You’ll also have a profile page that contains information about Free Range Kids, and a link to your site.

    In addition:

    From time to time, we’ll send you parenting-based questions via email and you can answer them, if you’d like.

    It’s a good way to promote your site – and engage with readers.

    Please let me know.

    Kate Wharmby Seldman
    Health Editor
    Opposing Views
    Los Angeles, CA 90025
    (310) 488-6847
    healtheditor@opposingviews.com

  28. @dmd- Thanks for sharing! I appreciate the encouragement and knowing of someone else who is doing what I am going to do. That is so funny that you have to worry more about the dog, now that is a twist. 😉 Thanks again!!!!

  29. I didn’t read all the responses so maybe someone brought this up already, but in reading your book I thought about most kid’s cartoons (at least the ones where actual children are the main characters, not animated imagined entities) and find it so interesting that the plots almost always involve young children going out and having adventures… without their parents. Think of Dora and Diego, for example. They’re supposed to be about 7 years old, traveling all over by themselves.

    I bet a big explanation for the discrepancy in baby-sitting ages is the notion that kids are less mature today, combined with the fact that we often felt much more responsible and “grown up” at a certain age, but when we grow older and look back on others at that same age they seem much more “immature.” I catch myself thinking this when thinking of my younger sister, who is 18 years old. I know I felt WAY more responsible at 18 than I think of her being… I think it’s a natural bias we get as we grow older.

  30. I had forgotten all about the series and about my very own “Adventures in Babysitting” which mostly took place between the ages of 13-16. I didn’t get regular gigs, but I loved doing it. It made me feel very responsible.

    The series was not a huge favorite of mine — I didn’t, and still don’t, like overly formulaic things like most long-running book series turn into — but there are definitely some great messages in there. I’m glad they’re being reissued. I wonder how the current generation will respond. I bet they will have a hard time relating on a lot of fronts — the girls will seem strangely grown up and oddly babyish at the same time I bet.

  31. I was a 11 when I first babysitted for a baby, and I didn’t know what I was doing the first time. All went well, it was a short gig, but, as an adult,…I wouldn’t trust my 11-year old self with a baby.

    My mother’s helper was 12 when I first hired her, and after a few runs where I worked in my home office while she babysat the kids (I was behind closed doors but within earshot the whole time), I started leaving for an hour at a time to run errands, and now I am perfectly comfortable leaving he with them for the full 2-3 hours if need be. They aren’t babies though. Both are talking. I just wouldn’t be comfortable leaving my baby with an 11 or 12 year old.

  32. I started babysitting at age 7. Being the oldest girl meant that when my cousins were born, I got elected to sit anytime one was needed. I didn’t mind. My first “night” sitting for non-family was probably 10 or 11, after dinner for an hour or so. No real late sitting till 13-14, and I had summer jobs babysitting kids from 6am-4 pm while their parents worked at age 14.

    Re: Babysitter’s Club books: My kids read them like wildfire, and I read some of them to keep tabs on what they were reading. If you want to get some of them, look on Paperbackswap.com. It is a book swapping site, and you can get books for free, if you swap books you don’t want any longer. I love the site.

  33. I was 11 when I started babysitting. By the time I was 14, I was staying alone overnight with my brother, who was 5 or 6, while our father worked the graveyard shift. Looking back, the latter arrangement sounds a little nutty, but we were fine, and I don’t recall ever being scared (even though we lived in an awful neighborhood and I probably should have been).

    My daughter’s 11 now and I can’t imagine her babysitting, but it’s more because she has zero experience with small children than because of her age. She could watch a younger school-age kid, but she’d be very uncomfortable with the sort of hands-on care that infants and toddlers need.

  34. I loved those books! And I soooo wanted to be one of the girls in the club.

    I was a mother’s helper at 13, watching a baby boy while his parents did work around the house. I graduated to full babysitting (all day 3-4 days a week) in the summer at about 16, with various babysitting jobs in between those years. Heck, by the time I was 16 or so, I was running children’s church at my church all by myself (in a separate building!) some Sundays when no adults would do it. Sorta sad, really, but it was great experience for me. Helped me land my first full-time job as a lead teacher in a childcare for homeless children at the age of 19.

    And people now think that adulthood doesn’t hit until 26? Sheesh!

  35. I started babysitting at 12 – watched one family with three kids under 4, babysat 4 kids for NYE until 2am once by myself (2 3yrolds/ 2 5yrolds), regularly watched my own 7yrold sister. We had our neighbor start watching our daughter when she turned 12 (daughter was almost 4). She is a very responsible young woman!

    On another note, I was just remembering how when I was 10, my piano teacher lived on a farm about 2 miles away and had horses. She taught me how to saddle up and ride, and anytime I wanted I would ride my bike to her barn, saddle up a horse or pony (only one horse was off limits) and ride through the fields by myself. How amazing!

  36. @Nicola

    I had two friends that had horses and we would go out for HOURS at a time! We rode together and bareback. The only rule was we had to wear helmets. This was when I was in Junior High in the 80s! No cell phones, out in the country, by ourselves. It was glorious!

  37. Fluff they might have been, but I loved the Baby Sitter Club books. I started sitting at 12 or so. Something else the book shows? Young teens mentoring younger tweens. They had that train-ee thing where the younger girls (11) would partner with more experienced (13!) sitters. There was also a book I believe where a rival club with older girls (16 or so I think) sprung up and threatened to put them out of business, but the main characters triumphed because they did a better job, even though they were younger. (And now I slink away having revealed far too much memory of BSC)

  38. I loved those books. So when I was 12, I took a class, and became a babysitter myself. I charged $2.50 an hour, and had my CPR certification and everything! How times change…

  39. Thank you for reminding me about that series. I loved those books and now I’m going to see if I can find them for my daughter to read.

  40. Last weekend at a kid’s birthday party I mentioned to a mom that I babysat infants for 6+ hours at a time, from age 9-10 on. That was the late 1980s. Her reaction was basically that only poor people would do such a thing, and only out of desperation because they couldn’t hire “real” help. Not so! My biggest client was a married couple of medical doctors, and they told me that they believed the best babysitters were 10-12 year old girls because they took the job VERY seriously like they were guarding a nuclear power plant! And it was true! Being trusted to be responsible for those babies gave me so much confidence! So let’s be clear that having young babysitters is NOT a class thing!

  41. I never got into BSC, but I was a huuge fan of the Bobbsey twins. They went camping by themselves, at 12 and 6, without their folks. In one book they went on a chaperoned trip to Egypt without their parents. They were trusted with the key to the creepy old house to help find a missing treasure. They were my idols.

    I started watching my sister when I was about 9 and she was 3. Buy the time I was in 8th grade, I had quite a clientel built up. I volunteered with the younger girl scouts, and so all the moms called me when they needed a sitter. Kaching!!

  42. This also reminds me… When I was 10 years old and babysitting, even though nobody ever explicitly directed me to do so, my intuition told me not to watch TV or fall asleep on the couch after the kids went to bed. I felt that would be “not doing my job.” In case the kids woke up in their crib or cried and needed me, I wanted to be able to hear them. So I pretty much read books all evening and tried to stay awake until midnight when the parents came home, even though at my house my bedtime was 10pm!

    I also feel that 10 year-old babysitters can better relate to and interact with young children, because they more clearly remember being a young kid! I wish I could find those kids and ask them, but my impression was that they liked having a young baby sitter because I was partly their peer/playmate, but old enough that they felt secure in my authority and obeyed me. I know for certain that they trusted me, probably because their parents did! They never fussed when their parents left, and probably preferred me over an adult who might just ignore them and watch TV all evening.

    I hope someday when I need a babysitter for my kids I can find a nice 12 year-old boy or girl who would like to earn some money!

  43. Liz, that reminds me of how I once heard of an optometrist who said that kids should either get their first contact lenses at 12 or 13, or wait until they were considerably older. At 12 or 13, they were still young enough to think responsibility was a “big deal” and take it seriously; by 14 or so, they’re more like to be “know it alls” and not follow the care directions properly. Pre-teens ARE more serious about responsibility because they (mostly) haven’t yet learned to think they’re invincible.

  44. I was so obsessed with those books when I was growing up. So obsessed I was able to convince my parents that I was mature enough to babysit my 9 year old sister when was 11 since Jessi and Mallory both babysitters at 11. How funny that it was actually considered illegal !

    (also got my contacts at age 13, right in time for my bat mitzvah. Not sure which milestone was more exciting for me!)

  45. I started babysitting for money at age 9 in 1983. My first paid job was to watch a group of four kids that were from about 4 -7, at night and make them dinner with the stove! I felt so nervous and grown up and responsible. I watched those kids like they were made of gold.

    I had regular jobs from then on. I loved babysitting and I was good at it. I watched cousins, neighbors kids, coworkers of my moms kids and friends of friends kids. My first weekend long job was at 11 for my cousins, we did live two doors down though so my mom was available if needed but she never checked in, it was my job to get her if there was an emergency or otherwise just handle things. My next all weekend jobs were at twelve, one was for a practical stranger (friend of friend type thing). I had a huge list of clients by the time I was twelve, some for short term and others for long term steady things. All of my friends babysat as well. If one of us got a call to sit but we were busy then we just gave the parents a friends name and number.

    I was an only child but by 9 I had been staying home alone for over a year for 2-4 hour stretches, cooking for several years (I was even baking using cookbooks) and I had been a volunteer after school babysitter for almost a year to a neighbor girl that was five. I had always wanted siblings but didn’t get any so I just found all the younger kids in the family and neighborhood to take care of.

    My oldest is 16 and she started babysitting her brother at 9, when he was 2. She was an expert at him by that point. She’s been watching other peoples kids since she was 12. She would have sooner but it was hard to find people that wanted a babysitter or who wanted a 12 year old experienced sitter. Lots of people thought it was to young for her to stay alone much less care for other kids. For some at 12 that may be the case but I think most are perfectly capable, our society just doesn’t expect them to be mature and responsible so they don’t act mature and responsible.

    My three younger kids are 9, 7 and 4. The 9 and 7 year old stay by themselves often for short trips. A lot of people do think I’m nuts but I’m comfortable in their ability to stay safe and look after themselves while I go to the store for a half hour.

  46. Joie-Are you insane? leaving a 7.5 and “almost” 5 year old alone? If I knew where you lived, I would call child services on you. In California, you will be arrested for leaving a child less than 14 years old alone. I’m not saying that people don’t leave some tweens home alone for a few hours, I’m sure they do. But, 7.5 and 5 year olds? I’m disturbed by your comments. Do you really care about your children?

  47. Hopefully, she lives in NY where there is no law on how old children have to be to stay home alone. It is up to the parents as to when they feel their children are ready for it. That way people like you can’t bother her as she raises her children as she sees fit.

  48. Susan, you don’t seriously think a 7 and 9 year old cannot look after themselves in their own home for half an hour, do you? My son is 8 and does the same thing. I’m really hoping you are being sarcastic and it just isn’t coming across. Otherwise, that is practically the definition of helicopter parenting! If you won’t leave a 9 year old in your house for half an hour, I can’t imagine that you would ever let one outside of your house for any amount of time.

  49. Susan, good thing you don’t know where I live because I started my kids younger than Joie’s. You’re forgetting the amount of groundwork free-rangers put in to prepare our children for independence. If California, or any locale, really does have such a specific law then IMO it’s a bad law and should be stricken. Every child, every family, every neighborhood and every situation is different; it is the right and responsibility of the parents to determine what their children can handle. And, seriously, 14? Are they nuts? If they feel they must have a law, then I could see my way to 10 or 11 but no older.

  50. I babysat for my 5 yr. old sister at 7. I was babysitting other kids for pay at 10 (including babies and toddlers). The summer I turned 14, I babysat 50 hours a week for the children of two attorneys (and earned $1500 in one summer to pay for a trip abroad– without my parents! GASP!)
    I would love to hire a 12-14 yr. old to babysit my kids, but the “tweens” parents won’t let them!

  51. Now that I think about it, Enid Blyton’s ‘Famous Five’ series was fantastic too.
    Anyone else remember ‘Five go on a Caravanning Holiday’ where the five kids go off in a horse-drawn caravan for a holiday WITH NO ADULTS, battle pirates (or is it bandits), discover an underground cave system, join up with a band of gypsies ….
    FABULOUS. No wonder I loved it!

  52. Hi Susan,
    Apparently, you did not read my comment very thoroughly.

    “Joie-Are you insane? leaving a 7.5 and “almost” 5 year old alone? If I knew where you lived, I would call child services on you. In California, you will be arrested for leaving a child less than 14 years old alone. I’m not saying that people don’t leave some tweens home alone for a few hours, I’m sure they do. But, 7.5 and 5 year olds? I’m disturbed by your comments. Do you really care about your children?

    No I am not insane and I love my children very much, so much as a matter of fact that I am making sure to foster independence in them and prepare them daily for surviving well in this world and keeping them from becoming narcissistic helpless victims.
    I have not left my 7.5 yr. old nor my nearly 6 year old home alone yet. I said, (and I will repeat it for you so you can read it more thoroughly and with a cool, level head right now). Once again I said, “For the past year I have been prepping my son (7.5) and my daughter (turning6) of all the things they need to know to be able to stay at home without me for my short runs into town.
    For the past 2 years I have prepped them about strangers, fires, escape plans and scenarios, 911, we have made special phone books for them with important numbers to reach people they can trust, etc. I am so excited for my son to turn 8! He hates going on the short errands with me, and so I decided to prep him to be able to stay home for those when he is 8. He is so excited and motivated by this he takes all our preparation very seriously. I also have a fabulous neighbor next door that is home all day everyday, and she agreed that I could just give her a ring to let her know I am leaving and my kiddos will be home – just for an extra buffer. She is always calling my kiddos over to entertain her granddaughter, so she herself can take a break in the day (usually a nap).

    And, I live in a state that does not have a law stating a certain age for being allowed to stay home alone. They leave it up to the parents to decide when a child is prepared and ready to stay home. As it should be!

    Shout out to my fellow free-rangers, thanks so much for your support!!!!! =D

  53. Susan, she didn’t say she leaves them alone. She said she’s been prepping them for the day when she DOES leave them alone, and then said that she was considering letting the older one stay home when he turns 8. She also said her younger child is almost SIX – not almost FIVE.

    Reading comprehension. Learn to embrace it.

  54. Susan,
    Here is another thing you might ponder, I do. Then I apply it.

    “Few things help an individual more than to place responsibility on him and let him know that you trust him.” -Booker T. Washington

  55. My folks loved square dancing and went out with their dance club once a week for 2-3 hours. I was 11 (1955) when I started taking care of my 8 and 1 year old brothers while they were gone for the evening. I had a phone # and could call if needed and told not to use the stove while they were gone but left plenty of snacks and we had just gotten our first TV. Nothing bad ever happened and we had fun until it was time to put them to bed. At that point I realized caring for kids isn’t always fun, but can be done.

  56. By the way, folks, the Red Cross still offers the babysitting classes. In our area children as young as 9 are allowed to take it, but you must be at least 11 to get “full certification,” which sounds similar to what posters are saying they experienced when they were young.

  57. I started babysitting at 12, but looking back, I don’t think I was prepared for infants. I had one kid I watched who was 4, and I was great at that job (just played games, told him stories). Also, a 13-year-old girl in my town (she was in my little sister’s class) killed a baby by accident while babysitting. She got mad about the baby crying and shook her to make her stop. So I don’t think kids this young are always mature enough to handle the responsibility and stress of watching a baby or even a toddler (they can run off into the road in a moment’s notice).

  58. OK here is my little critique. I have four children I would not burden my older children with my younger. I had the children, not them. Yet helping out does help them with concepts of obligations and responsibility, so how to guide and judge the situation?

    I say this because my own parents left us alone with my brother’s responsibility as latchkeys. It was just the two of us, but I knew he had great resentment and I don’t have pleasant memories of it.

  59. “Now, I might let an “experienced” teen watch my kid, but where am I going to find an experienced teen? There are teens next door who don’t so much as say hello when my girls and I stroll past. Times have changed, with most young people having little or no opportunity to take responsibility for younger siblings”

    Track down a neighborhood 9-year-old and ask her to be a mother’s helper for $2/hour. Slowly give her increasing amounts of responsibility while you’re in the house, and hope you can convince her parents that she’s ready to babysit at age 12/13.

    We have an 11-year-old in our neighborhood, who has been behaving as mother’s helper for all of us for two years. Responsibility-wise, I’d probably be willing to trust her with an afternoon babysitting gig right now (like watching the kid while running to the grocery), but her father is a cop and he has said that while he also believes she’s ready, due to what type of situations they’re instructed to call CPS for nowadays, she can start babysitting when she’s 13.

  60. Track down a neighborhood 9-year-old and ask her to be a mother’s helper for $2/hour. Slowly give her increasing amounts of responsibility while you’re in the house, and hope you can convince her parents that she’s ready to babysit at age 12/13.

    Oh noes! You’ll TALK to a KID who isn’t in your FAMILY???? HORROR!

    Also, a 13-year-old girl in my town (she was in my little sister’s class) killed a baby by accident while babysitting. She got mad about the baby crying and shook her to make her stop.

    That’s terrible. It really is.

    However, there have been grown-ups who have done that too. It’s really only come to public consciousness relatively recently.

    And of course, there are kids who have never shaken a baby and never would, and who are more than patient enough with infants.

    Solution? Take each babysitter individually.

  61. Just a thought – I am in my early 30s and read ALL the babysitter’s club books I could get when I was a tween – probably 1-80 in the series before I aged out. This was contemporary to their releases. I am not sure it was an accurate reflection of reality at that time. I clearly remember being amazed by all the things they were allowed to do (I can’t think of examples to be honest), but they seemed much cooler and more adult than I was. This is probably why the books were so addicting to me. I did walk home from school, stopping by the library and convenience store along the way from about 5th grade on. I certainly wasn’t allowed to babysit at 11 though, I think I was 13 or so. That was pretty normal in my area. I have no recollection of my friends sitting before me.

    That said, I 100% agree I (and my friends) were given more freedoms than similar aged kids today, but I think these books were more “free-range” than even my local communities norms at that time. The gist of the article is great.

  62. I think you can tell by looking in a child’s eyes whether s/he’s ready to babysit your kid.

    I don’t have many kids in my neighborhood. Most of the tweens who do live here are boys. I know I may be flamed for this, but my own childhood experiences with boys makes me shy away from the idea of leaving one alone with my little girls for extended periods of time. Sorry!

    My niece is almost 17 and intellectually gifted. Yet I’m not sure I’d trust her to babysit my kids. She’s immature and self-centered. Now, she does have nieces and nephews so maybe she does have the experience and maturity to do it. But just watching the way she conducts herself, it doesn’t seem that way. Her 13-year-old nephew? More likely, even at a younger age. (Neither of them lives nearby, so I’ll never know for sure.)

  63. “I know I may be flamed for this, but my own childhood experiences with boys makes me shy away from the idea of leaving one alone with my little girls for extended periods of time. Sorry!”

    Yeah, I have a little boy, and I know another boy (he’s 9) who will probably be his babysitter in a few years. But the other little boy is one of those completely responsible, kind of humorously uptight kids. And I have a boy.

    My brother was a babysitter–and also one of those completely responsible, humorously upright kids–and he only babysat other boys as well. Although, being a boy babysitter, he was in HIGH demand by families with boys once he proved himself. But the families I babysat, which included girls, didn’t really want him.

  64. “I am not sure it was an accurate reflection of reality at that time”

    Then, it was really a reflection of where you lived.

    I grew up in a neighborhood in Chicago, which I left the summer after 5th grade (the year the babysitter club books started coming out, btw). As I’ve mentioned before on this blog, in that neighborhood, I and another friend of the same age had already run a “summer camp” the year before (in which we picked up a bunch of kids say age 2-6 and took them to the park or library for a couple of hours) which was a continuation of a summer camp that had been run by kids about our ages (summer before 5th grade, I think we were 9) for years. We were already the kids who walked your kids the mile back-and-forth to school, the kids who you might ask to stay for an hour as you ran to the store.

    I moved to a suburb, and nobody trusted kids my age worth anything. I didn’t really start babysitting UNTIL I moved back to the same neighborhood in Chicago the summer before 8th grade (age 12ish), and by my freshman year in high school, had collected a whole stable of babysitting clients and was babysitting 3 or 4 nights a week.

  65. ya
    all you say in this artical
    is right

  66. I babysat a 4 year old and a 2 year old when I was about eleven.

    To be honest, I’m not sure I was quite ready for the 2-year-old. And I know I ate at least my wages in “free” food.😉

    But they seemed satisfied with the situation. My mom knew their mom through a church organization, and we lived in neighboring apartment buildings, so there was ample opportunity to address things if they had needed to be addressed.

    Mostly, I guess neighborhood expectations were pretty low: if the kids were still alive when parents got back then you did OK.

    Lots of people I know now would want the sitter to do a lot more than fix them a snack and then stick ’em in bed… complicated “no-cry” bedtime rituals for two would have been WAY beyond my abilities.

    Those parents just said “put them in bed and close the door at 8.” Then my job was just chilling out till Mom and Dad got home.

  67. How old are your kids, Renee?

    I got left “in charge” of my younger brothers, too. but it was such a farce, because we were all about 18 months apart and by the time I was twelve, they were just about my size already.

    I had responsibility without real authority and found it very frustrating sometimes. In hindsight, it’s funny– all the unbelievable knock-down-drag-out brawls!

    Some of my friends from bigger families seem to fondly recall helping out with younger sibs, but they were “baby” siblings…. a 12 year old helping with a 3 year old, etc.

    Though it’s certainly possible to abuse that situation, too.

  68. OMG, I’d almost forgotten about all those hours logged in the church nursery.

    I have no idea if that kind of thing still goes on, but it’s an awesome place for a “tween” to learn about small children, so that first babysitting job isn’t such a stretch.

  69. […] In Closing: “And the recess appointment power doesn’t work why?”; common sense; keeping their priorities straight; yeah, I think many of us would have bought the T-shirt; NY Times catches up to the end of private practice (they’re only about a decade late); now can we work on the unemployment problem?; and as much as I hate to even think about it, lessons from the Baby Sitter’s Club. […]

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