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May 16, 2010

The Babysitter is Twelve

Babysitterbook In Canada, Red Cross babysitter's training is the bottom line recommendation for mothers searching for someone to watch their children. It surprised me because back in my American home state, I'd never heard of such a thing though don't doubt it probably exists.

The minimum age at which a child can be left home alone, or put in charge of the care of younger children, is twelve. Anyone with sitting aspirations registers for the training at or shortly before this magic age. 

I am not sure what it is about twelve. Here, children that age are likely in junior high - seventh or eighth grade - which perhaps is a tipping factor. Having taught primarily twelve and thirteen year olds back in the day, I never put much stock in age. Children's maturity levels, as far as I could tell, sprung more from innate temperament and their parents' willingness to delegate responsibilities and hold them accountable for their actions. Parents who demanded early, appropriately and often found themselves rewarded with more responsible pre-teens than those who were inconsistent and fearful.

Back in Iowa, finding babysitters was impossible, but here in Alberta, I've had a consistent supply of sitters and most of them have been twelve. As I myself began to babysit at around that age, and I fully expect to be able to leave my daughter alone for an evening at that age, I was fine with this.

However, many of my parenting peers seem to think that preteens and teenagers have regressed in terms of intelligence and the ability to be responsible since they themselves were that age. 
Funny how that works, eh?

A recent article in The Globe and Mail questioned parents about their willingness to hire twelve year old babysitters - even if they'd had Red Cross training.

The young sitters in the article expressed every confidence in themselves and most tote around the Red Cross handbook as though it were the Holy Bible. Neither of my current sitters would dream of arriving for work without their handbooks. One of them even has a babysitter's bag of activities, as recommended by her handbook.

But the parents were a different matter. Many of them cited their own competence as teens but believed that teens today are ... um ... idiots or at the very least, far less world-wise and sensible than they were back in the glory days of teenage wisdom.

I was a fairly responsible teen. The oldest of four, I was put in charge of babysitting at about eleven. I don't think my parents agonized much about it. The four of us were terrors and well-known throughout the local sitters circuit as a tough room. At that point I was actively inciting my younger siblings to riot because I was insulted by my parents' idea that I still needed a sitter myself. Driven by a dwindling list of teens willing to sit for us, and by the fact that no one could control my younger brother better than I could anyway, I became the babysitter. 

Some of the points that parents brought up are valid concerns. We are less likely to know our neighbors these days. When I was a young teen, I knew every parent on my block. If something came up that I couldn't handle, I had dozens of options. 

And there are many more distractions for teens today. The danger of a sitter getting lost in a phone conversation or television show has been replaced with his/her constant contact via text messaging with a phone that can also surf the web.

My sitters don't bring their phones and the first thing I ask my daughter - often within the sitter's hearing - is what they did and did she have fun. Kat has high expectations of her sitter's. She expects to them to play, love the park and read to her. A sitter who didn't live up to these requirements wouldn't be asked back.

Babysitting is a job, and a sitter will only be as good as he/she is expected to be. Even a twelve year old knows that if he/she wants to hang onto a job, they'd better met or exceed the expectations of the kids and the parents. I have found over the years with teenage sitters that the more explicit I am with my expectations, they better job they do. I have also found that mediocre sitters will weed themselves out once they realize they are expected to do actual childcare. In these respects, teens are no different from adults, who rise or fall depending on how high the bar is set. 

It's disheartening to read articles like the Globe and Mail piece. Adults talk out of both sides of their mouths - wanting to promote maturity as they undermine it with words and actions. Our children do not magically cross some imaginary threshold  in high school that confers maturity on them. We train them to it, or not, with our expectations and willingness to hold them accountable. The sooner we begin to do this, the faster we will see the results, and it is work, but who ever said that raising a competent adult wasn't?

This is an original 50 Something Moms post by Ann Bibby of anniegirl1138.comandCare2.

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