When is it time to leave your kids home alone/Where have all the babysitters gone?

I was reading this post today written by my friend Jen Henry over at Parent2Parent and it got us to talking about babysitters.  So my little brain went nuts.  I’d been thinking about this quite a bit lately so I thought I’d just go ahead and ask this.  When is it time to leave your kids home alone?

It seems that nobody can agree on this.  There are very differing views on it.  I’ve been sitting here thinking about it for hours today.  I’m not really sure when I first left the boys home alone.  I remember when I told them I was running to the grocery store and would be right back.  In under 30 minutes.  I “think” they were 9 and 6.  I really don’t remember clearly.  It’s funny that I can remember every teacher they ever had and can think of what grade they were in but when it comes to how old they were, my mind blurs.  But when I first started doing it, I wouldn’t even go to the store.  I’d drive to the next block, go around it and park in the little cul-de-sac we had one house away from ours and I would sit there for 20 minutes or so and just watch my house.  They had to know what to do but I was still to afraid to “leave” them alone.  So this was just my way.  They were always in the same spot they were in when I left and probably never even cared that I was gone for half an hour.

This woman let her 9 year old son take a subway home in NYC and man, did she ever get beat up in blog world.  Okay, for me, living in Podunk, Nowheresville, that alone would scare me and I’m 50 years old and have never even seen a subway but this boy had been begging her to let him do this and prove to her that he could do it and we have to remember that they took the subway everyday as a means of transportation.  It meant so much to him for her to let him try.  So does it then come down to you do what your allowed to do and what your taught to do?

This leaves me to this, my second objective to this post.  I know for a fact that I was left at home when I was 8 years old.  My parents weren’t far away and only at the next door neighbors and we lived in a very safe neighborhood.  By the time I was 10, I was learning to babysit and from 11-14 I babysat every weekend.  I was pretty much the only babysitter in my neighborhood and other than my allowance, it was the only spending money I had.  Once I was 14 I moved up from babysitting and got my first job car-hopping.

Which leads me to this.  Where are all the babysitters now?  This was the subject of Jen’s post.  Some people don’t feel anyone under 14 should be left home alone but I was already done babysitting by that age and getting a “real” job.  If I hadn’t done it by then, I wouldn’t have done it at all.  Every single young person I know has trouble finding a babysitter for those times they just want to go out for a few hours.  If nobody is letting their kids be home alone, how do they learn these things and how are they supposed to babysit?  We didn’t have this problem when my boys were small.  All kids babysat to earn money.  Now nobody lets their kids do this until they are to old to want to. 

Is it because we don’t know our neighbors anymore and most of us did babysit in our own neighborhoods?  Do we live to isolated in our own worlds and ignore everyone else?

Do we do to many things for our children that we don’t let them grow up and learn new things or more importantly, to do more on their own?  Do young parents now do to much for their children?  Do you leave a key outside and tell your child where it is and how to use it?  Do you have fire drills?  Let them answer the phone and take a message and more importantly, teach them how to use the phone and memorize certain numbers?  Do they know what to do if they come home and your not there?

What is it?

I have two 8 year old grandchildren and I’d crap my pants if they were left home alone.  I think they are both capable of it but to me, they are still so young.  But I do think they should learn what to do and what they should do in certain situations.  I think you should play “what if” games with your children just in case something were to come up and you weren’t home when you thought you’d be and they wouldn’t freak out.  That they could let themselves in, get a snack or know at least who to call.  I also believe it depends on what kind of child you have.  Obviously if you’ve caught your child of playing with matches on several occasions, you may not want to leave them alone but just when is the right time? 

Many years ago, kids at age 14 were working at jobs and we all survived.  I had a very good childhood and a good life but I did more at an earlier age than kids do now.  It didn’t kill me and I was a happy child but what is the right thing to do?  Has the world changed that much?  I know there are more people in it and there are scary people in it but don’t you think those “scary” people were in the world back then too?  Do we just hear more about it now?

What does everyone think?  Who babysits for you and how old were your kids when you left them home alone OR when do you plan on letting your child be home alone? 

Please share.  This is really being talked about now.

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17 Responses to When is it time to leave your kids home alone/Where have all the babysitters gone?

  1. SKL says:

    I think it’s kid-specific, but I do feel parents aren’t doing much to prepare their kids.

    When I was about 13 or 14, I had a paper route and one of my customers asked me to babysit. Her sons were 7 and 12. I had to give a bath to a boy who was almost my age. This was my first clue that not all parents teach their kids responsibility.

    I think a lot of it is that the media makes a big deal out of childhood dangers and such, and many parents are inexperienced enough to believe what they hear. When I was in 8th grade home ec, we were taught a list of things young kids can / can’t do at various ages. I don’t remember all of it, but I recall that apparently a kid can’t do a crossword puzzle until he’s at least 10 years old. OK. I had already had too much experience to believe that stuff. Then in college – they teach you that kids can’t think with any depth until they are like 12 years old. Apparently most people don’t remember their own childhoods.

    Like you, I had my first babysitting job (for an infant) when I was 10. I was already experienced in taking care of my baby brother, who was born just before my 9th birthday. We were latch-key kids before that (since ages 4, 6, 8, and 10), but my granny babysat my baby brother until we got home from school, then it was my job to feed him, change his diapers, and make sure he didn’t break his neck from all the climbing he liked to do. At age 10, my brother started cooking the daily meal while my parents were at work.

    Today, I have two teenagers (boy and girl) living right next door. They don’t even look in my direction, let alone speak to me. Every evening, I walk past their house with my two little girls, who are going on 2 years old. In my day, the teen next door would have been over my house frequently, doing coochie coo with my kids and offering her services anytime I might need a sitter, household help, etc. My neighbors? I don’t know – maybe they are in too many extracurriculars? Maybe they are afraid I’d lure them into my house and abuse them? Is it possible they have never had the opportunity to care for tots? (And no, it’s not that my kids are monsters.)

    For years, I’ve been bemoaning the childhood I had, where if I wanted something unnecessary (like an ice cream cone), I could earn the money to buy it. I used to walk down to a strip mall and offer to fold pizza boxes for small change, or mow lawns with our old push mower. I tutored a KG boy in the alphabet for 25 cents an hour. At age 13 I got my first daily paper route. And I was always babysitting whenever the opportunity arose. Nowadays, aside from the laws against kids being unsupervised (in my state, I think you have to be 13 to be alone and 14 to babysit), all the papers are now delivered by adults on motor routes, push mowers seem little more than a figment of my senile imagination, and we don’t know our neighbors anyway. So what are my kids gonna do? Sell lemonade until they’re 18? Or am I gonna have to keep giving them an allowance until they check me into a nursing home??

    Right now, I place my kids in various situations where they are apart from me but observed from a distance. I want them to develop the ability to think for themselves and cooperate, the confidence to make decisions, the horse sense to know when it’s better to act versus back off. Yet the law says that no matter what I do or what they know, they can’t be left alone before age 13. I may be willing to buck the trend socially, but I’m not planning to risk a record with the child protection authorities.

    I guess I’ll just have to make my kids join my business early if they want ice cream money.

  2. SanityFound says:

    I don’t have kids but I have been traveling independently since the age of 7. I also started babysitting my brother from that age as well (he was born) so I don’t know. For me it was no big deal, it wasn’t scary and I loved the independence. If the kid asked his mom to do it going to the point of begging I don’t see what the big deal is considering that he knew the system etc.

    Think the gloves of society are getting a bit too thick and soon there will be no “bumping your knee’s” – who will we be then?

  3. holeycheese says:

    My kids are still to young to be left alone at home. And I have no idea when I will let them. The oldest is only four years old. We are starting to let him go alone to the playground that is next to our house were we can even see him from the garden. That’s scary enough for us this far.

    But I remember that my mom sometimes left me alone at home for maybe 10 or 15 minutes when I was maybe 4 years old.. just to go to the laundry house (50 metres from our house) But then I knew where she was and I could even go there if I felt alone.

    When I was 7 I was definitely alone at home once in a while.. I even had my own key to the house. I came home from school earlier than my siblings, and my parents were still at work.

    I also went to school alone by bus every day when I was 9. And I had to switch buses at the central busstation.. though a town with only around 100 000 inhabitants.. not big like NYC.

    But still.. I don’t think its _that_ crazy to let that boy go alone on the subway. If the mom could really trust him there shouldn’t be a problem. And she is hopefully the one knowing him better than anybody else.

    This leaving alone at home – thing is all depending on the child.. some kids are ready for it earlier and some kids later. I’m trying to be not too paranoid.. the kids have to learn to become independent too. We watched Finding Nemo with Efraim last weekend. And I think the message of that movie is very clear – and true. We have to let the kids try to do things without our help. That’s the only way for them to learn.. and not letting them can be even more dangerous for them.

    I’ll be terrified by every single step the kids are going to take to become independent in the future.. and we’ll need lots of wisdom.. But we have to let them go.

  4. kwoneshe2 says:

    I was probably 12 or so when my dad left me alone to go run errands, during the daytime. Of course, we lived on a ranch, miles out, and there was little chance of strangers showing up, or getting past the herd of dogs! LOL

    For my own son, he was around 10 when I would run to the closest store, leaving him home. Again, on a farm, with little chance of danger from strangers.

    Now, my sd is 11, and we leave her here to run errands, but my mother lives with us. 🙂

  5. K. Trainor says:

    I agree that it’s kid-specific. Some children are more responsible than others, same as adults. We live in a rural community next to a small town tourist haven. I have no problems letting our 13 year old babysit our 9 year old at home while I run errands, but I wouldn’t leave the two of them alone in the ‘tourist’ town just yet. I’ve seen too many drunk-by-noon tourists stumbling around. One lewd comment to my kids by a drunk idiot and I’d be in jail. (sigh)

    And yes, I know it can happen with ‘locals’ as well. I think we just get more comfortable around the ‘regulars’ than the tourists because they live here, and because local officers don’t seem to treat the locals with the same kid gloves they use on the tourists. jmo

    I used to babysit all the time as a kid. For my sisters from about 10yrs or so, and for others from 11 or 12ish on. At 17 I worked as a nanny to a 6wk old baby and his 2 1/2yr old sister the minute I graduated high school. Had that job for two years until we moved. But babysitting is no longer cool, my kids tell me. I’m afraid we’re old fashioned, Joy!

  6. mssc54 says:

    Joy; I think you know enough about me so that I don’t have to leave a trail of qualifying statements.

    So here goes.

    My three oldest daughters are each four years apart in age (28 – 24 – 19). So we kinda had built in babysitters all along. Our oldest was the Queen Babysitter in our little group. She even organized other girls and had this little baby sitter business going. So much so that when she turned 19 years old she paid cash for her own brand new Ford Escort! She was very, very frugal with her money.

    Now that we have our “new kids” we try not to use our bio-kids as built in sitters. Although our grand kids are just a little younger than our “new kids” it would be very easy to “abuse” the why don’t we let the kids play… and by the way we are going to to to a movie if that’s okay. haha

    As for when kids should be left alone, I agree with others that it really is child specific. No child matures the same as another. Those of us who have more than one child can attest to that.

    I think this would be the answer to that question. Are you willing to let your child babysit another’s child? I think that answer alone should be the defining answer to “Is my child old enough to be left alone.”

    As for where do you find a baby sitter… Most of the answers have already been mentioned in previous comments. We look to teens in our youth group at church. Not only do we know them and their families a little better but I think it lends itself a higher degree of accountability.

  7. Sue says:

    I too think it’s child specific. I have left my children (8,4) alone to run next door (to Joy’s house!) to get hamburger for supper or something else and they are always in the same spot as when I left. I tell them when I leave and that I’ll be right back. I get the “ok, mom” whatever answer. I don’t do it often and most times I bring them with.

    I am counting down the days until I can leave them alone! I’m hoping to be able to leave them alone in about 2 years. Trin will be 10 and in 5th grade. I KNOW I was left alone by then, if not before. Not to go out all night or anything, but to go for a run or to the grocery store. I think 12 is a good age to start babysitting and my cousin already has her eye on Trin for a babysitter!

    I started babysitting when I was about 12 and it was for a relative. But, living in the country does present it’s own problems b/c if I couldn’t sit it left them in a big pinch. It wasn’t like there were 50 other kids around to choose from. It’s still like that out here! I have 2 sitters, but it’s not too often I can get the one b/c she’s involved in so much other stuff. The other one I have heard things about, but I have never had a problem with her and the kids like her.

    I think kids now expect to make $10/hr babysitting and it’s just not realistic! I think the expect to make a lot more than minimum wage in any job for that matter! I think K. Trainor is right when she said it’s just not cool to babysit anymore. Too bad b/c there are those of us who need sitters!

  8. nikki says:

    Oh this is tough for me because I don’t even want to even think about it. Other than family Bailey has only been watched by a sitter once. He was probably 5. She was 12 and lived right across the street and we both trusted her very much. Her parents were always home and we also knew them and trusted very much. Bailey is a cautious kid, very independent. I know I could leave him home alone say just to run into town but I haven’t and not sure when I will. Maybe like Sue said, 10 years old sounds good to me. Just the other day some kids came to play with him and they asked if he could go with them to ride their bikes around the circle. I was like, umm, NO!! He’s has never done that. So that night I was telling Jason about it and Bailey over heard and he asked if he could go around the block on his bike…by himself. We both were reluctant to let him but we did. First time ever!! This circle is behind our house, one way in and one way out plus we have two sheriff’s that live back there so it is pretty safe. But we were still nervous. He felt very proud and old. People tell me we need to let out the string a little but it is a hard thing for us. I’m sure every parent of a missing or murdered child had wished they did not let out that string so much. We have and most likely always will just choose to take him with. I know he will get to an age where he will choose not to go…not looking forward to that. We pretty much have live in sitter though, my brother lives with us. We still generally take him with. He’s a cool kid!! When we were at Joys discussing this issue I couldn’t come up with an explanation to where all the sitter’s have gone. I never really thought about it because we just don’t ever need one. I think it has a lot to do with the fact that we don’t interact with our neighbors anymore. People have they’re guard up and tend to think the worst of people rather than take the time to get to know each other. I also think kids these days are GIVEN way too much and they don’t have to work to get anything anymore. Or they’re just too busy. Did you know you can find sitters on Craigslist?? That is insane to me. I started babysitting when I was 11-12. My brother mowed lawns. We did not get an allowance. Bailey wants to drive as soon as he turns 16. CANNOT even fathom the idea!!! He know he has to work to pay for insurance, cell phones, anything like that. Jason’s Dad drilled into his head the importance of EXELLENT work ethics. He hated it then but is grateful now. And Bailey will be taught the same thing.

  9. Just a Mom says:

    I think it all depends on the kid. I was a latch-key kid at the age of 9. I came home from school and I had the run of the house for 2 hours. What trouble did I get in well let’s see… I was the only kid on the street who didn’t have to do homework after dinner. I was baby-sitting for money at the age of 11.
    We finally let my oldest daughter start watching her sister at the age of 15. I actually feel safer leaving the house in the hands of my 9 year old. She is just more mature than her sister.
    Both of my kids know what to do if we are not home when they get home. They also know all of our neighbors and we have all of their home phone numbers as well as their cell phone numbers on our fridge.

  10. Jennifer says:

    I stayed at home alone when I was age 9 or 10. My parents would work in a lumberyard across the road from our house and in the summer I would be spend all day at home. I also could wander freely in the 10 acres of woods behind my house. No one came to look for me. At dinner time my mother would bellow from the kitchen window that it was time to eat. My parents never panicked if they arrived home and I wasn’t inside, they assumed I was in the woods. I can shake my head and say times are different, but I’m only 30, can times be THAT drastically different?

    I had my first babysitting job when I was about 10 or 11. The neighbor kids lived about a mile away. But I’ll be the first to admit I wasn’t very good at it. 🙂 When my nephew came around when I was 14 I was much better and babysat for him often. I became a camp counselor when I was 15 years old and was gone for the entire summer living in a cabin with other kids. Since then the state has raised the legal age for camp counselors to 17. I also worked in my parents little grocery store when I was 14 throughout high school. I even used the meat slicer, and sometimes was the only one there to shut it down at night.

    I’m gulity of just not knowing my neighbors. We’ve lived in our home two years. On one side is an apartment building where people come and go so I haven’t bothered knowing them. The other folks I don’t have an excuse for. I wave at one guy when he’s on his mower. That’s about it. I don’t even know their names.

    I know I need to find a sitter though. Soon.

    I often will work outside while the kids are inside playing. It drives my daughter crazy though. She’ll constantly ask me “But who’s taking care of us?” The fact that she’s almost 4 and THAT concerned about being left ‘alone’ when I’m only outside in the yard says to me I have a problem.

    I guess because I did drop them in daycare at 6 weeks old I didn’t expect them to worry about having me in sight at all times. Sometimes I wonder if it makes it worse.

  11. kweenmama says:

    I let my daughters start babysitting for neighbors when they were in 5th or 6th grade. They knew I was just a phone call away if they needed me. My son just turned 9 and I have no problem leaving him home alone for a couple of hours. He knows to not answer the door and he is supposed to check the caller id before answering the phone. It’s rare that he gets left home alone though because we have a house full of teenagers.

  12. Jane says:

    Sorry I haven’t been on much lately guys. I’m at my busiest time of the year getting my garden into my panty and freezer.

    I guess things are different in the country. We have an 11 year old who baby-sits for us although we don’t go out very often. Kids out here really have no other choice as far as a “job” goes. Unless you work for your parent’s or you work for another farmer, most kids do whatever they can to earn spending money. I have an 8 year old helping me can and freeze this year and help with DaniJo. I also was babysitting by 10. We don’t have a lot of close neighbors but we do know everyone. It’s just different out here. I haven’t ever left Dylan (4) alone to leave the farm but he has stayed inside while I’ve done chores outside. The only thing he’s ever gotten into has been fruit roll-ups that I told him he couldn’t have until I came in. Not the worst crime though. We also have an intercom system from the barn to the house so I can talk to him. You have to start somewhere and he needs to know what to do. Even though I “work” at home, he is here with me and it’s funny what kids know and what they can do “if” they want to.

  13. Joy says:

    I knew you’d be harvesting Jane. Take it easy. It’s a big job for you.

  14. Candi says:

    My girls are 7, and 9 and they stay home after school at times for a few hours, they are fine. I have a few sitters, but usually its my mom, or my cousin, or the 12 girl across the way. all thress of my children have stayed home for like a hour once, or twice but that was it. My children are able to go to there friends house, and take there bikes around the big block, kind of like a circle, but not really. They always have the walkie talkie with so I know were there are at and who is around them. My children are very well prepared in case of any type of a emgerecny, i know that doesnt mean nothing can happen, but, you need to be prepared for things like that . I let my kids roam the neiborhood, keep in mind, there is 3 acres lots out here so, i can see them where ever they are at. It usually playing with someones animal. lol.

  15. Tosha says:

    I grew up babysitting. I dont remember ever “not” babysitting. My mom always had someones kid at the house and we were always helping out. I spent my summers watching my cousins and my parents friends kids ALL Summer long. I dont remember what age I started being left home alone but I’d venture to say it was 9-10 years old. At 11 years old I had an after school job working at a daycare. I worked there until I was 16. During the summer I’d babysit during the day then go to work at 4pm at the daycare. I couldnt imagine Taylor (who is 9 now) doing what I did..My kiddos ages are 9,7 1/2, 6, and 2.. I’d never at this point leave them home alone. I dont even leave them home alone long enough to run next door as I don’t think they’d stay out of trouble.. Mainly my 9 and 7 year old! They fight like cats and dogs and you can’t trust them. Unless Taylor has a drastic change I don’t think she will ever be a babysitter or left home alone before the age of 18(i’m kidding.. i think).
    As far as people babysitting for me.. Doesnt happen. When Taylor was 18 months old and Cole was a newborn I had a 15 year old girl helping me out occasionally. She was WONDERFUL but then she turned 16 and quit babysitting.. Dh has issues with allowing someone under 16 to babysit.. He doesnt agree with having a “child” watch children. And he trusts no one.

  16. Amber says:

    I know in the UK, a child can not be left home alone until they are 13 years old. A child can not be in charge of another child until they are 14.

    People these days are NUTS! They don’t trust anyone with their kids. So they either NEVER leave them at all, or they leave them alone. Its so crazy. I don’t get it. People need to get a grip.

    I think the UK has it about right for a kids mental maturity. Though of course there are always exceptions to the rule… but for the most part, I would agree.

  17. Candi says:

    It is all in the trust of your children, my girls are 7 and 9, and I will leave them home alone for 3 or 4 hours. They are just fine, not always, but my girls are well educated on what can or cannot go on.

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