Is Leaving a Toddler With a Teen Really Cruelty?

Jeanne Sager

teen babysitterThere comes a time in every mother of two or more's life, when she heaves a huge sigh of relief. The older one has finally reached an age where he or she can hold down the fort while you run into the grocery store. No more paying babysitters

Well, maybe not. A mom of two got smacked in Britain recently for leaving her 3-year-old alone with his big brother. So how old was the big kid? Five? Ten?

How about 14 years old! Old enough to get his working papers here in the states! Old enough to be left home alone.

The bizarre story in which the unidentified mom was charged with "cruelty" and now finds herself marked by the law so she's unemployable gets even stranger when you consider the boys were left alone for -- get this -- 30 minutes! And there was no weird incident here. Big bro didn't beat little bro or sexually abuse him.

There's no law about this in Britain, but officials are advising:

No child under 14 should be left home alone and no child under 16 should care for someone younger than themselves.

Really? Sixteen? Are we ever going to let kids grow up? They are both crippling parents' finances and denying kids the beautiful relationship that exists between a teenager and his or her charge.

I've had teenagers watching my daughter since shortly after she was born. First it was my then-18-year-old brother, and then last year I hired a then-13-year-old to serve as my mother's helper for the summer. She turned 14 about a month into the job, and she was a lifesaver. Responsible, smart, well-rounded, a perfect playmate.

She and her older sister have become like second and third daughters to my husband and me, like big sisters to our daughter. And part of it is their age. At 14, M is more than willing to get down on the ground and play with my 5-year-old, where a 30-something sitter is more likely to set her up at a table with crafts and walk away.

Teens have so much to give as caregivers, and in turn they learn to be responsible, to have empathy, to use birth control! I wouldn't give the job to a tween, but a responsible 14-year-old sounds just right to me.

Do you leave your kids with teenagers? Is this cruelty?


Image via Tasslehoff Burrfoot/Flickr

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