When you are a mother living in an area where childcare is scarce, you learn to worship at the altar of the teenage babysitter. Mine has saved my sanity, my sense of humor, and then some. But the Connecticut mom who just got arrested for leaving her 13-year-old home alone to watch over her three youngest kids scared the dickens out of me.
Considering I -- and most former babysitters I know -- started watching over kids at 13 or even younger, if this is now criminal behavior, we're all in trouble. This is not like leaving a house full of toddlers! Using the oldest kid to watch the younger kids, especially, is a time-honored tradition.
Young's neighbor apparently called the cops to say the 4-year-old who lived across the street had wandered into her yard. They arrived to find Young's 13-year-old was alone in their house with siblings aged 10 and 1 1/2, plus the wandering 4-year-old, and charged Young -- who'd left to go to church but said a real babysitter was on the way to relieve the young teen -- with risk of injury to a minor.
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I get it ... sort of. Just because they're "old enough" to babysit doesn't mean they're necessarily good at it. At least Rebecca Young's teenager wasn't good enough at the gig to handle a handful of kids. That's where a parent has to make some tough decisions: whether it's the parent of the kids being babysat saying, "OK, this teen is great, but not so great with kids" or the mother of a teenager saying, "Sorry, but my child isn't mature enough to handle that many kids."
Not to mention: a teenager needs to know where to draw the line when they take on a babysitting gig, even if it is watching their own siblings. Three kids is a lot!
I love my babysitter in part because she knows her limits. I always ask her if she feels comfortable with a few more kids when my daughter is going to have a playdate, and I trust her to be honest with me. She usually says yes, but she has told me what kids she does NOT think she could handle.
I'm still uneasy about calling this criminal behavior. As CNN's Ashleigh Banfield pointed out in a debate over Young's arrest, even good moms have had a toddler wander out of the house. It happens. But it's certainly a wake-up call for parents.
What's the maximum number of kids you'd put in the hands of one teenage babysitter?
Image via petercastleton/Flickr