What can I do with my 13 year old daughter this summer?
May 27, 2011 8:56 AM   Subscribe

What can I do with my 13 year old daughter while I'm at work all day during the summer? Additional difficulties inside...

My daughter spends half of the week at her dad's house and half at mine, all of us (her father, step-father and myself) work full time. We all feel that 13 is still a little too young to be left home without supervision for 8+ hours a day. Plus, all she will want to do is stay inside all day and watch Buffy the Vampire Slayer and play videogames. Her dad has made plans for the days that she's at his house but I'm at a loss for what to do on the two days a week that I need to cover. All of the summer camps I've found don't offer any part-time options and they are all $200+ a week which isn't really feasible. My husband and I work approximately a half hour away from home so going home during our lunch hour and checking in on things isn't do-able. Help!
posted by trinkatot to Human Relations (69 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
This is what summer school is for.
posted by Carol Anne at 8:58 AM on May 27, 2011

Does she have friends her own age around whose houses she could go to -- so she could just latch on to whatever activities they happen to be doing that day?
posted by pupstocks at 8:59 AM on May 27, 2011

What about volunteering? This won't cover all the time, but I'm sure one of those days could be spent volunteering as a counselor at a camp for younger kids, with elderly folks, or with animals. There are so many programs operating in the summer that need teen help that there should be something local or local to your work. Check into museums (they often have teen docent programs), zoos, gardens, organic farms, etc.
posted by rumposinc at 9:01 AM on May 27, 2011 [1 favorite]

The teenagers I know at that age usually do summer programs offered through their school, local colleges, rec centers, etc.
posted by desuetude at 9:06 AM on May 27, 2011 [1 favorite]

Do you know any local college kids that are home for the summer? A friend of mine has hired one for the last two summers to hang out with and ferry his kids to various activities (swimming, park, mall, movies etc.) Even if it would just for the afternoon on those two days it would be better than having her home alone the entire time.

I also like Pupstocks idea of seeing if the mom of a local friend would be willing to watch her for those two days a week. I'd offer to pay something for her trouble though.
posted by victoriab at 9:09 AM on May 27, 2011 [2 favorites]

Christ, I was babysitting--watching other people's children for hours-long stretches of time--when I was eleven. Unless she's mentally challenged or has demonstrated in the past that she's incapable of spending alone time without hurting herself, she'll be fine. It's good for kids to have time to be independent and drive their own activities.

Something you could do is sit down with her and make a list of goals for the summer.

First off, does she have any summer reading to do for school? Maybe have her make a time chart for that so she doesn't end up reading all the books the week before school starts back. If she doesn't have assigned reading, help her figure out a couple of good books to read over the next few months.

Is there a hobby she's been wanting to take up? Encourage her to take it up. Volunteering is also a great option, but only if it's somewhere she can get to/home from safely on her own (e.g. "I'll get a ride with an older friend" probably isn't a super idea..."I'll get a ride from a friend's mom" or "it's a quarter of a mile away and I can walk there" is better).

Let her set her own goals, and let her go about them at her own pace. (If you come home from a day of work and all she's done is play video games and watch Buffy, that's fine. If you come home from a week of work and all she's done is play video games and watch Buffy, maybe remind her how much she wanted to teach herself how to sew.)
posted by phunniemee at 9:13 AM on May 27, 2011 [56 favorites]

I'm with Phunniemee. I was babysitting by that age too. I think she should be encouraged to learn to be alone.

Jeez. I'm only in my 30s and already I'm all "kids today!!". And then I throw a gin bottle off my porch and tell the damn kids to get out of my yard.
posted by kestrel251 at 9:18 AM on May 27, 2011 [5 favorites]

Sounds like a great opportunity for to practice a musical instrument. If she's been wanting a drum kit, or a trumpet, or even a flute or piano, or singing lessons, now's a good time to try it.

Art classes or supplies might be nice; you could also maybe take her to a museum or two for a day.

Does she have any way to get from place to place? I spent the summer of my 13th year at home alone with no public transit and it was horribly boring. I read a lot, which was probably OK, but having some way to go different places would have been nice.
posted by amtho at 9:20 AM on May 27, 2011

When my daughter was that age we had the same issue. We sent her to a summer program through the local park department.
posted by Serene Empress Dork at 9:22 AM on May 27, 2011

Plus, all she will want to do is stay inside all day and watch Buffy the Vampire Slayer and play videogames.

Ask her to make her own videogames. Or at least her own videogame levels using tools specifically designed for people with little technical experience to give it a try.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 9:23 AM on May 27, 2011 [4 favorites]

I was staying home by age 12, so I think that if you are going by age alone, you might not discount having her stay home for 2 days a week. If you're worried she might just veg out, you can do what one of my aunts did with me during a summer I spent visiting her - she took my cousin and I to the library, had us check out books, then would quiz us about what we'd read that day. My mom would also expect certain chores of me that had to be done by the time she got home.

If you're really not comfortable, are there any programs at local community centers or, say, the Y, that might not be as pricey?
posted by DrGirlfriend at 9:24 AM on May 27, 2011

Drop her off at your city's largest library one day a week. Give her some guidance on creating a summer reading list with lots of variety. Learning to use a large library is an invaluable skill and a summer spent reading can't hurt either.
posted by acidic at 9:27 AM on May 27, 2011

I'm also with phunniemee. I was babysitting, but perhaps more importantly, I was setting my own hours and my own time, and I turned out fine. Yeah, that first summer -- the one between 8th grade and 9th grade -- I spent staying up till 5AM, hanging around unsavoury internet chat rooms, wasting money at Tim Horton's, etc., but the point is that I turned out fine. So did the brother and the sister who came after me. In fact, that was the summer I taught myself HTML (so that I could put my bad fanfiction online, obvs) -- a skill that has almost completely shaped my current career.

Something I did enjoy were sort of... non-camps. The museum near my house would run 2 or 3 day sessions (the one I remember most clearly was a photography class, but there were also lamer things like toll painting and cooler things like African drumming). I would go with a few friends. At the time, we thought it was super cool of our parents to "let" us do these things, but now I'm beginning to wonder if it was my mother's ploy to get my away from video games and Buffy the Vampire Slayer.

It may be worth checking in to that type of thing. They're usually not advertised as camps but as, say, "sessions" or "workshops."
posted by AmandaA at 9:27 AM on May 27, 2011 [5 favorites]

I think a lot of this decision is going to depend on your kid. I'm sure many kids this age would be fine staying at home all day but there are others that might find it lonely and isolating...especially because she's only there part time. If you think she'd be happier being around around other kids then you should be able to find some solution that works for both of you.

Is your house within walking distance of any public facilities (coffee shop, pool, library etc. as mentioned above)? Maybe you guys could work out a schedule where she did some activities on her own during the day.
posted by victoriab at 9:30 AM on May 27, 2011

trinkatot: Her dad has made plans for the days that she's at his house but I'm at a loss for what to do on the two days a week that I need to cover.

What are the plans her dad has made? Can you piggyback on those? Alternatively can you get an older neighbourhood teed to come over two afternoons a week? That would be inexpensive and give her someone to hang out and play video games with.
posted by DarlingBri at 9:36 AM on May 27, 2011 [1 favorite]

We all feel that 13 is still a little too young to be left home without supervision

I mean no offence but -- I find this bizarre. All the more so given that it's only two days a week.

I thought this was going to be a question about how to get her set up with museum passes and craft supplies so she'd have stuff to do with her friends besides just taking a bus to the mall. (Not that there is anything wrong with taking a bus to the mall at 13.) This is... I don't merely think this is not necessary, I actually think it is not a good idea. It will be useful for her to figure out what to do on her own, and I'm sure lots of people have happy memories of summers blown off on Archie comics, junk food, wading pools, video games, etc. This is part of a pretty limited age, too old to have to be supervised but too young to be out working -- let her enjoy it.

The other weird part of the question is that there is no information about what she said she would like to do when asked what she would like to do, or was she asked and the reply was that she would stay in and watch "Buffy" and play video games? Even if yes, I would -- again, two days a week! -- respect that, then.
posted by kmennie at 9:41 AM on May 27, 2011 [11 favorites]

What does your daughter want to do?
posted by mmmbacon at 9:41 AM on May 27, 2011 [3 favorites]

I agree with phunniemee; I was also babysitting regularly for hours at a time at that age, and it worked out peachy. I also think learning how to fill unstructured time on one's own is a pretty good skill for a teenager to learn.
posted by Greg Nog at 9:50 AM on May 27, 2011

Do you think 13 in general is too young to spend 8 hours home alone during the day, or do you think your 13-year-old is too young to spend 8 hours home alone during the day?

Because you know your daughter better than we all do. In general, most people wouldn't consider 13 too young in general to spend home alone all day. As stated above, lots of us babysat at that age, and could and would spend all day entertaining ourselves by building geocities pages (oh, how I date myself), watching TV, and loafing about. My mom let me do it by "packing" a lunch and snacks, giving me a few things do to, checkbox style, each day (like "empty the dishwasher by the time I get home" and "throw the whites in the wash"), and then setting me adrift. It was kind of great, honestly. I never left the house, if I wanted to hang out with friends I had to call and ask and someone's parent had to pick me up, but otherwise, it was a free summer to unwind. Frankly, I'd enjoy a day watching Buffy and playing video games NOW, which wouldn't hurt me, and wouldn't hurt a 13-year-old.

If you know that your daughter isn't mature enough to be home alone all day at 13, powwow together as a family about what she could do. If she says all she wants to do is watch Buffy and play video games, see if you can get her a laptop and deposit her at the library for that. Otherwise, let her explore her interests, with your help.
posted by juniperesque at 9:52 AM on May 27, 2011 [1 favorite]

A couple of follow up answers to clarify some things:

1. She will be turning 13 in just 2 weeks, so this is the year between 7th and 8th grade.

2. There is no public transportation in our area. Also there are no malls, museums, libraries, pools within walking distance from our house.

3. She will be staying with her grandparents (her dad's parents) on the first three days of the week and I can't piggyback on that at all.

Thanks everyone!
posted by trinkatot at 9:55 AM on May 27, 2011

Nthing that unless you have strong reason to believe otherwise, 13 is plenty old enough to manage their own time/activities. Heck, I was maneuvering the NYC subway system alone at the age of 9.

Working on her summer reading list sounds like a good idea, in between the gaming/Buffy time (summer is supposed to be fun, after all).
posted by litnerd at 10:01 AM on May 27, 2011

what's wrong with watching tv and playing video games all summer? that's what summer is for, and 13 is old enough to be home alone. and how are kids supposed to learn independence (including how to keep themselves entertained) without the occasional situation exactly like this one?

i mean sure, there should be rules and i think the idea of having goals is okay. but people need a break. when i was that age (not THAT long ago) summer was a break. summer school was more or less like a punishment. if my parents tried to make me do a bunch of crap in the summer when all i wanted to do was stay home i'd feel like i was being punished. to me, summer break was the reward for working hard all year and doing well. furthermore, i really believe that a person's creativity develops most in situations like this. whenever i found myself with a long stretch of uninterrupted time to myself, it was like a golden opportunity to DO some fun project that i would invent myself. a lot of the creative ways i entertained myself as a kid, i kept to myself. drawing pictures, writing little books, making up song and dance routines- but because i was shy i never did these things in front of my family (or a group of peers, like in a day camp/ class situation.) being home alone was my chance to just relax and be myself. obviously this all depends on your daughter- if she gives you reason to suspect that she'd use the time to get into trouble, that's one thing. but honestly, any time i got at home alone when i was that age was like a gift. (well, this was also due to relief at being free from my bitchy sister. but still.) and sure, i did spend a lot of time watching TV. but it never had any negative impact on my life or academic success as far as i can tell. all i have are warm fuzzy memories of all the stupid shows i used to love (which make for great conversation topics 10+ years down the road as well.)

okay, and one more little thing in defense of video games. i spent many summers playing video games and getting really good at them when i was a kid. now that i'm an adult with shit to do, i can't quite find the time to learn new games well enough to enjoy them. but one of my absolute favorite things to do is play all the old games i loved as a kid. i love having that skill and it's a great stress reliever without the work of having to learn a new game. not to mention it's a pretty cool party trick that i can destroy people at various old nintendo games. and it makes me popular with the smart and nerdy boys, which are the best ones IMHO, so i'm glad. but i digress . . . you should just ask her what she wants to do. i'd guess the answer is just stay home. and if she's done well in school all year and not gotten in trouble, i don't see how she hasn't earned the privilege of being able to do that.
posted by GastrocNemesis at 10:03 AM on May 27, 2011 [2 favorites]

She'll probably get bored after 1 week of doing nothing, so maybe she'll get creative and invent her own amusement. If she's generally well-behaved, and not given to sexting, shaving the pets or other "bad" behavior, why not let her veg out a bit?
posted by Ideefixe at 10:05 AM on May 27, 2011

Find other parents to watch your daughter - does she have a friend she can hang out with for the day, and is the friend's parent around? Lots of that.

If you can, schedule some days off so that you can reciprocate for the other families.

Find low(er) cost structured activities like team sports, community-funded camps.

Ask camps about sliding scale rates if you're low income.
posted by zippy at 10:08 AM on May 27, 2011

Tough age to find a day program for. I don't know where you live or what your circumstances are, but unlike others here, I can appreciate not wanting to leave her home alone, even for two days per week.

I was left home alone a lot in the summers and was miserable, lonely, and watched too much tv. Babysitting other kids at 13 is actually, I think, a different experience from being home alone. For one thing, you're not alone (I don't means in terms of loneliness, but in terms of safety in numbers). If you're babysitting at that age, you're also paying attention to other people and you're called on to play the role of being responsible, so you're likely to act more responsibly.

Being home alone changed my relationship with my parents--I really resented their intrusion when they came home from work--something along the child-thinking of "if you're going to leave me alone all day then you can't come home and tell me what to do!" (I realize two days is different from 5).

Our local YMCA let's you do just a few days per week--but I think the age cut off is 12.

If I were you (and I will be next year) I would ask other parents what they're doing, look for half day programs close to home (in my city they are writing and arts programs that run a week at a time, half days)--even if you have to pay for a cab, it's cheaper than day camp. I'd also try to have her invited to friends houses on those days--depending on your relationships with her friends' parents. It might be a patchwork summer--but minimizing those days when she's home alone is, I think, important. (if you have any vacation time, taking a day off here and there throughout the summer to spend the day with her would be awesome, too....or even an odd afternoon here and there.) keep changing up the plans, and she can have a BTVS day here and there and get sufficient veg time.

Also--do you have a landline or does she have a phone and does she keep it charged? Having no phone, or not keeping it charged or not knowing where it is can be a real safety issue.
posted by vitabellosi at 10:08 AM on May 27, 2011 [1 favorite]

What about pools, malls, libraries, museums within walking distance of your office? You could drop her off in the morning and have her meet you back at your office in the afternoon. Also, you could take her out to lunch during your lunch break a couple of times.
posted by Sophie1 at 10:09 AM on May 27, 2011 [3 favorites]

What about pools, malls, etc, within *biking* distance?
posted by jeather at 10:17 AM on May 27, 2011 [2 favorites]

Does she have any interest in little kids? She might be able to work as a mother's helper for part of those two days. When I did that, it entailed playing with the kids while their mom was home and taking care of a new baby. Do you have any friends who could use an extra pair of hands a couple of days a week for a few hours?
posted by corey flood at 10:23 AM on May 27, 2011 [3 favorites]

all she will want to do is stay inside all day and watch Buffy the Vampire Slayer and play videogames.

So? I turned out fine.
posted by richrad at 10:37 AM on May 27, 2011 [5 favorites]

I was babysitting when I was 11 or 12, also.

Summer reading, exploring on her bicycle, making friends in the neighborhood, babysitting, etc. She's definitely old enough to be by herself while you're at work.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 10:42 AM on May 27, 2011

This is a bit hard because we don’t’ know what your child enjoys doing, her goals/motivations, nor what you do for a living (there is a reason this point is relevant).

I agree with Phunniemee that not only do kids that age spend time alone, but sometimes they even work (babysitting and other jobs). So here is where the motivation comes in and this depends on what you do, too (and maturity level of your child), but what about taking her along to you workplace once a week and she can do a small amount of paid work? When I was your daughter’s age I had a small paper route and it really was a sense of pride and a bit of pocket money for me. So your child may jump at the idea (if not, don't force it) , but it depends on the workplace: 1) can you pay her a few bucks an hour? 2) would your workplace go along with it, etc. But part time work may be neat.

The other idea is (speaking as an adult who sees no problem with the play video games and watch shows that you enjoy all day – this is just a few days a week, not forever/I have to make plans to motivate myself, too) – start with you both setting a mutual goal for her(you get to weigh in with the …no 1000 points is not a goal…) but if she likes to write, create, read, run, whatever….break it down into weekly steps. So if you approve the write 5 short ideas idea, she works on them and edits them. Completes one every 2 weeks. Maybe have her submit it somewhere at the end (or that may be over the top, submit 1 story for a contest, whatever). Then she accomplishes the goal, you agree on a mutual award at the end. Book she wants. Small trip the two of you take to fun destination, etc.
posted by Wolfster at 10:48 AM on May 27, 2011 [1 favorite]

For some reason, I am reacting very strongly to this topic.

I want to Nth the "let her stay in and watch TV and play video games!" and "I was babysitting at 11/12/13" and "let her learn how to entertain herself."

Why does she have to be super busy every day of the summer! My goodness that drives me nuts. If she already has plans the rest of the week, why can't she veg-out for two days?!

Let her be the 12/13 year old that she is!!!

I hope the asker really takes all of these replies thus far very seriously and thinks about the bigger picture here.
posted by TinWhistle at 10:50 AM on May 27, 2011 [9 favorites]

When my son was this age but my daughter much younger, I hired a college girl to come over and hang out with them 2 days a week. She was happy for the cash, and the kids got to do fun things. Day trips to a pool, bowling, library, craft store etc, watched tv, played video games, played board games, went for walks/bike rides. Even an older high school kid would be good for this and they are all having a hard time getting jobs this summer.

Even if they ended up watching tv the entire day, I could deal with it because I only had to hire her 2 days a week. So if your daughter only watches Buffy and plays games, it is only 2 days of the week, and she will do other things the other 5 days. It helps to rationalize things sometimes.

PS My daughter spent last summer watching Buffy btwn 7-8th grades.
posted by maxg94 at 10:53 AM on May 27, 2011

I started staying home alone during the summers after I finished 5th grade, and my brother started the summer between 7th and 8th grade. I babysat a lot, but sometimes I was a mother's helper. There were some structured activities, like a two-week day camp for sports or a "babysitter certification" class, or a weekly music lesson.

But for the most part, our time was pretty unstructured. My parents did give us a list of chores to complete before they got home, and we usually did them in a giant panic at about 4:30, but that gave us a little bit of structure. We also had to call our parents at work every couple hours, or they'd call us, to ensure we weren't simply sleeping the whole day. I always had pretty good grades, but my parents gave my brother weekly math homework to help him keep up over the summer. He did what he could by himself, and saved the hard problems for when my parents got home.

Honestly, we did a lot of vegging around, playing video games and watching TV. I'm pretty sure that's all my parents think we did. But we also did a bunch of reading, hanging out with friends and keeping in touch online, practicing instruments, and learning how to write and draw and generally be creative. Those were the summers we learned how to entertain ourselves and be our own people, rather than wait for someone to create those experiences for us. We learned how to be creative, and how to solve our own problems. We learned how to make our own lunches, do our own laundry, mow the lawn, and resolve fights with each other without our parents' intervention. The trade off was that I sometimes stayed up til 4 a.m. watching Moulin Rouge on repeat. But then I learned not to stay up til 4 a.m. because it was near-impossible to transition back to a reasonable sleep schedule before school started. I made a bunch of mistakes and did some things I shouldn't have, but I learned how to be self-reliant and fix what I could before my parents got home, and I also learned to recognize problems that were big enough to merit my parents' help. Most days, they came home and asked what I did all day and we said, "nothing." But we did a ton, and learned even more.
posted by lilac girl at 11:06 AM on May 27, 2011 [3 favorites]

Many libraries have Summer programs for kids, and she might be able to put in some volunteer time helping out there.
posted by annsunny at 11:06 AM on May 27, 2011

At that age I loved staying home by myself and doing nothing much. I do not regret this at all. There's so much to be said for being truly by yourself when you're young - you can think uninterruptedly, for one thing. If you're on so-so terms with your parents (as one so often is at that age), being by yourself is a great way to de-escalate.
posted by Frowner at 11:08 AM on May 27, 2011 [1 favorite]

"This is what summer school is for."

I just jumped in, as an educator, to say "NO, this is NOT what summer school is for." Summer school is for learning, not child care, please don't do that to her or the teachers.

Look for activities, boys and girls club, scouts, church activities, summer sports activities, volunteer opportunities....
posted by tomswift at 11:09 AM on May 27, 2011 [8 favorites]

If you lived anywhere near me, and the baby currently in my uterus were to come during the summer, I would hire your daughter to help me with my toddler while I get the hang of a two-kid household.

Yup. I would hire a 13 year old to be a mother's helper.

Know anyone expecting? Know anyone who knows anyone who is expecting?

Know any stay-at-home parents who could use some help for a few hours/week? Maybe not babysitting, but helping with chores around their house or assisting with their kids while one parent is around.

For most of middle school and high school, I spent one day a week in the summer volunteering at a hospital through a Junior Volunteer program. I am sure there are similar programs in your area, whether at a hospital or a nursing home or anything like that.
posted by zizzle at 11:11 AM on May 27, 2011

At that age I spent a lot of time alone, particularly because I was an only child, my friends lived far away and were in the same situation, and also my close-in-age neighbors were big into organized sports and I wasn't, so they went to soccer tournaments and stuff and I just chilled in my back yard. I was in an area that sounds like yours - suburb-y, no public transportation, not easy to get anywhere without driving a while.

Does she have a bike? Since I was about 9 or 10 I logged many miles on local bike paths and even dangerous omg-mom-would-hate-this roads in my boring spread-out suburban town. Even just trying to find a 7-11 to get a slurpee turned into an exciting biking adventure and fostered my (okay, still nonexistent) sense of direction and maps. I had my first digital camera too and took lots of pictures of the local scenery.

To be honest I also spent a TON of time playing computer games since age 7-8ish, and actually became a huge nerd over one in particular. I then found a web community based on it, which led to me to wanting to start my own webpage (fk yeah geocities!), which led me to learning html, which led me to studying computer science in school... (ps i'm a paid web developer now)

My mom reeeally wanted me to send out flyers to the neighbors to do babysitting, pet sitting, etc. I didn't go as far as to make flyers, but ended up getting some lucrative jobs in that category through neighbors.

Definitely look into a day camp that does activities. My local country club type place had one that interspersed awesome "adventure" events like scuba diving lessons, climbing gym visits, beach days and farm trips with days at the club playing sports or swimming. It was only two weeks long, but I looked forward to it for the first half the summer and reminisced about it for the second half :)

Even an overnight camp would be fun for her at that age. I did overnight girl scout camps far beyond the time I was a girl scout. You don't need to be one to go.

does she play any sports, or want to learn a new one? soccer/running/sailing/badminton/rowing camp! does she like art? art camp! carpool with friends and friends' parents - could you take time at lunch to drive her home after a half day program?

Try to spring for one camp for her to do. She's going to be bored stiff at her grandparents' house all summer. I don't think she should even be doing that, unless she really wants to. Personally I would rather have been alone doing my own thing (other than "adventure camp", that is) than be babysat.

Do you have a yard? get her a hammock to encourage her to go outside and read. Or encourage her to grow a garden. she can spend time weeding, watering, making little signs with seed packets, all that fun stuff.

Is she an animal lover? Offer to entertain neighbors' dogs while they're at work for free or a couple dollars a day. Free doggie funtimes!
posted by ghostbikes at 11:34 AM on May 27, 2011

Nthing the suggestion that she'll be fine alone. I'm under 30 and I was home alone from 12 on during the summer. It was great. I spent silly amounts of time on the internet playing video games (ok, a MUD) until 3am. I often reminisce about those days of freedom without responsibility. Let her enjoy it.
posted by zug at 11:45 AM on May 27, 2011

Nth-ing let her stay home. My younger sister and I stayed home alone during the day in the summer while my mom worked. We never did anything special - not a lot of money for that stuff - but we did have fun. Sometimes we biked to the pool, about a mile and a half away, and we always had library books to read. I think most of the time we just slept really late and then frantically tidied up right before our mom got home in the afternoon, pretending that we'd been productive all day. Your daughter might have friends who are also alone during the day in the summer, and they could meet up for fun and a change of scenery.

At 13, I was fine with being home alone and would have been pretty annoyed to have to go to my grandparents' house all day in the summer even three days a week. They're great people, but a little (a lot) out of touch with the youth of today, and it's still pretty boring to go sit in their house.
posted by easy, lucky, free at 11:47 AM on May 27, 2011

I'm with everyone who says 13 is plenty old enough to take care of herself for 8 hours a day. I was frequently on my own at that age during the summers, and so were all my friends. We were all fine.

There is no public transportation in our area. Also there are no malls, museums, libraries, pools within walking distance from our house.

What about within biking distance? (This is assuming your area is bike-friendly.) I spent pretty much every day the summer I was 13 riding my bike between friends' houses, the library, record stores, movie theaters, and the pool.
posted by scody at 11:50 AM on May 27, 2011 [2 favorites]

Around here, this *is* in fact what summer school is for, and extended day on top of it. There are all kinds of fun "summer camp"-like summer school programs here-- theater, art, farm animals(?!). But she might enjoy the idea of having a "job" as well. At about that age, I volunteered at the public library and had fun helping with reading programs for little kids. I also babysat, and while I wouldn't have wanted to be *alone* with somebody else's kids all day at that age, I did enjoy doing mother's helper type stuff. And enjoyed having some real money, because that paid oh-so-much-better than an allowance.
posted by instamatic at 12:01 PM on May 27, 2011

Oh, and I also wanted to nth all the comments that it's perfectly OK if she does spend a few days a week just watching Buffy and playing video games. That's what summer is for at that age! Most of our lives -- children and adults alike -- are far too overscheduled and regimented. It is vital and healthy to allow kids (and ourselves) the free space simply to think, imagine, daydream, or chill. If she has other interests, of course, you can encourage her to pursue them, but this need to PLAN PLAN PLAN every waking minute for kids strikes me as more about managing parents' concerns rather than kids' real needs.

My sister is a college professor and she says every year she sees more and more incoming students who have never been alone, have never done anything independently (that is, without their parents' input, approval, and/or supervision), have never learned to amuse themselves. They are at a disadvantage in a lot of ways to the students who do have a sense of independence and self-reliance. But the students with those skills didn't develop them by accident, nor did they appear overnight.
posted by scody at 12:04 PM on May 27, 2011 [7 favorites]

Find other parents to watch your daughter - does she have a friend she can hang out with for the day, and is the friend's parent around?

Does she have friends her own age around whose houses she could go to -- so she could just latch on to whatever activities they happen to be doing that day?

Please, please, please do not do this without asking first. And be perfectly OK with the other parent saying no. Just because someone is a stay-at-home parent does not mean they consent to being the neighborhood babysitter.
posted by jrossi4r at 12:14 PM on May 27, 2011 [9 favorites]

I was left home alone all the time in the summer and I was NOT okay. I watched a lot of stupid TV and got bored and depressed. I never learned to structure my own time because when there's nothing to do it's not like you can structure much beyond "sit in this chair" "sit in another chair" "make a sandwich". How is that good for anyone?

Even many adults would be at a loss which is part of why unemployment can lead to depression.

Check out community colleges in your area, they might have some kid-friendly classes. You'd have to find a way to get her picked up/dropped off, though.
posted by the young rope-rider at 12:16 PM on May 27, 2011 [4 favorites]

There's a difference between unstructured time and being completely alone in the house, for two days every week, with no access to transportation, for the entire summer.

No reason that June-Sept has to be completely planned out right now, though, right? Maybe you two could figure out a bunch of options and and just plan out a month at a time.

For instance, some weeks maybe a friend could stay overnight with her at the house. Are there family members/family friends who would like to visit with her during the day sometimes? Perhaps you could drop her off somewhere on your way to work -- a friend's house, a rec center, babysitting gig, volunteering, summer program, etc. And occasionally, she could spend the day solo in the house too.
posted by desuetude at 12:33 PM on May 27, 2011 [1 favorite]

I think she's old enough to have a say in her activities, and that you can easily set some structure around days alone at home. Some ideas:
  • You don't have public transportation, but do you have acceptable roads for biking? At her age I used to bike everywhere I could.
  • Consider getting a webcam for your home and office computers, if you have a desk job. For days when she's alone, you can have agreed-upon check-ins at lunchtime and before you head home. Seeing her face might help you feel more reassured that she's safe and taking good care of herself during the day.
  • Perfect time to pick up a new hobby that can be taught by a nearby neighbor, friend or rec center. Most classes like these last all summer, and have weekly sessions. Chances are the rates for a weekly class are less than traditional summer camps. Bonus for helping her to decide on a hobby that she can do on her own time outside of class, such as a musical instrument, craft, etc.
  • Hire her to make a summer garden or a similar easy improvement task for your home. Encourage her to plan out the project, do the research, etc. She can do the gardening at her leisure during the day and it brings structure to her day. Maybe she would like to repaint her room a new color?
  • Hire her to make dinners. She's a prime age for setting good eating habits for life, and this could be something you do together. She can take responsibility for planning out meals, you can cook together a bit when you get home and it gives her an opportunity to do something fun and creative. If she also likes the idea of starting a garden, you've won the lottery.
  • Vegging out is to be expected. When you're feeling guilty about this, remember -- these years are probably some of her last opportunities to do so. Before long she'll have a legitimate summer job, and so on... forever! If you're worried about sloth from a health perspective, things like gardening and planning dinners is a good antidote.
  • If you're really worried, you can probably find a neighbor or friend who is willing to "surprise" her once a week by stopping by the house. Tell your daughter in advance to expect these surprise visits. The paranoia of knowing that an adult will come by, but not when, will help encourage her to keep her act clean if you suspect she might be drawn into making poor decisions with her freedom.
  • Set regular family meetings with her to talk about how the summer is progressing, how she's feeling, what's gone well, etc. Adjust the plan as needed. Perhaps incent her to think about this summer as a trial, and that if she can rise to the challenge of being independent and responsible with her time, there might be a nice reward at the end of the summer. Money saved on expensive day camps can be spent on sending her to a sleepover camp (horse camp!), a mother-daughter trip or even something simple like an extra $$$ boost for her back-to-school clothes shopping trip.
It's cool to be worried, but you have so much time to plan for this summer. Not knowing any risk factors about your daughter, I think that most girls her age (including myself, at the time) are capable of spending 2 days/week independently. I think she's going to have a great time.
posted by cior at 12:53 PM on May 27, 2011 [4 favorites]

If I were you (and strangely with half-custody of daughter who is becoming a 7th grader today who wants nothing more than to watch Buffy and screw around on her computer, we're close), I would call or stop by the summer camps in the area and talk to them about what you're looking for.

Academic-based or program-based camps might have a problem with it, but park district day camps, those based within school buildings, the YMCA, YWCA, Boys and Girls Clubs, etc. will have a more flexible schedule and if you just talk to them, you may be able to work something out. The local SPCA here has a summer camp for volunteer animal cleanup crew.

Lucky for me, there are a number of "charge by the day" flexible camps along my commute to work. They're more expensive per day than if you pay by the week, but a camp that's looking at a few openings would rather take a kid half day than not -- especially kids in our daughters' age bracket who aren't typically much of a burden on the teacher/camper ratio.

If there's a community college on your way to work, sometimes they will allow a mature kid to take summer classes, if there's something she's interested in. If not, perhaps there's a college kid you can pay to "mentor" her for the summer.

I agree with the folks who think she should be able to be home alone for a bit, but there's a big difference between a four-hour stretch or a day here or there and a routine of being alone.

If you truly have *no* other options, I would work to set her up with tasks, activities and chores to accomplish during the day, every day (or give her Fridays off or something). Think of it as independent study as homeschooling. It would take work on your part -- setting it up, checking it when you get home, patiently correcting her about cleaning up what she forgot to. My daughter does well with a checklist and I'm guessing my kid's time alone goes something like: 80% day - screwing around watching TV, hour before I'm supposed to come home: "Oh crap, I forgot to [make party favors/scrub the bathroom/clean up after my lunch mess]" and a furious hurry. Which I think is a good lesson in time management in itself.

Either way, good luck!
posted by Gucky at 1:06 PM on May 27, 2011

I must say I'm with the camp that is wondering why you can't just let her stay home and let her do what she wants to do.

Some of my best times over the summers as a kid were when I got to simply relax, sleep til when I wanted to get up and then do nothing. Sometimes I'd read all day. Sometimes I'd set up times to hang out with my friends. It helped me create structure that was my own and not imposed. Really a fun way to spend a summer and I certainly had no trouble entertaining myself.
posted by Carillon at 1:11 PM on May 27, 2011 [1 favorite]

Nthing everyone who says that she's old enough to self-supervise. She's also plenty old enough to help you with household chores. Let her get a few cookbooks from the library and plan and prepare dinner for at least one of those days each week. (I'd also say this if she were a he.)
posted by cyndigo at 1:24 PM on May 27, 2011

Whut? Since when is thirteen years old too young to be left without adult supervision for eight hours? Of course she's old enough to be home alone, provided she knows how to fix herself lunch and not be too obvious about raiding the liquor cabinet (that last part is a joke).

I agree with others that she should be doing some sort of constructive self-directed activity if at all possible, though. Ideally something she doesn't totally hate, because otherwise she simply won't do it and it'll be a chore for you to supervise the whole thing.

Keep in mind, too, that two days a week for 12 weeks is 24 total days - which isn't a whole lot in the grand scheme. And that's assuming that this is your plan every. single. day for the whole summer - that you aren't taking any vacation time, can't come up with any other plan for her on any of those days, etc. It's not like your daughter is going to be absolutely stranded in your home with no recourse and nothing at all to do every single day for the rest of her life. It's a couple days here and there.
posted by Sara C. at 1:26 PM on May 27, 2011 [2 favorites]

At 13, she could get a job as a junior counselor in one of these programs. 1/2 of every week spent just hanging out is not a great plan. I think you'll start to need a new shared custody plan soon. What if she went to Dad's during most of the week, for the summer, and had 1 weekday at your house? Being flexible about this is a good thing, in the long run.
posted by theora55 at 1:35 PM on May 27, 2011

Corn detasseling.
posted by bolognius maximus at 2:46 PM on May 27, 2011 [1 favorite]

This is what summer school is for.

NO, it is NOT! Summer school is for kids who don't pass the grade academically and need to catch up to their peers, not babysitting your kids for you!

When I was in middle school and home during summer, I cooked dinner for my Mom and Dad so it was ready when they got home for work. True, cooking really meant "heating stuff up", because my Mom would make meals on the weekends and then I would just stick them in the oven on 350 or whatever, but that was my contribution. And I remember hanging laundry up on the clothesline outside, too, though I hated that (we didn't have a dishwasher, clothes dryer OR air-conditioning in my parents' house in FL). I remember summers full of playing kickball with the neighborhood kids, riding my bike to the library or just for exercise and reading, and doing chores.

But whether she does any particular chores or not, seems to me videogames and TV are not going to do anyone irreparable damage. Kids need unstructured time to just be kids, IMO.

And I think most would agree with me that she is old enough at 13 to be left alone--my next door neighbor is an elementary school counselor and she told us once that once kids are around 12 most parents are fine with leaving their kids to fend for themselves, which is why you never hear of anyone getting reported to Family Services for leaving teens unsupervised. But as you and her father don't, I'm wondering if there are special circumstances here. I mean, from your description of where you live, it doesn't sound like there's any place dangerous nearby.

So, are there other issues here? Are there boys on the street you'll afraid she'll have over, or kids you don't want her to associate with for a specific reason?
posted by misha at 2:54 PM on May 27, 2011

You're worried that your 13-year-old daughter will spend her free time doing things she enjoys? She spends 9 wrist-slashing months per year enduring school, why try to obliterate the small bit of enjoyment she can carve out for herself before adulthood comes whamming down on her.

Here is what you could do:
- follow the above suggestion to try making her own videogame.
- while fixing dinner together, ask her what Buffy episodes she watched today and what her observations were. Try throwing in a few questions to sharpen the ol' literary criticism claws: what do you notice about the 7th episode of each series? What is different about the episode "The Body"? etc.

I also like the suggestion that she be tasked with fixing dinner at least one day a week.
posted by tel3path at 3:25 PM on May 27, 2011 [2 favorites]

At 13 I did theatre, I attended a sports camp at a university, I babysat... at 15 I was the "senior youth volunteer" at the Los Angeles Children's Museum, supervising other volunteers between 10 and 14. She may also be able to be a junior counselor at a day camp - the JCs at my overnight camp were 14. She could also look for a role as a mother's helper - like a babysitter but the parents stick around. Don't forget to look at opportunities near your place of work - my dad and mom sometimes took me to work with them when I had a day off and they didn't, and a few times they left me at the library or at other places nearby or on the way. And more than a few people at my work let their kids come to work with them and do filing, read, and do other quiet stuff. And ask around at church and work - other parents have to face this exact same issue, and unlike us they know where you live.

At that age I also, when I had nothing planned, learned a lot about how boring doing nothing really can be. Which is a much better lesson to learn in the summer between 7th and 8th grade than the week before finals in the first semester of your freshman year of college - and it's a lesson that can really only be learned by, you know, doing nothing.
posted by SMPA at 3:29 PM on May 27, 2011 [2 favorites]

Another vote that, unless she has demonstrated she cannot be left alone, a 13 year old at home alone is fine. I had my younger brother with me (to keep an eye on/babysit and I babysat other kids from about 11 years old) and we kept busy. We didn't have video games, but we watched TV, read books, rode our bikes, took the dog for walks, played with friends, rode or walked to the community pool a couple miles away, did housework and yardwork.

Just FYI:
When I was in grade school (1970s) there was "summer school" for kids that was for fun. It lasted about six weeks and, I think, was free or at least inexpensive because my mum couldn't afford much. Kids who were 10 or 11 and younger went to it. You were laughed at if you were older than 10 or 11 because "summer school" was for little kids.
posted by deborah at 5:31 PM on May 27, 2011

I, too, went to summer school around your daughter's age. However, that was a "summer enrichment program", and it was half days four days a week. I had afternoons free sans adult supervision every day, and Fridays I was on my own all day while my parents were at work.

Despite a dozen or so completely unsupervised days during junior high summers, I managed to survive to become the somewhat-well-adjusted adult I am today. And for the record I did not burn down the house, steal the car, do drugs, watch porn, drown in the bathtub, or lose my virginity during those days.
posted by Sara C. at 5:50 PM on May 27, 2011

Here's a list of the ages children may be legally left alone (or ages suggested by Human Services dept) by state. Looks like unless you are in Illinois, 13 is OK to stay alone.

I'd ask her what she'd like to do. I know that at 13 I wouldn't have wanted to spend three days with my grandparents and then two days alone, but would have preferred some contact with kids my own age. HMMV.
posted by apparently at 6:55 PM on May 27, 2011

We were latch-key during the school year and free range during breaks starting from much younger than your daughter. We lived in a large city, generally in questionable neighbourhoods, with no money for things like "day programs". While we didn't necessarily turn out "just fine", our unsupervised summer adventures were very rarely the issue.

I was another of those who babysat (well, worked as a "mother's helper") during the summer starting at around 10, but it wasn't every summer. A couple of summers we tagged onto a local Vacation Bible School (despite being of entirely different religious background) for the sake of the activities/regular supervision - it helped that they sent a bus for any participants. It doesn't sound like those are options, but maybe you have interest in one or the other and verification that they didn't harm another youth can help the decision.

There were times when we were dropped off at malls, parks, libraries, even (once) the zoo. Those were not ideal and required too much stressful exercising of survival skills (and resulted in some safety/care failures).

The very best times were when we had the opportunity to hang out with friends/cousins with responsible stay-at-home adults - if that's an option, snap it up and perhaps offer to do some sleep-overs/weekend visits to give those adults a break. Being left with friends/cousins with irresponsible stay-at-home adults was not nearly as good, but you probably guessed that.

The rest of the time, we were left at home. These were the rules:
• don't go outside (if you've an enclosed backyard, I don't see a need to keep her from it, though).
• don't open the door to anyone (short list of exceptions, like grandparents, etc.).
• no company.
• eat/drink these things.
• don't eat/drink these other things.
• get these specific chores done.
• if there's an emergency, call these numbers in this order.

...and we often gave ourselves little projects, like reading a particular book series or learning something specific or creating things out of whatever we had about. This actually worked out far better than most of the other schemes and did give us time in our own heads and spaces, which is good for any human being. Hurrah.

In this day and age, I'd probably make sure some basic safety skills were communicated and any parental preferences regarding internet/television freedoms were made clear.

Whatever you end up doing, may everyone be happy, healthy, and safe.
posted by batmonkey at 7:28 PM on May 27, 2011 [1 favorite]

While I was babysitting and home alone from 11 on, I am not super-comfortable letting my 14 year old do the same-while I appreciate all the "it's OK to leave her alone" advice, we also need to trust that there may be reasons about this specific child that makes OP more cautious. I don't buy into exaggerated fears that today is much more dangerous than when I was a teen, in the 80s-it's that my specific child, wonderful as she is, isn't know for her good judgment and imPulse control. She is very, very interested in boys, and would have her boyfriend over in a second if they lived in walking distance. She states she i grossed by the idea of having sex-would I bet her future on that, at her dangerous age of high hormones plus low maturity level. She does find babysitting for short periods of time; 10 hours a day while I'm far away is a different story. YMMV, of course.
posted by purenitrous at 7:56 PM on May 27, 2011

Well, I was a seasoned babysitter of infants-through-kindergartners by age 13, but I still didn't like being home alone most of the day in the summer (and my mom came home at 3 from her part-time job!). I remember feeling lonely and bored. I'd read and watch tv and bike to the neighborhood pool about a mile away, but it still felt like the days were kind of long and I was just trying to fill them.

Despite the implication in this thread that 13-year-olds who wouldn't enjoy a summer like this are coddled dopes, I think I was as independent a child as any other; I was just more in the purposeful mode, where doing "nothing" felt like a waste. I loved my working summers, actually, which started when I was 14 and a camp counselor.

Anyway, if your daughter is more like me, you might look into town- or city-run day camps for smaller children, which often have positions for junior counselors. Or less formally, your daughter could be a mother's helper for a few hours each of those days. And I'd happily pay a 13-year-old to play with my little ones while I get some things done around the house!
posted by palliser at 8:01 PM on May 27, 2011 [1 favorite]

This question makes me a little sad. I am projecting, but when I was 13, my loving and overprotective parents would've asked the same thing, thinking their baby needed supervision at all times lest I... I don't know, succumb to sloth or mind-rot or some unspecified vague danger. The constant supervision and overprotectiveness was stifling and really did not help me develop as an indpendent person.

I guess I'm reacting this way because we haven't really been given an indication of your daughter's interests aside from Buffy and videogames -- which are hardly terrible things! I too loved videogames, which my parents saw as a waste of time. I was made to take enriching, educational summer classes in subjects I may or may not have been interested in, and I have to say the resentment at being forced to do these things deadened my interest in a number of worthy subjects. Still can't look at a chess board without feeling vaguely medicinal repulsion.

Please consider, if you don't have a specific reason to think your daughter would not do well on her own, just letting her be by herself and do whatever she wants for those couple of days a week. She could probably use some down-time especially if she's got activities scheduled for the other days of the week.
posted by asynchronous at 8:21 PM on May 27, 2011 [1 favorite]

To those suggesting that the OP drop her 13 year daughter off at the library all day: stop it. A public library is just that--open to the public. Library staff are not paid (nor qualified) to babysit children. And if she doesn't think her daughter can handle being alone at home by herself, then her daughter certainly isn't likely to allow her to spend all day in a often dimly-lit, maze like building that could also potentially contain pedophiles, flashers, and the mentally disturbed.
posted by BeBoth at 10:09 PM on May 27, 2011 [2 favorites]

If she likes kids but is not ready to be a full-on babysitter yet, nthing the "Mothers Helper" idea. Also check with rec centers, community colleges, etc for some non-credit classes she could take (dance, art, etc).
posted by radioamy at 6:48 AM on May 28, 2011

Let her have time to herself. Express an interest in what she's doing. Ask her what games she is playing, that sort of thing. Find out if she's getting bored and would like to get out of the house and get some human interaction. Kids differ in how much alone time they want. And you can of course vary how structured her activities are throughout the summer.

Also frankly nowadays, with internet access a kid has access to so much amazing and entertaining information... At her age, I would have killed to be able to learn about any topic under the sun without having to leave the house. I mean, is she naturally curious at all? Does she know how to research online and google stuff? I have a twelve year old girl who is very into videogames, and with a little teaching she learned how to google and research and find wikis and cheat codes and other supplemental materials to help her in her games. Now she watches minecraft videos and finds neat ideas and techniques for fun stuff to do in the game. And her skills for searching things online help her when it comes to her homework assignments for school.

My daughter won't get much free time this summer, due to circumstances beyond my control, but I wish I could offer her this opportunity (I will do what I can). Kids learn to be trustworthy by being trusted, and given the opportunity to make things right if they don't perfectly live up to that trust.

Another thought - if she does chores to earn even a few dollars, she can buy cheap games on steam (they have I think more than a hundred under $5), and learn how to research which ones she might like ahead of time. Learning to be a discerning consumer will be a helpful skill, and it's nice to be able to learn when the stakes are low.
posted by marble at 3:46 PM on May 28, 2011

I used to have a decent time going to work with my Dad and then doing things near there. I'd check back in at lunch time and then maybe once in the afternoon before meeting up to go back home together. During the day I'd use the trusty skateboard to wander to a whole bunch of places. Even made some local friends. Sometimes we'd got to the theatre for a movie or just goof around killing time. It was great to have free time in a place different than home, while also having a parent nearby.

So if you or Dad work in an area that would work for this then consider the idea.
posted by wkearney99 at 10:26 AM on May 30, 2011

She's plenty old enough to be left alone 2 days a week, I babysat the neighbours kids starting from 11 years old and I managed to keep both them and myself alive and well.

I'm not sure what's wrong with her having 2 days a week to just hang out and watch videos and play computer games, it is again only 2 days a week and it is her school holidays. I say let her have some time to herself that's what the summer holidays are for.
posted by wwax at 8:09 AM on June 4, 2011

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