Too old for babysitting, so what now?
September 12, 2013 6:05 PM   Subscribe

What do you do when you can't (but have to) leave a 15 year old alone overnight, but he has no friends/family to stay with?

My 15 yr old son is going through some concerning things lately - cutting, anxiety, depression, etc. He's receiving treatment from a doctor and therapist and is involved with counseling at school. But even knowing he's alone in the house for a few hours each day between when he gets home from school and I get home makes me a little uneasy. I tend to call him when he's due home, and that helps, but he's pretty good at acting convincingly fine, so I am never sure he is until I get home. Mind you, I have my own anxiety issues. My son has the crisis hotline in his phone, but tells me things like, "I don't think I'd ever call them, it would be weird to talk to a stranger about my stuff."

My husband travels a lot for work. I almost never do. But at the end of Sept I will be going on a work trip to a conference in the US (we're in Canada) and it turns out my husband is going to be coming home from a trip the day after I leave. Which leaves us with this boy alone in the house overnight. Neither of us can change our trip. That is not an option at this stage. We discovered this too late to book him to go with either of us - the flights are prohibitively expensive and anyway, he would miss school, which can't happen right now.

He hasn't made any friends to speak of - just acquaintances. Staying with them is not an option - he won't even ask or consider it. All of my family is in the US and my husband's family is even further away. I have a friend who offered to let him stay at her place with her husband/sons, but my son doesn't really want to go there (they are heavy smokers). I have a work friend around the corner from our house who has offered to check in on him, but that doesn't seem like it's enough. I'd prefer to have someone stay in the house with him just for the night. We looked into flying one of my older sons home for a week to cover this, but again - crazy expensive for flights - around a thousand dollars.

We'd be fine paying someone to teen-sit for a night, provided we can check references, background, etc. I have asked his therapist to see if she knows of anything, and she didn't. Worst case scenario, we'll take him out to my friend's to stay the night, but he'd be really uncomfortable there (if safe). I know most 15 yr olds would be fine one night on their own, but he's not most 15 year olds. I am not worried about what he'll do to the house - I'm worried about him being alone.

Are there any services in/around the GTA for situations like this? Is there any sort of sitting/caregiver agency I could reach out to (a vetted type thing, with references, etc)? My husband wondered if we should look into checking him into the hospital for a night, but that seems extreme. I just don't know what to do.

Throwaway email, if needed:
posted by anonymous to Grab Bag (36 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Even if there's an agency, it would be a stranger. Can your nearby friend stay at your house for the night? Instead of him going to their place.
posted by headnsouth at 6:13 PM on September 12, 2013 [1 favorite]

Maybe your friend would come to your house just for the one night, and not smoke indoors? I would absolutely do such a thingffor a friend.
posted by cooker girl at 6:17 PM on September 12, 2013 [9 favorites]

As to the hospital, definitely not. The hospital is not for babysitting and it costs ten times what it would cost to get someone to stay at your house with him.

Use or to find someone - it's extremely easy to find someone with good references who you can background check on there. I think a friend at your house would be a better option though if it would be workable.
posted by treehorn+bunny at 6:18 PM on September 12, 2013 [3 favorites]

First of all, I don't think a 15 year old is too old at all for babysitting. It'll just be someone older, like an adult, a grad student, a college student, etc.

Are there any colleges nearby? If you posted up a Help Wanted flier in the offices of say, the nursing, psychology, and social work departments, offering $100 for an overnight stay, I'm pretty sure your phone line would be jammed up with calls for the rest of the day.

I do know that does background checks. You can also have one done yourself for around $30 or so, and request references.
posted by cairdeas at 6:20 PM on September 12, 2013 [2 favorites]

We have used to find a babysitter for our daughter and had excellent results. The site has nannies, pet-sitters, etc so it is not just for small children. They have a Canada-specific site.
posted by sacrifix at 6:21 PM on September 12, 2013 [1 favorite]

You mention your older sons -- do they have any friends who are in the area who'd be willing to do it? So that's not quite a stranger and may be god for your son.

(This was a solution my mom did for me when I was 14 and she'd be gone most of the night -- she enlisted one of my brother's friends to "babysit." It worked out well.)
posted by darksong at 6:34 PM on September 12, 2013 [6 favorites]

Going forward, if you have the money for it, you might want to hire a tutor for him to come by once or twice a week for a couple hours. But more someone who will be an older brother/sister figure and build rapport and have a good time with him, than someone who will only focus on academics and then leave. I think this would help with a bunch of issues at once:

-Will help him catch up with school if he's behind/struggling;
-You won't have to worry about him for the hours he'd otherwise be home alone;
-He can bond with this person so that he feels comfortable with them enough that they can stay the night in the future if the travel issue comes up again.
posted by cairdeas at 6:35 PM on September 12, 2013 [4 favorites]

Neither of us can change our trip. That is not an option at this stage. We discovered this too late to book him to go with either of us - the flights are prohibitively expensive and anyway, he would miss school, which can't happen right now. We looked into flying one of my older sons home for a week to cover this, but again - crazy expensive for flights - around a thousand dollars.

You know, I think that these obstacles would seem minor to you in hindsight if there was a negative outcome to leaving him. I would revisit the feasibility on all fronts here.

Worst case scenario, we'll take him out to my friend's to stay the night, but he'd be really uncomfortable there (if safe).

This sounds entirely reasonable. And I agree about seeing if your friend would stay at your place instead.
posted by Miko at 6:38 PM on September 12, 2013 [13 favorites]

Would a Big Brother mentor, not just for this night but an on-going relationship, not be a good idea? (I'm not sure what the age limit is for the the formal organisation is but an informal mentor can probably be found in your larger circle).

At fifteen he can be a babysitter himself; is there some useful task he can do while you are away (with someone else helping). People with depression often feel like a burden and you are framing this challenge as a big inconvience - if you looked at it as a positive opportunity you may all feel more positive about this experience.
posted by saucysault at 6:43 PM on September 12, 2013 [5 favorites]

Is he together enough to leave him with this proposition?

You can stay by yourself, but you need to answer the phone when I call. I get voice mail, I'll have someone knocking on the door in minutes, whether that's a friend or the police.
posted by timsteil at 6:49 PM on September 12, 2013 [3 favorites]

See if your friend/work acquaintance can stay the night as a house/pet(?)-sitter.
posted by DoubleLune at 6:51 PM on September 12, 2013

what about keeping him busy for that night instead - find a job around the house that will take hours, be a bit interesting, and you pay him well to do it. Something like, organize the garage or basement, or empty the kitchen cupboards, wipe shelves, put everything back in order, or paint a room, or fix something. Ideally you'd have a list of jobs that need doing, and let him pick which he'd like to do. Being useful and earning some money could keep him from moping around the house alone and feeling lonely. Leave money to order a pizza, and maybe a new videogame for after (if he's into that sort of thing). Rather than having him watched like a kid, get him into the idea of being an independent adult for the night. Obviously, this will only work if he likes the idea.
posted by 5_13_23_42_69_666 at 7:21 PM on September 12, 2013 [5 favorites]

Timsteil, how is that supposed to work overnight? They're not going to call to wake the kid up just because something might be wrong.

OP, it makes me sad to say this, but I'm just not convinced there is a solution where he's "safe" from depression/anxiety and/or cutting, let alone loneliness. If he's deeply uncomfortable at someone else's house, that's going to cause bad feelings. If he thinks he's being babied by your friend or a sitter, that's going to cause bad feelings. Maybe you can all just agree that he's totally allowed and encouraged to call/text you/your husband/his brother any time he wants or needs, and that if things are still rough for him he'll go to bed. Or, upon preview, the suggestion of making the night alone into a cool thing seems spot-on.

If your worry is about suicidal behaviour, ignore this and get someone who is actually qualified to help. Having a college kid sleeping on the couch isn't the answer.
posted by teremala at 7:25 PM on September 12, 2013 [3 favorites]

Definitely do not send him to the hospital. In addition to the costs, as treehorn+bunny mentioned, adolescent psych wards (I'm assuming that's where you're considering sending him) can be incredibly violent, traumatizing places. He will not be surrounded by other teens whose parents can't find sitters. He'll be locked in with teens who (examples from my experiences in those places) have committed acts of violence and sexual assault, suffered horrific abuse, or are only a few days removed from attempts to end their own lives. I developed PTSD from a 3 day psych ward stay when I was 13 (my parents' reasons for sending me there were similar to yours, it was nowhere near an emergency.) Furthermore, relationship with my parents has never fully recovered.

15 is not too old for a sitter and timsteil's suggestion of requiring him to answer the phone is a good backup as well.
posted by horizons at 7:35 PM on September 12, 2013 [7 favorites]

I can understand your concern. You sound really on top of all this (kudos to you for that, by the way! It's so important that he has this support), so you have probably already thought of this, but have you asked your son what HE would do that night, if he had any preference at all?

Depression, anxiety, cutting are serious stuff. If his depression is exacerbated by being alone, naturally you want someone there. But it may be that he will be relieved to be alone at least part of the evening. He may be tired of all the zealous (though well-meaning and caring) hovering, in which case it really is not going to be the end of the world for him to spend the night alone, with check-in calls from you, his older siblings, his dad and a visit from the neighbor. Seriously, get everyone on board to make calls at specific times to check in on him, if it will ease your mind, and make sure he knows that he is expected to respond or you will assume something is wrong and alert 911.

Or course the underlying reasons why your son is having these issues is important. If he is being bullied at school, for example, he could be depressed at coming home to an empty house after school. But if that were the case, I would take him out of school that day no matter what else I did (not sure why you say he can't miss--even if he has attendance issues, most attendance policies will allow excused absences for medical reasons, and I am sure you could get your doctor/therapist/school counselor on board for that).

I would not plop him down at the smoking friends' house, if that would make him uncomfortable. Seems like that would only add to his anxiety.
posted by misha at 7:37 PM on September 12, 2013 [2 favorites]

Being on your own is creepy at night, for adults as well as kids. While you have many concerns I'd phrase it like this to your son...

"Son, as you know dad and I are both going to be away on the night of X. We really don't want you to have to stay home alone, it's always reassuring to have someone close by just in case the water tank bursts or something and besides, it can get kinda creepy, woooOOOOooo haha. Anyway, here's what we've come up with, option a, b, c etc. What would you be most comfortable with, or do you have any other suggestions?"

See what he says. Perhaps he does have a friend you could call or maybe he's ok with someone coming to stay as long as they keep to themselves a bit.
posted by Youremyworld at 7:54 PM on September 12, 2013 [4 favorites]

You're not in Spokane, are you? I have several things that need doing around here that I can't do myself and I'd be delighted to have a sturdy young man who could move house plants around and restack boxes on some shelves and move a couple pieces of furniture for me. I'd give him a good supper - and dessert - maybe we could watch a movie together, he could sleep on the couch (it's very comfortable), and I'd pay him for the work, too.

Your son needs some adoptive grandparents. My only grandchild is in another state working on her Masters degree now, so I need some adoptive grandkids.
posted by aryma at 8:04 PM on September 12, 2013 [6 favorites]

You are 'helicoptering.' Kid is not very far off from the usual age for living independently.

I realise this is against the grain of previous answers, but, what. This entire thing is troubling to read. You have difficulty with him being alone after school! At 15! He's depressed and anxious and... and I don't think he's at risk of being found at the end of a rope or you would've mentioned that. This sort of babying doesn't sound like it's going to do anything useful for the depression. Your family is so far gone with the anxiety on this that you thought maybe a hospital would suit as a babysitting service...!

I was a suicidal teen. Very seriously so. Quite awful. I am not your miserable 15yo, but I was one. Your 15yo may vary, but. Please, consider that perhaps none of these sorts of machinations are doing him any good.

Ask him what he would like, and if he would like to be left to himself, leave him some money for pizza and a bit of an entertainment budget, and let him relax. If he enjoys this, and one suspects he might, terrific; there's a jumping-off point to start discussing not calling when he's due home every day. If he finds he doesn't like being alone, well, it's just one night and your pal can check in on him for a bit.

(I moved out of my parents' house at 15. This was a positive step and I am alive and happy and in good health, etc)

Either he is at serious risk of self-harm, in which case the current set-up where he is regularly unsupervised is inadequate and he really should be hospitalised. Or he is not, in which case this sort of parenting-with-anxiety is not sustainable or healthy for anybody.

My own depression was no joke, and in my late teens I lost a dear friend to suicide, with a lot of personal guilt attached because I felt like I'd failed with regards to supervising. I don't mean to sound cold here. But I do want to point out that your thinking on this would have made me feel more unhappy and more anxious, not loved and protected. Is having a 15yo babysat going to make the 15yo feel better, or you feel better?
posted by kmennie at 8:07 PM on September 12, 2013 [31 favorites]

OP, I just wanted to give you one more note of solidarity because I don't want anyone to make you feel ashamed about this. Not to scare you, but just to speak frankly, if he intended to just harm himself but accidentally injured himself much more than he intended to, it could be a lifesaver to have someone else there checking in. When you have a minor child who is seriously ill, whose illness could still become acute at any time, it is not helicopter parenting to monitor that child. That's just parenting! Helicopter parenting is calling your child's boss to demand that your child get a raise. Not watching over a boy with an illness!

I understand why you thought about sending him to the hospital. You were trying to think of a place where safe people who knew what they doing could take care of him. You're not seeking "babysitting" you're seeking people who could prevent him from harming himself!! And actually, I would be pretty surprised if you could not get him admitted to a psych ward; I doubt that there are many adolescent psych wards in which being a danger to self or others would be insufficient to get a teenager admitted, all else being equal.

That being said, horizons laid out some very important things to think about. It's by no means a given that when you have a self-harming teenager, it's some kind of binary thing where it's "so bad" that going to a locked ward is the only appropriate action (as if the experience of being in a locked ward never hurts way more than it helps, is never traumatizing in and of itself), or it's not "locked-ward-bad" so you should leave the teen alone just as much as you would any other teenager.

I think you are on the right track, walking a very difficult line.
posted by cairdeas at 8:28 PM on September 12, 2013 [2 favorites]

I had a babysitter once when I was 17. Okay, not quite the same thing as I also had a 9-year-old little brother at the time. My parents were away for a week and we talked about me watching him and being on our own that whole time but we were all a little anxious about that. So a friend's college-age daughter came over that week. She was so awesome! Like having a very cool big sister who let me do my own thing. So, first off, I'd ask him what he wants to do. For just one night, I'm sure he doesn't want a sitter.

Go over the general ground rules -- no parties, no alcohol, lock the doors, etc.. Tell him you'll be calling in the evening and he better pick up! Have a list of people he can call if he needs help or has questions. If there is any older figure who is responsible who might text him around "bedtime" and ask if everything is "cool." That would help. Then let him order pizza (or whatever) and rent a new movie or video game and try not to freak out.

Alternately, if you're really worried, bring him with you!
posted by amanda at 9:05 PM on September 12, 2013

Of the options you've outlined, I think having him stay with the heavy smokers is the best. Self-harm is the most serious concern you've outlined, and this seems like the scenario that would do the most to prevent that. It'll suck for him and make him uncomfortable, but one night of second hand smoke isn't going to give him cancer, and feeling awkward and weird in someone's house isn't the end of the world.

I don't think it's unreasonable to want someone looking out for him at 15. Some people live on their own at that age, but others are really not yet well-equipped for it. And some kids would relish a night by themselves, having the run of the house, staying up too late, eating all the junk food, and so on. But for other kids, too much time alone can put them in a bad place. You're going to be a better judge of him than a bunch of strangers on the internet. Does he use his time alone after school productively (by which I mean does he use the time in ways that he enjoys) or does it make him broody and more prone to anxiety and self-harm? Some kids just need the opportunity of alone time to really hurt themselves, some kids need it to finally get out from under the (preceived) yoke of parental pressure and relax. I personally was each kind of kid at different stages of adolescence.
posted by looli at 9:08 PM on September 12, 2013 [2 favorites]

I used to do this occasionally for a boss of mine. She had a daughter who was 15 or 16 and I was about 30 and she asked me to stay over once or twice when she and her husband were out of town for the night. It really wasn't a big deal. I think the daughter was a little embarassed but in the end, liked having someone in the house at night. I'm sure there are lots of college age kids that would do this. Does anyone you know have older children (20s or so is perfect)? Alternatively, going through a nanny service, where the people are pre-screened might be an option.
posted by otherwordlyglow at 9:33 PM on September 12, 2013

I have some good, old (as in, since Junior High) friends in Toronto. One of them is an educator. We are all in our early 30s. They understand depression. I don't know what their response would be and what day of the week you need, but I can most certainly ask. Just let me know; you're in a tight spot. If you're not comfortable with something like that, though, I would suggest you have the smoker come over and let them smoke in your house, or in your garage, or basement, balcony, one room etc. It's a small sacrifice to make.
posted by kitcat at 9:58 PM on September 12, 2013

I think the 'heavy smokers' thing is a convenient excuse for your son, though, unless he has asthma or a smoke allergy. Maybe he doesn't want anyone to stay with him, or go to anyone's house. Again, tough spot. *If the smoking wife comes, though, make it clear that under no circumstances should she let him have a cigarette.
posted by kitcat at 10:01 PM on September 12, 2013

Is there any sort of sitting/caregiver agency I could reach out to (a vetted type thing, with references, etc)?

Nannies on Call

Christopher Robin Service

I think it will be fine if you just explain that you have a younger teenager and you want a responsible adult in the house in case the power goes out, but you don't need someone to make him chicken nuggets and do crafts. I'm sure you can also ask for someone with experience with mental health. Additionally, is there anything you could set up that would make it more of a fun night for him, like ordering fancy take-out or something? Or he gets to watch two movies on a school night?
posted by Snarl Furillo at 10:07 PM on September 12, 2013

How about using FF miles to get a ticket,either for him or for one of his brothers?
posted by bq at 10:25 PM on September 12, 2013

I did something like this. Called a home service agency, explained the general situation and got someone through the agency. My child and I talked beforehand about expectations for the sitter. (What would be helpful, what would be annoying/intrusive, what I as the parent needed to feel safe).
Example: if kid wants to be in own room, does sitter need to check up on him? (May not, but sitter needs to know that.
posted by metahawk at 11:26 PM on September 12, 2013

It's one night.

I would ask the nearby friend to come and sleep the night at your place. Pay her, if it makes you feel better. Failing that, I'd be telling him sorry, but he is going to the smokers' place.

Them's the breaks.
posted by Salamander at 1:20 AM on September 13, 2013 [2 favorites]

Sorry to reply so much, but I just want to say a last thing. There is absolutely no way I would have been allowed to spend a night alone at home when I was 15, ever. Not because of anything about me, I just lived under strict house rules in general. And although my parents were the strictest out of all my friends overall, at least half of my friends at that age would not have been allowed to do it, either. In fact, when I was 17, I was nervous about asking if I could make an overnight trip, with another 17 year old girl, to visit other friends in a nearby city. This is despite the fact that 5 months later I started college and was unleashed onto the world to do whatever I wanted at all times, which I totally did.

There may be a different norm for boys, but even if he finds it oppressive to not stay at home by himself at the age of 15, lots of other parents are oppressing their children in the same way.
posted by cairdeas at 1:36 AM on September 13, 2013 [2 favorites]

Oh, and when my parents brought me to college? My sister was 15, and she had to stay with friends while they were gone.
posted by cairdeas at 1:41 AM on September 13, 2013

When I was 15, I matched almost the exact description of your son (except, of course, my gender). I needed a babysitter when my mom was away. Sometimes I needed a babysitter when people were home. Please, please don't listen to the people telling you not to leave someone with your son- I know at that age, at that state of mind, I would have taken the opportunity to do something that I would now regret.
The hospital is not a solution. It is a last-ditch resort when you think your son may hurt himself no matter where he is or who he is around. It is an extremely stressful and terrifying place. Please don't have your son committed without thinking of that.
Staying at someone else's house may be stressful for him, unless he is comfortable with them. He might have friends that you are not aware of that he may be comfortable staying with. I would ask him if there is anyone he would like to stay with and then follow up with that lead. Call the parent and make sure that someone will be there. Make sure that it's somewhere you are comfortable with him staying.
If not, having someone come and stay is a great idea. Everyone else has some great ideas- if you can't get your smoker friend, the local college would be a great place.

You're being a good parent. He might not appreciate it (I know I didn't at the time), but I am incredibly grateful that my mom kept me from doing something incredibly stupid at that age.
posted by shesaysgo at 2:41 AM on September 13, 2013 [5 favorites]

Ps: I wonder how your son would feel about you two calling the crisis hotline together sometime, just to show him it isn't scary and it is definitely a resource he could use on his own if the help would be useful. I have never actually called, but I'm sure the people there would rather have one or two calls in a non-crisis than have a boy who is too anxious about the service to call. Just a thought.

I have used before and it is pretty easy to do, and they offer a range of services besides straight up babysitting in my area so that's what I'd try if I were you. Being an anxious child myself, I would have rathered stay in my own environment than impose on someone else. Plus if you find a sitter that works now you may be able to use them again in the future. You don't say how long you have before the trip, but if it is a week or so and you want to meet the candidates and get background checks and check references, etc, I think you will need to start right away.

Good luck!
posted by onlyconnect at 7:37 AM on September 13, 2013 [2 favorites]

Does your son have his therapist's number? That should be the first person he calls in a crisis, not necessarily a crisis hotline. Which I would find scary and intimidating, too, and I'm a grown-up!
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 7:58 AM on September 13, 2013 [4 favorites]

Definitely hire someone. Post a Craig's List ad and pick a nice graduate student or other respectable type. Easy peasy. I've done it myself.
posted by ClaudiaCenter at 9:45 AM on September 13, 2013

Having the therapist's number is a great idea!

I still think it might be a good idea to call the hotline together, though, especially if even adults find such a thing intimidating. You know someone will be there and awake to talk to you at 2am, or 4 am (which is when your son will be home and potentially alone), and you needn't worry you are bothering them or waking them up because they are specifically there for the purpose of being talked to at that time. And someday down the road when your son isn't in therapy anymore you might feel better knowing he isn't too intimidated to call anymore.

Anyway, sorry to pop in again; that will be the last time!
posted by onlyconnect at 12:42 PM on September 13, 2013

I'm posting this update from the OP:

"Thank you to everyone for your thoughtful responses. My gut was telling me not to leave him alone, and we carefully read through all the responses and did a lot of reaching out on our end. I ended up reaching out to a mefite friend of mine who used to live in our area, and she reached out to a bunch of people she knew, and then it turned out a very close friend of hers was in the area and was more than happy to come out. Bonus is that we've met him and like him, and just hadn't thought of it.

So it turned out easier than I thought it would be. Son is happy with the choice. We explained that he doesn't need to like, hang out with this person the whole time and it's OK to hide out and play Xbox if he wants, but we just wouldn't be comfortable leaving him alone in the house. Surprisingly, he took it well. I'll be looking into the big brother/tutor option for future - those were good suggestions. He needs more people he can interact with who aren't authority figures or counselor types. That would potentially be a good option. We will also ensure his therapist's number is posted on the fridge, just in case."
posted by Annika Cicada at 11:49 AM on September 15, 2013 [9 favorites]

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