How young is too young for a babysitter?
June 20, 2016 5:15 PM   Subscribe

I'd like to know the youngest age that mefites would consider acceptable for a babysitter for your kids. I realize every babysitter's competency/maturity is different, but is there a bottom age you won't consider going below?

The kids to be babysat are elementary age, babysitter in consideration lives ~5 min drive away (ie, her parents don't live across the street in am emergency), we like the babysitter's family a lot, and she babysits for other families. I'm just...struggling mentally with her age.
posted by rabidsegue to Human Relations (42 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
I started babysitting regularly when I was 12/13. that was in the 80s though, things were different...
posted by supermedusa at 5:18 PM on June 20, 2016 [6 favorites]

I started babysitting at 12. This would have been 1997. However, I was babysitting for the kids next door, so my parents were steps away if I'd ever needed them. I think I took jobs a little further afield by the time I was 13 or so.
posted by town of cats at 5:21 PM on June 20, 2016 [3 favorites]

Would some trial periods help? Bring the babysitter over to watch the kids while you work in the backyard or out of the room. The babysitter can work as a mother's helper so you (and the kids) can get comfortable with her/him.

As for age, I started watching my brother when I was young, probably 5th grade. He was 4 years younger than me. I started watching kids outside my house when I was probably in 6th or 7th grade. About 12 years old, I guess.
posted by hydra77 at 5:21 PM on June 20, 2016 [7 favorites]

The Red Cross does a babysitter certificate class that is for 11 and up. That sounds about right to me.
posted by jillithd at 5:25 PM on June 20, 2016 [9 favorites]

I was 11. My first job, which morphed into regular babysitting, was as a helper while the parents were still at home but occupied with other things (work, having friends over for dinner, etc). Any chance you could do a try-out like this for a couple of hours at a time?
posted by notquitemaryann at 5:28 PM on June 20, 2016

Personally 12 would probably be my minimum. But it depends more on the babysitters maturity level, the age gap between her and the kids (will they have sufficient authority), your kids personalities, and how long the job is.
posted by The Shoodoonoof at 5:31 PM on June 20, 2016

Nonparent, but former babysitter here. In my experience/opinion, it depends on a lot of factors.

My parents started having me babysit my younger siblings when I was 12-13. It was typically only for a few hours, during the day or in early evening (they'd be home at or before bedtime).

For longer or later than that, or if it's not a close family member you know incredibly well, you probably want someone who can drive a car. So, 16+. I started babysitting other people's kids around this age.

If my parents were going to be gone overnight, they would get a friend of the family who was in college to watch us. As a freshman in college, I was a part time nanny for a family, which included after school a couple days a week, most Saturdays, and some late nights. I was otherwise unknown to this family. I don't recall ever watching these kids overnight, but it probably wouldn't have been an issue if it had come up.

For a weekend or longer, it was a legit adult who knew us well, ideally our grandparents or an aunt and uncle. Even as a "real" adult, I've never had the care and feeding of someone else's kid for more than an overnight.
posted by Sara C. at 5:37 PM on June 20, 2016 [2 favorites]

I live in the Bay Area (big city) so I think 15 is about the youngest I would be comfortable with. I have a "mother's helper" who's 11 who plays with the 3 year old while I am home. I'm hoping to groom her into being a baby sitter when she's a few years older. I suspect her parents would 't let her stay home alone, let alone watch another person's children.
posted by saradarlin at 5:38 PM on June 20, 2016

It really depends on the age of the kids being watched. Age three-ish and older, I'd be okay with a 12 year old, assuming I knew him/her and he/she had a couple references. Anything younger than three, I wouldn't go younger than 14/15.
posted by cooker girl at 5:41 PM on June 20, 2016 [2 favorites]

Just the other day I saw an ad for someone looking for nannying work who was 18 with 8 years of babysitting experience. That means she was 10 when she started.

I remember once when I was 10-12 years old, the inside of our toaster oven caught fire. I felt very responsible when I called my dad at work and asked what I was supposed to do. He told me to unplug the toaster, which I did, and the fire went out. If it had been a more urgent situation, I think I would have handled it fine at that age.
posted by aniola at 5:44 PM on June 20, 2016

But, y'know. I didn't have enough life experience to realize that I should try unplugging the toaster on my own.
posted by aniola at 5:45 PM on June 20, 2016 [4 favorites]

A mature 12-13 year old is great for just playing with the kids. But have low expectations for picking up after themselves and the kids, being able to prepare food, etc.
posted by k8t at 5:45 PM on June 20, 2016 [5 favorites]

I was left responsible for my little sisters when I was 10 (they were 2 and 5,) but my parents were... optimistic about my capabilities, particularly in terms of me being able to get the older one to do anything vaguely resembling what she was supposed to.

I was charging the neighborhood parents to watch up to 3 kids for the evening at 13, and overnights at 15. No infants until I was in college, but that was mostly because no one really wanted paid help for kids that young out here.

Today I'd probably try for 12-14 year olds with certification (infant/child CPR especially.) I'd honestly be worried about liability and CPS rather than real risk, however.
posted by SMPA at 6:00 PM on June 20, 2016 [1 favorite]

It SO depends on the kid. When I was 12 I was pretty responsible, but when I see 12-year-olds now, I wouldn't trust them to watch my dog! Ha...I'm old. Anyway, if it's a kid you trust then go with your gut as long as they're 12-ish. There was a "no stove/oven" rule when I was that age, and we always just ordered pizza.
posted by masquesoporfavor at 6:01 PM on June 20, 2016

I started babysitting at age 12 (late 90's) after taking the Red Cross class (although a full first-aid class would have been better). I only took care of kids that were around age 3 and up.

But I totally get it. I look at 12-year-olds now and think the same thing as you!

I agree, what about trying them out a few times while you're home?
posted by radioamy at 6:13 PM on June 20, 2016

I also started babysitting at age 12 after taking the Red Cross class. I think around 12 is about the lowest I'd be comfortable with. Under a year old, I'd want the sitter to be in high school.
posted by epj at 6:17 PM on June 20, 2016

14 for me. Something happens in kids between 13 and 14. A huge maturity leap.
posted by chasles at 6:21 PM on June 20, 2016

I was NINE when I started getting paid to babysit younger kids (in the 80s). I'd probably wait until 11/12 for my own kids, unless I knew the 9-year-old to be very experienced (with younger siblings) and mature, in the 15 age range for a baby. Also depends what you're asking them to do ... watch them for a couple hours in the afternoon, or feed them some mac & cheese and put them to bed and watch TV to make sure the house doesn't burn down, that's easy. Longer hours, or very late, or special needs kids, or real cooking, or any kind of complicated drop off/pick up/send to carpool/etc., you might want someone a little older. When I was a very young babysitter, my mom always stayed home if I was sitting, so I could call her in an emergency if I couldn't reach the parents or didn't know what to do. That matters too.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 6:23 PM on June 20, 2016

I think it depends on how long, time of day, will the kids be up or not, etc. 7:30 to 10 or 10:30 where the kids are all ready for bed, they know to just watch their show and off to bed at 8 or 8:30 with no fuss and the sitter just watches her shows til you get home? A 12 year old could do that. Talk to the other families she sits for too.
posted by ThatCanadianGirl at 6:23 PM on June 20, 2016 [5 favorites]

A 12 year old watched my 5 year olds. Somehow this makes other people nervous, but we love it. Cons: he has an early bedtime, so we can't stay out late
posted by Valancy Rachel at 6:37 PM on June 20, 2016

New Zealand government sets a lower limit of 14.
posted by oceanmorning at 6:38 PM on June 20, 2016

Ha! I was sitting for infants for pay at 10 and did overnights at 14-15, but it was the 80s plus responsible Mormon girls could really make bank.

The community standards where I live now are 12 or so for easy afternoon/evening jobs where parents could be back home in 15 minutes for a real emergency; my 6th grade students are often babysitting for their siblings with a few outliers who do it outside the house, and my 7th grade students are often babysitting for non-siblings.
posted by charmedimsure at 6:42 PM on June 20, 2016

Another 80s-era babysitter here - I started when I was about 11. Mostly they were in kindergarten up to maybe third grade, though there was one infant in the bunch (his parents wanted to know how I got him to go to sleep so easily, and I have no idea: I fed him, changed him, read to him, he went to sleep - but apparently the process was not so straightforward with his folks). This was a pretty standard age for starting babysitting among my schoolmates.
posted by rtha at 6:50 PM on June 20, 2016

I started babysitting the kids of my parents' best friends when I was 11-12. (That was convoluted. My parents were good friends with another couple -- that couple had two kids, age ~4 and 6.) I started doing regular, non-family-friend babysitting when I was around 14, and pretty much stopped when I was about 16, partly because I got too busy with school stuff, and partly because the father of the kids I watched started getting a little too friendly when driving me home at night.
posted by sarcasticah at 6:55 PM on June 20, 2016 [1 favorite]

In Maryland a child by law must be 13 years old to babysit. When my kids were younger I did have a neighbor who babysat my kids when he was that age. I don't think I'd go younger than that even if it were legal.
posted by drlith at 6:57 PM on June 20, 2016

12. But if you'd be more comfortable, why not start her as a "mother's helper" where she comes in at first while you are home, but doing other things.
posted by Toddles at 7:08 PM on June 20, 2016

I babysat when I was 12 (back in the early 90s) but even at that age I really did not feel prepared or old enough, and thought it was kind of ridiculous. If I were a parent I'd probably want 18 years old at least.
posted by joan_holloway at 7:13 PM on June 20, 2016

Yeah I babysat my 3 year old next door neighbor when I was maybe 10 or 11, but for like two hours at a time. Little enough time for anything to really happen and I didn't have to really feed or bathe or put to bed, and next door so my I could run/call to get help very quickly if I needed.
posted by greta simone at 7:28 PM on June 20, 2016

My first gig was when I was 11. The next door neighbor was desperate and asked my parents to let me come for two hours, the baby was already asleep.
-next door
-my folks were available
-the baby was asleep.
So that went well. I didn't really start seriously until I was at least 12 though.

Also, just FYI, the going rate was 50 cents an hour and these kids asking for 10 and 15 dollars an hour are monsters. Monsters, I tell you.
posted by SLC Mom at 7:52 PM on June 20, 2016

I started babysitting at 11, including for infants. This was in the 70s. I think the youngest sitter we had for our threesome was 14 or 15 but they were handling 3 kids too. My oldest started babysitting at 12-13 ish after taking a class.
posted by leslies at 8:13 PM on June 20, 2016

In the 90s I took the Red Cross babysitting course when I was 11 and started then. I had regular 2 week long full day gigs with a third grader by the time I was 13. I think my first infant was when I was in early high school. This was all perfectly normal and I had no issues handling anything n

But it does depend on the babysitter and the kids.
posted by olinerd at 8:23 PM on June 20, 2016

I was babysitting at 12 and I know lots of people are posting that. But child protection workers I know (I have a couple of friends) say that, if anything happens, the test will be community standards AND whether the child you chose could reasonably have been expected to deal with these things. And it will be based on modern times, not the 80s, not the 70s.

THink about it. Say you have a house. There's a fire, maybe in the toaster, but it spreads. It's dark and smokey. One of your kids hides under the bed / goes back for stuffie / runs to get pet / has run outside but sitter doesn't know. Do you think a 12yo can handle this situation? What if there are 2 kids? What if their parents do not live next door or across the street? Can they find the phone in time to call? Will they have let their cell charge run low?

I had some really awful situations with a 12yo sitter when I was a kid. They really weren't responsible enough. Some of my other 12yo sitters were fine, but parents were usually right near by.

I had 2 kids jump out the window when I was babysitting when I was 16. They didn't like that it was bedtime. Fortunately, they weren't hurt.
posted by Chaussette and the Pussy Cats at 8:38 PM on June 20, 2016 [2 favorites]

I was eleven. I was the oldest of six children, however, and had changed a few thousand diapers by that time.

I once babysat for a family with 4 kids, and the oldest boy was a grade ahead of me in school. He made me promise never to tell anyone at school that his parents did that to him.
posted by my-sharona at 10:07 PM on June 20, 2016 [5 favorites]

I also took the Red Cross course at 11 and was babysitting a drive away and many hours when I was 12 in the 90s. One idea: 11-12 year olds come cheap so you can hire two of them especially if you have more than one kid. This is what I did at that age a lot. It turned out to be helpful in situations where one kid was melting down while the other spilled something that needed to be cleaned up. It also turned out to helpful for having another head and figuring out what to do when one kid let the parakeet out etc. something to consider if your prospective babysitter has a friend.
posted by Waiting for Pierce Inverarity at 3:52 AM on June 21, 2016

I think it depends partially on the sitter and partially on the kid/s in question. But with a responsible, mature-ish sitter and kids who are 5 and up who don't have special needs, I think 12 is very reasonable. I started as a mother's helper at age 8 with a little girl I got along well with. We both were quiet and liked reading books. There was never any problem. I would not use a young sitter for a preschool age child or younger - there are too many judgment calls that need to be made, kids that age are too unpredictable. Yeah, I have WAY more kid-care skills now that I'm a mom myself and have a couple decades more experience under my belt, but that's really more about finesse and being able to execute complex routines like multiple concurrent bedtimes, dinners and cleanups, not about whether I know when/how to call 911.

Then again, I am not really the type of person who worries about worst case scenarios. I'm pretty sure there are situations that could conceivably come up with my kids that a 30+ year old adult wouldn't know how to deal with well. There are definitely situations that come up with my kids that I'm not sure how to deal with best, and I'm 35. The way I see it there is no point in worrying myself about highly unlikely things that would keep me from sleeping at night. I cringe to think that people would call CPS about a 12 year old babysitter. I don't want to live in a community with those kinds of standards. In 99% of the rest of the world outside of these insular communities where helicopter parenting has become a league sport, CPS workers and similar don't have time to waste on situations like that because they are overwhelmed by cases of actual neglect, desperate poverty and child abuse.
posted by treehorn+bunny at 6:45 AM on June 21, 2016 [1 favorite]

Oh, and I second using a team of 2 tweens or young teens. I used to babysit frequently with a friend. We had a great good cop/bad cop routine.
posted by treehorn+bunny at 6:49 AM on June 21, 2016

For kids in primary school (~5-9), the babysitter was me in secondary school (~12-15.) Sometimes that became 'babysitter and babysitter's friend'.

An age 13 babysitter compared to a slightly older age 15 babysitter isn't going to have special skills for dealing with complicated situations - you really just want someone who is capable of calling for help if something goes wrong.

- Rethink for difficult or complicated kids to deal with.
- Don't expect complicated tasks. Feed them and let them watch a movie/play games/read a book? Yes. Make them do their homework and/or chores? Maybe.
- Food prep: microwave or pre-prepared only. Avoid the stove/oven (i.e. fire)
- Have a nearby contact. Maybe it's the neighbour, maybe it's the babysitter's family.
posted by Ashlyth at 8:04 AM on June 21, 2016

I was 12/13. I took one of those classes (not red cross, but similar - at a local hospital) and though I was generally a responsible and independent person, the class worked wonders for covering various developmental things that I did not necessarily have the life experience to know about. For instance, we talked about everything from appropriate discipline/persuasion to how to hold young babies to changing cloth diapers to what to do in many different kinds of emergencies. Thanks to that, I knew to call a nurse-on-call line when I couldn't reach the parents in a concussion-risk situation. I definitely thing requiring that from younger babysitters wouldn't be out of line, especially if you covered the cost.
posted by R a c h e l at 8:12 AM on June 21, 2016

Oh, yeah, and parents expected me to cook certain foods that were obvious to them but were not always obvious to me (I remember being asked to "cook broccoli", which I'd never done and rarely even ate, without further directions). I'd go with easy food like leftovers, or give them leeway - ordering a paid-for pizza or something takes a lot of the load off. And have slightly more relaxed expectations for more challenging tasks like cleaning with kids around.
posted by R a c h e l at 8:15 AM on June 21, 2016

Please take anyone saying when they started babysitting with a grain of salt. That does not take into account today's climate wrt childrearing, where a child walking home alone from school at age 11 might merit a call to CPS. In my small metropolitan area, you can't leave a kid home alone until age 12 by law.

By age 13, I'd think starting as a mother's helper, then moving into daytime only sitting would be ok. I would go older for a nighttime sitter (15?).
posted by freezer cake at 10:04 AM on June 21, 2016

I think it depends on a few different factors. Like a lot of people mentioned above, I started babysitting in the 80s, when I was 10. But! I was also a latchkey kid who started coming home alone after school in Kindergarten. By age 10 I already had five years experience without adults around. (Which is insane! Talk to my therapist.)

In my jurisdiction, the youngest you can be left alone is 10 and that's the age you can take the Red Cross babysitting course. But hardly any kids I know are left home alone by themselves at that age! I think you are hard-pressed to find a kid today who is left alone much before age 12. (Around here, anyway.) My kid still had a sitter at 11 if I was going to be out late because going to bed by herself freaked her out.

What I did was this: when my kid was really little, I had older babysitters because the whole thing is more complicated if there are diapers or early toilet skills involved. When she got older, I felt like I could go younger.

That said, I had the good luck of having a couple of sitters I could draw from--one who was 18-20 and the other 13-15. I used the older sitter if there was going to have to be a meal made and if I was going to be out very very late. The younger sitter I used when my daughter got older and could actually help with a simple meal. The younger sitter could also help with homework because she went to the same school, had the same teachers and spoke the same language.

I think a test drive is a good idea, it may calm your fears a little. Good luck!
posted by looli at 1:14 PM on June 21, 2016

« Older Unplanned day trip to Seville tomorrow--help...   |   Bday present for guy who likes to control stuff... Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.