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One option for a babysitter is finding an older child (teenager) in your neighbourhood. The benefits are obvious (you get to know the family, so there's more trust).

But is it truly safe to leave children with someone who isn't considered by society at large to be mature enough for many decisions?

Specifically, my question is: re there some sort of statistics/studies on the relative safety of using a teenage schoolkid babysitter vs. a professional adult one?

Yes, I know it depends largely on a person, and there are 16 year olds more responsible than a large set of 20 year olds. But I'm interested in overall trend.

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Please don't close this but edit it to make it suitable. It is (and definately can be) a good question. –  DanBeale May 19 at 6:35
    
FYI In New Zealand you need to be 14 to be legally old enough to supervise another child. –  DarcyThomas May 20 at 2:57

8 Answers 8

I don't know that this question is really answerable, because significant injuries or deaths while in the care of babysitters are very, very rare. There aren't enough to really compare adults to immature babysitters from what I found, and further the age will likely not be recorded in most cases where it is an accident (and nobody is charged criminally).

However, there have been at least two studies out of Penn State University on the preparedness of 11-13 year old babysitters, which suggests that many of them are reasonably prepared - but does point to the biggest risk, that of lack of attentiveness. This 2010 study and This 2012 version both suggest that half or so of those surveyed (11-13 year old babysitters in Pennsylvania) are CPR trained, most had first aid training. Ten percent had called 911 at some point.

I would say based on that, the age of your child is highly relevant. I wouldn't necessarily let an 11 or 12 year old watch my 2 year old; but when he's 5 or so, and both able to mostly take care of himself, and able to talk to me about the experience with the babysitter, I would probably feel comfortable with someone that age. Given attentiveness is the biggest issue, I want my children to be old enough that a half hours' inattentiveness isn't likely to cause physical harm.

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50% of 11-13 year olds know CPR? That's pretty spectacular. I have no idea if our babysitter knows CPR. –  mcv May 19 at 11:15
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@mcv Probably 50% of 11-13 yo babysitters; not 50% of the general population. (And I suspect a lot of kids in that age bracket might not have the upper body strength needed to do compressions on a larger adult as opposed to peers/younger children.) –  Dan Neely May 19 at 13:22
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I would say it's somewhat of a market-induced phenomenon. Since some middle schoolers take CPR classes, it becomes almost necessary to take it to become a babysitter, because parents look for it. It's probably also a signaling effect, as well; taking CPR classes, while really not very valuable in terms of likelihood of saving life (above ~3yo it's rare to need it), it signals that the potential babysitter is taking babysitting seriously. –  Joe May 19 at 14:46
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@Joe: On a bit of a tangent, the issue of whether to start CPR before calling 112/911 if you're alone appears to be somewhat controversial, and different emergency services may have different guidelines about it. For example, here in Finland, the official recommendation seems to be to always call first, while in the U.S., the standard recommendation seems to be to start with CPR for two minutes if the victim is a child or has choked, drowned or otherwise suffocated. –  Ilmari Karonen May 19 at 16:15
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... Basically, it seems to come down to the fact that the choice between calling 112/911 and immediate CPR is somewhat situational: if the person is unconscious because their airways are blocked (which is, apparently, the most common cause in children), immediate CPR may clear the blockage and revive them; if the root cause is heart failure (more common in adults), however, it's unlikely that CPR alone will revive the victim, and so its purpose is only to keep them alive until professional help arrives -- which, obviously, will only happen if someone has called for it. –  Ilmari Karonen May 19 at 16:17

Curious if this is country-specific. My 15 year old has been sitting for others for 4 years now. The duration and end times have changed, at 11, we weren't going to let her agree to sitting till midnight, for example, but an early dinner for the parents, home by 9PM or so.

Even now, she sits for parents of friends whose daughter is the same age, but not mature enough to watch her own younger siblings. Legality aside, maturity is what matters, before even considering a young person to babysit.

Note - early on, she offered 'mother's helper' services. This was for the mom who had work to do from home, or was entertaining, and wanted help, but would still be at the house. These same moms became comfortable enough that by age 12, they hired her for sitting with no adult home.

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My question is, is it truly safe to leave children with someone who isn't considered by society at large to be mature enough for many decisions?

The answer is: it depends (I know, I hate that answer!).

There are a lot of factors to consider: How old is your child? How prepared and educated is your babysitter? Are there any medical concerns or other specific needs for your child? How long will you be gone? Is there anyone you can have stop in to check up on how things are going? Can you call periodically for status updates, or have the babysitter text you? How quickly can you get back in case something goes wrong?

All of these can influence just how safe it is to leave a child with a babysitter, regardless of the age of the sitter.

I would be hesitant, at best, to leave an infant, or even a toddler, with a younger sitter, but if my child was old enough to be in school, I might be more comfortable with a teenage sitter.

The closer I could monitor the situation, and the faster I could intervene if necessary, the more comfortable I would be with a younger sitter.

The American Red Cross provides a babysitter certification course that seems at least somewhat reputable (for example, University of Michigan's Health System website recommends it). This course is aimed for students 11 and older (note that even U of M's website recommends against having children under the age of 12 babysit), and they even offer supplemental courses (and certificates) in pediatric first aid and CPR.

However, the study referenced in Joe's answer concludes that while middle school-aged babysitters will likely encounter common household emergencies and therefore benefit from first aid training, very little difference in safety knowledge was found between trained and untrained babysitters. This puts into question the effectiveness of the training.

Are there some sort of statistics/studies on the relative safety of using a teenage schoolkid babysitter vs. a professional adult one?

I was unfortunately unable to find any. That doesn't mean such a study doesn't exist, but I imagine it would be very difficult to find relevant data from which to derive such a study. In order to do such a study, there would need to be a way to correlate safety incidents with training. The study mentioned above does this by issuing surveys, which the participants self-administered. I have less faith in survey-based studies for safety issues like this than ones that rely on medical facility reporting requirements, and I would be surprised if age of babysitter would be included in many standard reports.

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I have a friend who was cooking meals for her younger brothers by age 10, being the eldest daughter in a large first-generation Irish Catholic immigrant family. I believe she would have had the maturity and experience to handle just about any likely emergency up to and including severe injuries and house fires as well as her mother could. And I know supposed adults whom I wouldn't entrust a kid to. There may be legal arguments, but outside of that I really think it's a question of maturity/responsibility, not age. –  keshlam May 19 at 17:57

The NSPCC (UK child protection charity) recommends that no-one under the age of 16 is used as a babysitter. If a person under the age of 16 is used as a babysitter the parents of the child, and not the babysitter, remain responsible for any harm that happens to the child.

http://www.eastsussex.gov.uk/childrenandfamilies/childcare/default1.htm

Here's an example where a mother accepted a police caution (which means she admits guilt) because she left a 14 year old to babysit his 3 year old brother for 30 minutes. (Although I think she should have got a free solicitor and not accepted the caution. I wouldn't think that she'd have been found guilty at court).

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/magazine-12380329

These links do not directly answer your question, but they suggest that older is better and they suggest that 16 is a minimum unless the babysitter is a relative and the time is short.

Having said that, siblings are responsible for most abuse (more than parents, step-parents, other relatives, and strangers) and that is something that needs to be considered. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sibling_abuse

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Do the links suggest based on their experience, or based on studies? –  user3143 May 19 at 10:38
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How did the police even find out that a 14 year old was babysitting? Personally I think it's bizarre to officially reprimand parents for letting a 14 year old watch their 3 year old. –  mcv May 19 at 11:36
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Wow, that is ridiculous. –  Joe May 19 at 17:26
    
Note the observation at the end of that news article: “And this is, she says, fast making the UK a laughing stock among its European neighbours, where a 14-year-old in charge of a three-year-old is considered normal behaviour.” –  Bradd Szonye May 20 at 0:09

Depends. Depends on lots of factors. How long will the babysitter be in charge? What exactly will be expected of the babysitter? How well does the babysitter handle this kind of responsibility?

I believe 13 is generally considered a suitable age to start babysitting where I live, but that doesn't mean every 13 year old will be a suitable babysitter. I believe our babysitter started at 12 (which my wife whispers whenever she mentions it, so I guess she really believes it's technically too young), but she is smart, mature for her age, and as far as we know, she handles responsibility well.

Of course we started her out easy: we put our kid (2 or 3 at the time) in bed, and then we go out while the babysitter stays. When anything happens, she calls us. We are not terribly far away, and the babysitter's parents live in the same building, so experienced adults are never more than a few minutes away.

As she gained experience and got a bit older, they ate together and she put him in bed.

Of course, while we call it "baby" sitting, an actual 0-year old baby requires adult supervision. The better kids can handle themselves, the less the babysitter has to do.

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Obviously local laws vary, and maturity of a given child is a large factor. Here in Texas, as with many states, there is no actual law on how young a child can start babysitting, and 11 is an understood starting age (and that's when the Red Cross classes start). The laws are more usually stated about how young a child can be to be left at home unattended rather than stating it as "babysitting" - but many states don't have that either.

I was talking about this with other parents, as my daughter is turning 12, enrolled in a Red Cross babysitting class, and is interested in babysitting. (She has two very young siblings and is as prepared as you can be, I reckon). General consensus from those informal discussions is 12 is fine to babysit a single child that's past potty-training age for up to 4 hours, about 14 for multiple kids, and 16 for babies.

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This depends on what you value, as a parent, in your baby sitter. When we looked at some we were more concerned with maturity, age is relatively irrelevant depending on how long and at what times you need a baby sitter for. These days many babysitters take classes in CPR and such to differentiate themselves, yes marketing starts young if you are really going to "make it". Although strangely there seems to be a perspective for certain babysitters to be female and not male as I have seen noted mainly in the Free Range Parents blog. The paranoia around males with children starts young for many, but not all.

I bring up this aspect because any study that you look at may very well be tainted, if you take something like this into consideration. Especially when you look at trends. I grew up watching some of my younger cousins, basically giving them some food, juice and playing with them a little, before my aunt or uncle came home. My niece did some babysitting jobs locally, when she was about 15, and did them until she was a bit older and was able to add to her resume by having a summer life guard job where she learned about choking and CPR. When you look at maturity it comes down to many kids are different, so what society deems appropriate for one would not be so for another.

Although it will also depend on what you need, if your kids are mature enough to listen, and the babysitter is good enough to control the children then you should be fine. Personally I go with the ones you know and trust, especially if the kids know them, since they should already have a healthy respect for the neighbor.

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It depends. But honestly i can't leave my 12 month twins to some teenager unsupervised. I prefer leaving babies to a professional childminder but this is my personal.opinion. If you are comfortable and trust the teenager and are okay with leaving babies to a teen, then its your personal choice and being a parent, you have got full right to decide what's best for your baby.

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