(Healthline) – What age should children be when they require a babysitter — and what age is it okay for them to be the babysitter?
A recent survey examined what constitutes neglect when leaving a child home alone, and has people thinking about when a child is capable of caring for another one in the absence of an adult.
“There’s no set age when kids are ready to babysit. It really depends on the age of the child and the availability of adult backup,” said Eileen Kennedy-Moore, PhD, a psychologist from New Jersey and author of “Kid Confidence: Help Your Child Make Friends, Build Resilience, and Develop Real Self-Esteem.“
Parents need to consider the dynamic between family members when considering if an older child should be allowed to care for a sibling or another family member, said Sarah Berger, PhD, a clinical psychologist from Maryland. For example, she wouldn’t advise that a 12-year-old and 9-year-old be home alone if they don’t get along.
“However, that same 12-year-old might have a great relationship with the neighbor’s kids and it would be appropriate for him or her to watch the neighbor’s kids,” Dr. Berger said.
“Most children could probably be left home for varying lengths of time between ages 10 to 12,” she said. “It depends on how long and the maturity level of the child. For some children it may be older.”
Children who are afraid to be left alone, impulsive, or aren’t aware of their surroundings should not be left home alone, Berger added.
How young is too young?
Fran Walfish, PsyD, psychotherapist from California, said she tends to believe that child should be 15 in order to be left alone for at least 4 hours. Again, numbers are subjective.
“I can tell you that there are plenty of 15- and 16-year-olds whom I would be very uncomfortable leaving home alone for 4 hours. On the other hand, there are many 13- and 14-year-olds whom I would be extremely comfortable leaving home alone for a span of 4 hours,” Dr. Walfish said. “Parents need to evaluate their child individually. Independence, autonomy, and freedom is earned by consistent demonstration of responsible behavior.”
Getting good grades, listening to parents’ directions, having a healthy social life, being respectful of elders, having a reasonably amicable relationship with siblings, and doing household chores are what she defines as responsible behavior.
“Younger children do not automatically get the same privileges their older sibling may have earned by demonstrating responsible behavior. Each child must earn his or her way,” Walfish said.