I was 11 the first time I babysat for someone. I was considered very responsible and somewhat mature for my age, and even though I lacked in some areas (my cooking skills were below subpar; I couldn’t even work a frozen pizza), I was considered a pretty good babysitter.
I have no idea what any of the adults involved were thinking.
But back in the ’80s and ’90s, it wasn’t an uncommon thing. Gen Xers were known as latchkey kids. Older Millennials fell into that category, too. We’d come home from school and be expected to keep ourselves alive until our parents came home from work. Okay, that was the situation for a lot of kids. Not me in particular. My mom ran a daycare in the house, so I had a parent waiting for me when I came home from school. That didn’t mean that we weren’t left home alone sometimes.
Once I was deemed old enough to start babysitting, I was deemed old enough to be left home alone with my sister in my charge. It wasn’t really babysitting since my sister is only 18 months younger than I am. It was just being left home alone for a few hours. The rules were simple: don’t answer the door, don’t use the stove, and don’t use the iron. I have no idea why the last one was included. My sister and I weren’t known for our out of control ironing compulsions. But it was put on the list.
Nothing interesting every happened while we were left home alone, at least not that I remember. We just hung out and watched TV and either got along or ignored each other. Maybe I dreamed up what-if scenarios, but I’ve always had an active imagination.
We were left alone at friends’ houses, too. Working parents were common in my friends group, including some single moms. My parents thought nothing of my sister and I going over to our friends’ house to hang out unsupervised. We were good kids, it was a small town. There was nothing to worry about. And there really wasn’t, at least from the good kids perspective. Aside from some minor shenanigans, we really were good kids. Could things have gone wrong? Of course. But they never did. We were lucky.
Since nothing ever happened while we were younger, it just meant that we were considered responsible enough to be left home alone for longer periods of time as we got older. By the time I was 16, I was being left alone for entire weekends. Had I been something other than a severely depressed introvert, I might have taken advantage of that. Lucky for my parents, I was a mentally ill lump. And a pretty good kid. Most of the time.
Am I saying that parents should abandoned their young children for periods of time, particularly in the care or company of other young children? Of course not. Only parents can decide if their young are capable enough to survive a few hours unattended in a safe location. Apparently the law also has input on this now, as in many place they’ve enacted laws about how old a child has to be before they can be left alone. But legalities aside, it really does depend on the child and the parents.
I mean while I was babysitting at eleven, one of my classmates was being babysat by neighbors.
Only you know whether or not your unsupervised kid will blow up a microwave.