Wednesday, July 30, 2008

How Young Is Too Young?

Our first On The Flipside GUEST BLOGGER!

My good friend, Toni, over at The Tale Of Two Kiddies was so generous to allow a recent post she published on her blog to be today's topic and story. I think this issue and post was a great topic/question for On The Flipside and appreciate Toni posting her story here. Thanks, Toni!

Please support Toni by reading/commenting on this interesting post and visiting her great site.

How Young Is Too Young?

There is a situation in my neighborhood that is causing me some alarm- not a great amount of alarm but enough that I find it somewhat troubling so I am turning to the smartest ladies I know to see if I am being a little too....well, too Toni.

My neighbors have three children: an 8 year old (Rachel), a 4 year old (Caleb) and a 20 month old (Sadie). Rachel and Claire are good buddies. Rachel lives with her dad and step mom and Caleb and Sadie are their children. Capisce?

Well, the dad, who I'll call Steve, is a nut about his yard. I mean, a crazy man. He mows several times a week and doesn't like for the kids to play in any area that is not outfitted with play equipment because it smushes the grass. (Honestly. This is not a lie.)

Steve's wife, Amy, a hair stylist, works every other Saturday, thus leaving the kids alone with Steve. This is where Steve's lawn obsession becomes my problem. Steve mows while leaving the 8 year old in charge of the 4 year old and, worse, toddler Sadie. Now, as a SAHM, I get that sometimes things need to be done and when you have an older, more responsible child, they can really fill a void. There are many, many occasions where Claire has to step up and help with Liam. I get that.

She distracts him while I pee. She takes him to the basement while I make dinner (remember I am not a cook so this is usually a microwave warm up of leftovers) but never is she in charge of him for any more than a short while. I just don't see this as her job or responsibility and she is only 8!

A few weeks ago, Steve mowed (twice, as is protocol and takes about 2 1/2 hours) and then cleaned gutters, power washed the house and sprayed weed killer on every weed lining the street in our neighborhood (again, not a lie.) and this took a total of about 6 hours. I know this because we were outside the majority of that time.

While Steve was doing all this, Rachel watched, changed, fed and entertained Sadie. Claire and a couple other neighborhood girls played for a while but, once I realized Rachel was the one in charge, I insisted Claire return home. Rachel eventually had to take Sadie inside the house as it was really hot and the baby was cranky; a neighborhood girl accompanied her. I felt uneasy about this girl going inside alone with Sadie and Rachel because I am good friends with her mom and it made me uncomfortable to think of two 8 year olds watching a young toddler. I chose to butt out.

Well, of course, Sadie got into markers and marked all over herself and a wall. When Steve learned of this, he freaked. He screamed (according to the other girl in the house) at both 8 year olds and grounded Rachel from the computer (where she and her friend were playing and NOT watching the tot) for life! and made her clean the mess.

So, now I don't know how to handle this. I don't want to cause trouble but I am uncomfortable with letting Claire play at their home when the mom is out. I feel that Rachel has way too much responsibility at too young an age. Am I completely overreacting by making the rule that Claire may not, under any circumstance, be alone inside with Rachel and Sadie?

Is this just me being irrational and over the top, or not? At what age is it appropriate for an older sibling to watch a little one? I babysat at 11 but I was a strangely mature 11. What do you think?

Originally Posted by Toni - The Tale Of Two Kiddies at 8:45 PM
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How do you feel on this subject? Are you with Toni, and this situation bothers you or ... are you On The Flipside? What is an appropriate age? How Young Is Too Young?

Give your most honest opinion - whether you agree or have a FLIPSIDE view. But, please make sure you follow the comment rules and be nice to Toni and to other commenter's. And please go over to my sidebar and
answer the poll question on this topic.

Results of poll: 19 people voted - 100% felt An 8 Year Old Is Too Young To Babysit


Jacey said...

I'm with Toni.
8 is way too young to be in charge of two kids - especially what is essentially, a baby! For short amounts of time, like whiel dinner's being made, that's cool. That's pretty normal I'd say.
But for hours on end? Not ok.
When you're 8 you're still a kid. You shouldn't have that responsibility. It's a huge one, and it doesn't seem fair on a child of that age.
I certainly wouldn't be comfortable leaving my (imaginary!) kids there to play, if there wasn't any adult supervision. Especially since theres the added risk of having to watch a baby too.
It seems almost like skipping out on parenting. I get that there's always things to do, and to get done. But not gardening for 6 hours while your 8 year old watches your younger two. So not on.

Brittany said...

Well... There is a reason that 12 (or is it 13) is the legal age to be left alone, in our state. That is when a child (teenager) is capable of making more "adult" decisions and can handle situations like changing diapers, and watching a toddler.

Eight is WAY too young!

Jenn @ Juggling Life said...

I think it all depends on the kid. Once, when my husband was out of the country, I became very ill with the flu. My kindergartener got his siblings, 2+1/2 and 1, up, dressed, fed, lunches packed and waited for the carpool and a friend to come over and get the little ones to take them to her house. He did this every day for 3 days, plus helping out at night.

My problem with the situation you're describing is the Dad getting mad at the daughter; that's not fair.

If you're not comfortable with your child there when the mom's not home you know what you need to do.

Tabitha said...

I think that 8 is far too young to be left for that anount of time with 2 such younger children. As a mother myself I totally understand that there are times where the younger children are amused by the older ones ~ while the parent is close by ~ not otherwise engaged and out of sight and has no knowledge of what is going on inside!! I would be the same and tell my child they are not allowed to be there without an adult!! I just pray that nothing terrible ever happens while the 8 year old is 'In Charge' ~ that would just be so awful!!

Sally said...

I agree with Toni - and wouldn't allow my own child to visit inside the house unless the mother was home. As already proven, the two 8 year olds weren't on top of things watching the toddler (not that Toni's daughter was responsible.) And like Toni, I myself was a pretty responsible girl at 10 and 11, babysat my baby brother alone on rare occaions.

For sure, the man in the picture here is OCD about his yard when he should be watching his kids!! Just my opinion. :)

Brenda said...

At first I thought that the parents had left the 8 yr old alone with the younger siblings and nearly freaked. If Dad left them inside, alone, for 6 hrs without checking on them VERY frequently, it is almost as bad as leaving them on their own. You're making a good choice in not allowing your daughter to go over and play in such situations.

Maggie - Mom of Six said...

Okay, rule #1 in my house is that you don't go play at a friends where the parent(s) are either not home or are busy with the big projects (yard, buffing the wood floors, etc).

Because my dh worked construction as low man on the totem pole for a long time, it was left up to me to get the yard done as well as the house. This meant leaving my older kids in charge of my younger ones (8yo in charge of 3yo and 1yo). I would mow in 1/2 hour spurts and check on the kids unless i could see them through the window, then i would mow a little longer. But, if anything happened with markers and the like during that 1/2 hour or so, the 8yo was not the one in trouble. Unless of course, he joined in on the fun - heehee.

What bothers me here is not that the father worked on the yard leaving the 8yo in charge but, that he did not check on the kids and got mad at the 8yo for being a kid.

Kel said...

I'm of the mind that 8 is a bit young to be in charge of a toddler. I get the whole you can 'help' me thing when they entertain while I do stuff in the house, but to have her be 'in charge' not so much. I don't think I would be comfortable with my daughter being there in that instance.

dlyn said...

An 8 year old might be able to help out by watching a toddler for a few minutes while Mom takes a shower or does some work on the computer. But for that long? No way. I don't think an 8 years old should be left by themselves for that long, never mind in charge of other kids as well. And I think I would talk with the friend about it. Though really, that would depend on the circumstance probably.

Amanda said...

Being 8 is too young. She should be allowed to be a child and not left to look after a toddler. Poor child.
But it's ok to amuse or help out for a few mins at a time. We have all done that.

Joanna said...

8 is way too young! Go with your gut. No way would I let my kid go play without a parent around.

MamaGeek said...

I, of course, am with my girl Toni. Good selection Kellan!

auntie said...

well, i don't even have any kids, but i'm going to throw my opinion in anyway! i agree with toni, i wouldnt feel comfortable letting my 8-year-old be inside the house when the person "in charge" is another 8-year-old. do they ever use the stove? can they reach the knives? i mean...good grief! that's frightening.

on the other hand, knowing that is what's going on in the house down the street - even if you've removed your child from the situation - would make me very uneasy. i think i'd try to talk with the wife to let her know that you don't feel comfortable allowing your daughter to be there when she's not home & dad is playing edward scissorhands, and explain why as well. maybe she's not fully aware of what goes on when she's not home.

i guess the way i look at it is this: knowing what you know right now, if something tragic happened (heaven forbid), would you feel responsible in any way? would you feel like there was something you could have done to prevent it? these kids are too young to understand all the things that could happen if they aren't watching the littlest one all the time, so i believe the responsibility lies with the adults in their world. ideally, that would be their parents, but sometimes it takes a village, if you know what i mean!

Rebecca a.k.a. Mum said...

Yes I agree, 8 is way to young to watch a 20 month old, and even the 4 year old for that long.

I think it would be OK to watch both if the father was just out mowing the lawn for like 20-30 mins, he could be looking in and making sure everything was OK, but 6 hours (btw the guy is obviously anal and an odd one) is insane....WAY to much responsibility for an 8 y/o.

I would not let my daughter play over there in that situation either, I would be worried whey they would be getting into and what was happening with the other 2 kids.

He is being selfish and irresponsible and I think the mother needs to be aware this is happening every weekend.

Sad his *chores* are more important than the kids. :(

rthling said...

Growing up in a house where the olderst was responsible for the younger, and the authority trickled down from above, I can see the beauty of having a responsible eight year old around. But certainly not while I am outside for six hours, while no adult is supervising, and definitely not responsible for damage done by the youngers.
When we were little, my older sister and I would ride our bikes, all by ourselves to the pool, which was about five miles away, and be there all day without so much as being checked on by our single mother. It never occurred to us that it might be unusual. Chris was always in charge, and if anything happened to me, she was responsible.
All that said, in this day and age, I would NEVER let my kids disappear for the entire day without supervision.
This dad is clearly absorbed in what he's doing, and doesn't realize his kids are paying for his obsession. He needs to dial in the Daddy, and get with it. And I can't imagine that the mom doesn't know what goes on while she's gone. Kids have a way of keeping parents up to date with the goings on, if you know what I mean.

dani said...

in our state, if the house were to catch fire say or if something happened to any of those children, the father would at least be charged with neglect and manslaughter if a child (heaven forbid) were to perish!!!
toni, i totally agree that it is not a good situation, and i certainly wouldn't let my child be in the house unsupervised!!!

The Boyds Family said...

I think that is way too much responsibility for an 8yo.

It's one thing to have them help out while you're doing a few things around the house, but still keeping an eye on things. It's an entirely different ball game to do your own thing while your child is tending to the household and you have no idea what's going on.

What if something life threatening were to happen?? Something way more dramatic than drawing on the walls??

Walls can be painted and material items can be replaced - you can't say the same thing about a life.

I'm with you. I would not let my children go over there - probably not even when the parents are home because, I would worry that they expect this of her all the time and I would not want my child to be around if something were to happen.

I would just encourage the other little girl to come over to my house and play when her parents are home and she's not being made to watch the baby.

Sheri said...

I agree - 8 is way too young to be alone with a toddler. The punishment was not at all appropriate! Occasional, 10-30 minutes so mom can have a break is one thing, but you ought to realize that you are putting a KID in charge of a KID!

Jaina said...

As an EIGHT YEAR OLD, it is NOT Rachel's job to be Sadie's mom. She's ONLY 8! Steve needs to step up and be a dad. I'm sure his precious lawn can wait until Sunday when his wife is home. I mean really, let's put that to the scales for a moment: lawn vs. living breathing children. It should be a no brainer. Rachel shouldn't even be left to be completely in charge of herself, let alone herself AND a toddler. That is way too much responsibility. The only person who should be grounded from the computer for life is Steve. That is completely unacceptable. You have to take a test to drive a car, why isn't there something like that for becoming a parent?
I have zero patience for such wreckless child endangerment. Luckily it was only markers. But what happens next time when it's knives or fire or the gas main or the bathtub? What happens then? If, God forbid, something were to happen to Sadie while in Rachel's care, it would be Steve, NOT Rachel who would get raked over the coals in a court of law.
Good job for Toni for taking steps to make sure her daughter is safe.

girlytwins said...

8 is way to young to be in charge of a baby. I agree that she can help out...and maybe even for 30 minutes or so...but 6 hours is crazy. An 8 year old only has a certain attention span and holding her responsible for what the baby did is ridiculous. Poor thing. I feel bad for her. I would not let my kids play in that house without adult supervision either.


I definitely do not think you're overreacting by not letting your daughter be involved when there's no adult supervision. I think the dad is in the wrong for making that little girl responsible for her sister.
I have kids that age too...when my DD was 8, her baby sister was 3. I never made her responsible for her sister in any way, and still don't now that they're 12 and 7. I think it's unfair and dangerous.

common mom said...

When I was 5, my brother was 8, and we were home alone all day all summer. We, of course, lived in a small farming community where everyone knows everyone and my mother knew if we swore or got in trouble before we did! Damn neighbors ;-)

Anyway - this was necessary and times were different.

What you're talking about, Dad home yet taking no responsibility for his children . . . totally uncalled for. Sure Rachel should help out - it's part of being a family. But not so Dad can do whatever it is he's doing outside.

I wouldn't let my child play in the house with just Rachel and toddler. I would, however, let them play outside together, where I could keep an eye on them.

You're ultimately responsible for your child . . . and you do what you think is best for them. Keeping your kids where you can see them is not a terrible thing.

Janet said...

I'm with Toni. Rachel is not the parent and it is not her responsibility to care for a baby all day long. She is not being allowed to be a kid. Steve is a moron and possibly could qualify as abusive, at least emotionally. The mother should be informed of his idiocy. And really, mowing the yard twice a day? He has issues and probably needs therapy.