One day, you think how nice it would be to go out without the hassle of finding a babysitter, and like a bolt of lightning it hits you: can a 14 year old babysit siblings? There is hardly a more gleeful day than when you realize your older kid is officially at an age to start babysitting. Just think of the possibilities: Grocery shopping by yourself! Maybe even—gasp!—an evening visiting the new local wine bar.
Oh, and the money you’ll save by not paying a babysitter! Or, wait … do you have to pay the older sibling? Surely he should help out just because he’s part of the family, right?
Not so fast, says Dr. Vivian Sierra, licensed marriage and family therapist in St. Louis.
“If the babysitting siblings becomes regular and takes up an entire day or evening, remember it can keep the older sib from participating in other activities or earning money babysitting elsewhere,” she says. It also can impact the siblings’ relationship if the older sibling resents the uncompensated responsibility.
On the other hand, many families are not in a position to pay, particularly at the going rate, and consider it a household chore like any other. “Choosing to pay or not can be controversial and is above all an individual family choice,” says Sierra.
Babysitting siblings can be a great way for your older sib to learn some life skills, responsibility, and what it means to take care of others. “In my experience, babysitting is a great experience for teenagers in most every way,” says Dr. John Duffy, a clinical psychologist in private practice, teen expert, and author of The Available Parent: Radical Optimism for Raising Teens and Tweens. “It provides them with the opportunity to prove themselves capable and responsible for perhaps the first major time in their lives, charged with taking care of a child or children.”
The joyous day I first left my oldest with my youngest two, I learned a valuable lesson. The oldest has limited authority if the younger ones won’t cooperate. So, I decided to divide up the babysitting fee. If they could co-exist without calls to mom—besides in an emergency, of course—they each got a little spending money.
So if you find yourself wondering “Can a 14-year-old babysit siblings?” Remember, whatever challenges your siblings face, everyone can compromise for a solution that works. Believe me, that compromise felt like money well spent as I sat and enjoyed a phone-call-free second cup of coffee.