12-Year-Olds Need a Babysitter?

You'll never guess if this guy softens up as he becomes a babysitter.

Ok, I would hire Bill Murray as a babysitter even for ME. But there’s a bigger issue here.

Readers — Here you go, from commenter Laura:

Dear Free-Range Kids: Just me venting.  I subscribe to Entertainment Weekly, and in their fall movie previews in their current issue, they preview “St. Vincent”, a film starring Bill Murray and Melissa McCarthy.  Melissa and her 12 yo son move into this new area after a divorce and the first thing she needs is a babysitter for her son! 

Now,  maybe the grumpy old man can be the neighbor  her son goes to if he needs help — but a flat out babysitter?

Even pop culture is telling parents that pre-teens are helpless!

I’ve attached a screenshot of my digital edition page of the preview. 


Here’s a bit of what the blurb says:

“Over the course of Melfi’s bittersweet indie comedy, Vincent unexpectedly [Lenore here: HA!] softens after bonding with his new next-door neighbors, a single mom, Maggie (Melissa McCarthy) and particularly her 12-year-old son, Oliver (newcomer Jaeden Lieberher). Overwhelmed by her recent divorce, a move, and a new full-time job as a hospital tech, Maggie is just desperate enough to pay the not-exactly-reliable Vincent $11 an hour for Oliver’s after-school care. “She’s not making good decisions, that’s for sure,” McCarthy says of her character. “But what else is she supposed to do? She has to work, she has to keep going, she has to take care of her son…” 

Just reinforcing social norms.

Just reinforcing social norms while entertaining you.

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90 Responses to 12-Year-Olds Need a Babysitter?

  1. Jill August 19, 2014 at 11:20 am #

    I hope she did a background check on that old man. He looks kind of creepy to me.

  2. Suzanne Lucas August 19, 2014 at 11:24 am #

    Just for the record, I was babysitting for other people, for money, at 11. In fact, my first paid babysitting gig was for a neighbor with 5 kids and the oldest was 6. Yep. At 11.

    True, my mom was just around the corner should an emergency have happened (it didn’t), but I was responsible for those kids.

    During football season, I would watch them for 10ish hours while the parents went to their alma mater’s games, about 1.5 hours away, pre-cell phones.

    I babysat for them for three more years, until they had 8 kids–then we moved. (The ended up with a total of 14!)

  3. BL August 19, 2014 at 12:04 pm #

    They’re called babysitters for a reason. They’re for babies. You know – pre-articulate, un-potty-trained, not-yet-able-to-walk really really tiny people. Those babies.

  4. Sharon Davids August 19, 2014 at 12:06 pm #

    At age 11 I was watching alone a full classroom at least 20 kids all first graders for part of a lunch hour. I managed (to my own horror) to fire my afterschool babysitter at 10 because my mom would ask my sister, the babysitter, and I how our afternoon was and I was the only one that answered.

  5. Kate August 19, 2014 at 12:09 pm #

    My girls both started babysitting at 11. I know many people around here who hire sitters for 12 year olds and younger siblings, even for a couple hours. I think many kids who have not been given any independence/responsibility are helpless. And I think their parents worry and fear the worst.

  6. Dirk. August 19, 2014 at 12:10 pm #

    Parents need to be left to make reasonable decisions for their children and not be told what to do. Who knows, maybe this fictional mother has a great reason for getting a fictional babysitter for her fictional 12 year old. Maybe the fictional 12 year old is really immature. Maybe the fictional 12 year old isn’t dealing with the divorce real well. Maybe the fictional 12 year old needs a tutor. Maybe the fictional 12 year old’s mom need to work a double and she doesn’t want her fictional 12 year old home alone until midnight. We can’t condemn anyone for their parenting choices ever!

  7. BL August 19, 2014 at 12:16 pm #

    @Suzanne Lucas
    “During football season, I would watch them for 10ish hours while the parents went to their alma mater’s games, about 1.5 hours away, pre-cell phones.”

    An obvious falsehood! Nobody could possibly live without cellphones!


  8. Red August 19, 2014 at 12:16 pm #

    Yeah, she “needs” a babysitter because even afterschool programs aren’t bat shit crazy enough to think there’s a market for middle schoolers.

    I’ve actually heard several parents in real life complaining that they can’t find an afterschool care program that will take their neurotypical 12-year-old/6th grader, and I have always stared at them in disbelief. If your 12-year-old/6th grader has no special needs but still requires afterschool care, that’s a parenting fail. Nothing else.

  9. MichaelF August 19, 2014 at 12:28 pm #

    Well it’s one of those feel good movies. Old curmudgeon is suddenly changed by the irascible and charming young boy and they both learn about life. I’m guessing in this case they are going after the pre-teen market so make the kid older, and then maybe they can add in some body humor to make it look realistic.

    You can’t look for enemies everywhere, or you will find them.

  10. Nadine August 19, 2014 at 12:28 pm #

    I ran in to my neighbors house and hollered for help when i was young. Nobody ever got payed for that. Because of that i was never really alone.
    i knew not to do stupid stuff cause i would get a earfull…. And how to cook.

  11. Warren August 19, 2014 at 12:28 pm #

    And Dirk, that is why we shouldn’t condemn you for your fictional fears, your fictional logic, but will condemn you for being obnoxious.

  12. Sandra August 19, 2014 at 12:29 pm #

    My 12 year old would be fine on his own, or even watching his 10 year old brother, but put him in charge of both the 10 yr old and the 7 year old brother and for sure things would escalate. Maybe not to house burning down levels, but enough to where I’m comfortable with letting him officially “babysit” yet. I am just now starting to be OK with leaving him in charge of the two younger ones when I go out to walk the dogs around the neighborhood. That only takes about 30 min and usually they are playing video games and sitting in same place I left them when I get back.

  13. Rob August 19, 2014 at 12:29 pm #

    When I was 12 I didn’t need a babysitter; I was the babysitter (mostly for my social studies teacher, who lived down the street.). Unless you’ve raised your child to be an irresponsible brat, there is no way that a 12 year old requires a babysitter after school.

  14. Melinda Tripp August 19, 2014 at 12:31 pm #

    I began helping moms with their children at 10 yrs of age….I was extremely responsible, for my age.
    But that aside, I teach children how to care for themselves after school, how to walk home safely, not flinging their key around proclaiming they are off to be alone at home, how to check their house before entering for obvious problems, lock the door call in to their safe adult, and begin their afternoon.
    If children have chores and homework and can make themselves a snack, they are all set.
    One of our great granddaughters has 3 siblings she has to get off to school, and care for all afternoon, because of her mother’s work hours. This is something they can do. I learned a great deal from babysitting. I learned I was good with kids, and became a teacher.
    If children are taught and given responsibility, parents are more likely to let them have it in the future.

  15. SKL August 19, 2014 at 12:39 pm #

    Well … I remember when I was a kid and I saw The Exorcist, and I could not understand why the mom called her 12yo “baby.” I’ve always found the media treatment of kids to be infantile. Well, maybe not so much back in the black-and-white days, but since I was a kid, it’s been a pet peeve of mine.

  16. Dirk August 19, 2014 at 12:58 pm #

    What fears? I have no fear that leaving my kid in the car or at home will result in either damage to my kids or legal problems. I have no fear that letting a responsible child of a reasonable age stay home alone for a reasonable time will come to harm are cause an issue with the law. I have fear that a child who is old enough to walk to school or a playground or take the subway will encounter danger or get me in trouble. You live in fear. Not me. This entire website is designed to push the libertarian fear button in order to sell books and tv commercials. This is probably the easiest job Lenore has ever had. What a con this all is. You have been snookered.

  17. Dirk August 19, 2014 at 1:00 pm #

    ahem, I have NO fear that a child who is old enough to walk to school or a playground or take the subway will encounter danger or get me in trouble.

  18. Aimee August 19, 2014 at 1:00 pm #

    When my only-child son was 12 I still felt best when he walked to the Boys & Girls Club for a couple of hours after school rather than walking home to an empty (lonely) house until his Dad & I got home. Could he function on his own at home? Absolutely. But human companionship has value, and inter-generational companionship (depicted in the movie in question) has even bigger value, IMHO.

    I suspect this movie is more about the intergenerational friendship that develops and the “after-care” set-up is just the conceit to get the plot moving. Frankly, the old guy is probably more likely than the mom to encourage the kid to climb trees, skip stones across the pond, or run around outside, because that’s what HE did as a boy!

  19. Stacy August 19, 2014 at 1:05 pm #

    I don’t know whether there are any circumstances that make paying him to babysit more reasonable, e.g. really long hours, worrying about how her son is coping with the divorce, wanting a male role model for him. At least it’s not teaching that every childless man is a danger to children. The character is apparently not a “model” babysitter, from what I’ve read, but his relationship with the boy does him more good than harm.

    On the general topic, my son has plenty of friends who’ve stayed home alone for long stretches starting between age ten and twelve. Meanwhile, other parents make their middle schoolers wait all afternoon at the library until they can be picked up, making the librarians free de facto babysitters. The bus routes have been reduced, but the weather was fine for a healthy kid to walk home. The poor librarian was in strong agreement when I noted — when the middle schoolers were obnoxiously loud — that my eleven-year-old was home letting himself in and making himself a snack and at that age I took care of my little sister all afternoon. The boys who have been give more responsibility seem more mature and responsible — shocking I know.

  20. Emily August 19, 2014 at 1:06 pm #

    >>They’re called babysitters for a reason. They’re for babies. You know – pre-articulate, un-potty-trained, not-yet-able-to-walk really really tiny people. Those babies.<<

    Well, speaking clearly, being able to walk, and achieving continence, seems to be a rather low cut-off for no longer needing a babysitter (for example, I wasn't a bad kid, but I once tried to make it rain in my bedroom at age six, following a science experiment about condensation at school, I once painted one of my mom's white flowers with tempera paint after watching the Alice In Wonderland cartoon, also at age six, and I once accidentally burned the sleeve of my sweatshirt baking Fimo at age ten), but I agree that twelve is old enough to be left at home alone, at least for a few hours at a time. Far better than hiring a babysitter for a pre-teen, would be to enroll said pre-teen in a "Home Alone" course. I took one of those when I was eleven, and I remember that we learned what constitutes an emergency, which emergency numbers to call, not to let anyone know we were home alone, I'm pretty sure we learned how to do some simple first aid, and on the last evening of the course, we made Kraft Dinner. The following year, I took a babysitting course. That's the kind of thing that empowers a child, while making sure they're supervised constantly just says "We don't trust you."

  21. gap.runner August 19, 2014 at 1:10 pm #

    It sounds like 12 is the new 2 in the States. I can understand needing a babysitter for a 12-year-old child with special needs, but not a neurotypical one.

    Like some of the other commenters, I started babysitting at an early age. My mother left me to watch my brother for an hour or two to so that she could run errands when I was 10 and he was 1. At 11 I started babysitting for other people.

    I was recently watching a TV program (sorry, I forget which one) where a man was dating a woman with a 13-year-old son. The son was swimming at the pool in his apartment complex for a bit and the got out to dry off. The woman told her boyfriend that she was glad he was there so he could watch her son while she went inside and changed out of her bathing suit. When my son was 13, he would have been mortified if I mentioned that I was glad that someone could watch him while I stepped away for a few minutes.

  22. Beth August 19, 2014 at 1:18 pm #

    Dirk, can you find another site to troll on? PLEASE?

  23. Erica August 19, 2014 at 1:28 pm #

    I was babysitting for my siblings (3 and 5 years younger) until my parents got home from work, starting when I was 12. I also made dinner for the family (which I enjoyed). Nonetheless, I will have someone in the house for my kids for at least another year, even though they are now 11 and 12. Why? Mostly, because it was lonely. Can my kids be by themselves for those hours? Sure, but I don’t think they should have to – though I no longer panic if I can’t get someone to cover when the sitter has a day off.

    Honestly, while you all seem to be sure that Dirk is a troll, I actually do think that this is with the realm of reasonable discretion, and there may in fact be good reasons to have a sitter for a 12 year old. And we should leave things to parents discretion.

  24. pentamom August 19, 2014 at 1:58 pm #

    Aimee makes a good point I was thinking of. That a 12 year old may be able to function fine on his own does not necessarily mean it’s a good thing to leave a 12 year old to his own devices for hours at a time on a regular basis.

    Of course, that doesn’t mean the kid needs a “babysitter.” It can mean afterschool program, helping the neighbor with odd jobs, babysitting younger kids, whatever.

    So the premise of this movie probably IS that you need a “babysitter” for a kid that age, and that’s dumb. But some of the comments are implying that there’s no downside to a kid that young not having some kind of direction or supervision or at least companionship for significant amounts of time on a regular basis. For most kids, though not all, that’s probably not true.

  25. Vanessa August 19, 2014 at 2:10 pm #

    My daughter did go to an afterschool program in sixth grade because she had no way to get home, and when I would come to pick her up, it usually looked like she and the other older kids were bored stiff. They had already spent years playing tetherball and making lanyards in the afternoons, and they were done. She was much happier when she started middle school and it was close enough for her to walk home.

  26. Erika August 19, 2014 at 2:19 pm #

    What Aimee said. Could my 11 yr old (an only child) function on her own for a few hours after school? Absolutely. Would she want to? Absolutely not. She’d be bored and lonely. I’d much rather pay someone to hang out with her. At least then she’d have someone to interact with.

  27. bmj2k August 19, 2014 at 2:20 pm #

    I’m hoping that the point of the film will be that the kid is more self-reliant and able to take care of himself than the mother thinks he is and she learns a lesson about letting go. Mellissa McCarthy does not generally play good role models.

  28. anonymous mom August 19, 2014 at 2:22 pm #

    Weird. As others have said, I was babysitting when I was 12. From 12-14, I had a weekly babysitting gig where I watched the three kids of one of my mom’s coworkers and her husband while they went out with their bowling league. I was routinely there until midnight. Nobody ever seemed uncomfortable or nervous about the situation. In fact, I stopped babysitting when I was about to turn 15 and felt ready for a “real” job, and thought I was too old to be babysitting. They got a new babysitter who was 12 or 13 to replace me. And this was in a middle-class bourgie NJ suburb, the exact kind of place where today everybody helicopters.

    Just speculating, but I wonder if we’re partly seeing people not use preteens and younger teens as babysitters because there’s so many older people available now to babysit. High school students and even college students today are much less likely to have the kinds of jobs we may have had as teens and young adults–retail, restaurants, etc.–both because of economic factors (more older workers are now taking those jobs) and because of social changes (fewer families expect or want them to work). So while 15 or 20 years ago somebody like me might have felt “too old” to babysit at 15 or 16 and instead got a “real” job, today there’s plenty of high school and college students who are available and willing to babysit. And many people will pick a 19 or 20 year old over a 12 or 13 year old to babysit, if a 19 year old is available and willing.

    The members of Ann M. Martin’s Babysitter’s Club were 13 in the books, for whatever that information is worth.

  29. Erika August 19, 2014 at 2:26 pm #

    Adding on: said 11 yr old is definitely responsible enough to babysit. But that’s different than being by herself in an empty house.

  30. Brian August 19, 2014 at 2:34 pm #

    “Could my 11 yr old (an only child) function on her own for a few hours after school? Absolutely. Would she want to? Absolutely not. She’d be bored and lonely. I’d much rather pay someone to hang out with her. At least then she’d have someone to interact with.”

    No, no, no, no, no, etc.

    Part of parenting is teaching your kids how to amuse themselves without constant companionship. Does your home have no books? Legos? Art projects? A backyard? Even video games?

    What was I doing when I was 11 and had some time alone? Well, I had a swingset in the backyard, K’nex and Lego sets to work on, books to read, a computer chess game to practice against, a clarinet to practice…you know, the sorts of productive things a child needs to be alone to work on! An 11 year old kid should not be so dependent on company that they can’t entertain themselves for a few hours. That’s not to say they shouldn’t be able to play with friends too, again without supervision, but paying someone to play with your 11 year old?

  31. Rachel August 19, 2014 at 2:37 pm #

    This would be a much more interesting movie concept if they flipped it around. Due to medical (and/or mental) issues, Bill Murray needs a part-time caretaker or he’ll have to move into an assisted living facility. His twelve-year-old neighbor takes on his first “babysitting” job… for a 63-year-old man!

  32. Donald August 19, 2014 at 2:37 pm #

    I don’t know what the fuss is about. Children are precious and need to be nurtured. When they reach the age of 22, the backbone angel (tooth fairies cousin) will grant them a spine.

  33. Lainie August 19, 2014 at 2:38 pm #

    I can share in the dismay with thinking that *every* 12-year-old needs a babysitter. I particularly enjoy the notion that my husband and I are pretty much past that point with our kids, and can spend a date night without having to think about the “meter running” the whole time.

    With that said, there are kids in our lives who – despite their age – do need supervision. Perhaps it’s a difficult sibling conflict. Maybe there are shades of mental illness, or of a desire for self-harm.

    I just want people to remember that we we haven’t seen the inside of these relationships, and we don’t quite know what’s at work – only what’s reported to us.

  34. Nicole 2 August 19, 2014 at 2:38 pm #

    The only scenario I see getting a sitter for a 12 year old after school involves either the 12 year old having a disability or the 12 year old thinking he or she is 21 and not being trustworthy (ie:if left unattended will cause chaos). Both of those scenarios involve working to get that kid has independent as he or she can get, and I doubt this film is dealing with those, rather complex, dynamics.

    The plot would sound more interesting were this kid being left home alone after school and befriending the neighbor.

  35. Jen (P.) August 19, 2014 at 2:40 pm #

    @Anonymous Mom – In my neck of the woods older kids are willing to babysit for the additional reason that it pays better than most of the other jobs for which they’re qualified. $10/hour is the going rate for a couple of kids – more than they’d earn at a fast food place and no withholding. I had a regular babysitting gig beginning in 5th grade. When I was 14 or 15 I started working in my mom’s office during the summer, and I don’t think I ever babysat again.

    My 11yo took the Red Cross babysitting course this past summer and she and a friend made an adorable flyer that they distributed through the neighborhood – not a single call.

  36. anonymous mom August 19, 2014 at 2:46 pm #

    @Jen P., your daughter and her friend should try undercutting the competition. 😉 I teach college, and each term I’ll have a few students tell me, when they learn I have kids, that they would be available to babysit. I keep a list of the students who have offered, and usually if we need a sitter, I’ll send out an e-mail to the list and see if I can find anybody. I pay them about $12/hour, because we’ve got a bunch of kids.

    But, a friend of mine has a 12yo daughter who now babysits, and she’ll watch my kids for $5/hr. I’m a lot more likely to use her, unless it’s going to be really late.

  37. Jen (P.) August 19, 2014 at 2:51 pm #

    That’s a good idea! She’d do it for next to nothing – she loves little kids. She spends so much time playing with our neighbor’s 6 and 3 yo’s she’s really undercutting herself – they have no need to pay her 😀

  38. Donna August 19, 2014 at 2:54 pm #

    I would have been extremely embarrassed if my mother had hired a babysitter for me at 12. I was the babysitter at 12. Heck, I considered allowing my almost 9 year old to go home alone on afternoons that I am in court this year, but court can be unpredictable and I can’t just leave if a need arises. I may not even be able to answer her call or call her back for several hours. Almost 9 seemed a little young for that to me. She’ll definitely be doing it before 12 though.

  39. Susan August 19, 2014 at 2:57 pm #

    The 11-year-old down the street babysits my 4 and 6 year old for an hour and a half every Monday. I have to leave to go teach a night class at the local CC and my husband isn’t home yet from work. Works out great. My kids love her and she’s quite dependable. And HER mother loves it that she has a job and is being responsible.

  40. E August 19, 2014 at 2:58 pm #

    Ok – this is a big overreaction for a movie that isn’t even out yet and no one has seen. In fact, it’s a PG13 movie, so we don’t have to worry about 12 year olds getting complex about staying home alone LOL.

    Here’s the trailer:

    But good grief, a fictional kid, who moves (w/o a fictional father) to a fictional new home, and becomes friends with his fictional “sitter” next door (a flawed old drunk it seems).

    Find your outrage somewhere else. The idea of having someone look after/spend time with your kid when you are in a new town with a new school…not at all outrageous.

  41. Donna August 19, 2014 at 3:06 pm #

    Ummm, I also moved when I was 12. To an entirely different part of the country. Still didn’t develop a need for a babysitter or for my parents to pay someone to hang out with me. I was lonely for short while which motivated me to join some school activities, make some friends and get a job at the horse farm up the road.

  42. Emily August 19, 2014 at 3:07 pm #

    >>The members of Ann M. Martin’s Babysitter’s Club were 13 in the books, for whatever that information is worth.<<

    Actually, the four original members (Kristy, Claudia, Mary Anne, and Stacey) were twelve when the series started, then later turned thirteen, and stayed thirteen indefinitely. When Dawn Schafer joined, she was twelve or thirteen as well, as were several other members (Logan, Shannon, and Abby come to mind) when they joined. When the two junior members, Mallory and Jessi, joined the Babysitters' Club, they were only eleven years old. I'm not sure if they ever got any older, but my point is, they were babysitting at the age of eleven. Granted, they couldn't babysit at night (unless it was for their own siblings), but they were treated as responsible sitters, just the same as the older members of the club…..who weren't even that much older.

  43. Warren August 19, 2014 at 3:20 pm #

    Am I the only one that wishes Dirk had a babysitter to keep off the computer?

  44. E August 19, 2014 at 3:33 pm #

    @Donna – it’s a movie! It’s a comedy! It’s rated PG-13 and no one has even seen it.

    Is the Mom paranoid? Does she get in trouble because he’s not got supervision? Does she work evenings? Does Bill Murray’s character hit her up for the gig because he’s broke? Did the kid’ father die? Who knows?

    Michael said it best:
    “You can’t look for enemies everywhere, or you will find them.”

  45. anonymous mom August 19, 2014 at 3:48 pm #

    @Jen P., that’s actually why I think 11-13 or so is kind of an ideal age to babysit. I know a few kids that age who will voluntarily spend time just hanging out with my two preschoolers, because they think it’s fun. Older teens might find hanging out with little kids fun for a few minutes, but they tend to get bored with it pretty quickly.

    But kids in the 11-13 range are at that great age where they can still genuinely enjoy “kid” stuff and have fun doing it, but also are mature and responsible enough to supervise younger kids.

  46. Gpo August 19, 2014 at 3:53 pm #

    Last summer my 12 yo was our sitter for 3 days a week for 6 hours. And last wee we start the learning process on the now 9 yo. She stayed home alone for about 20 mins. And guess what she is allergic to certain foods. But guess what we have taught her the rules and she reads packages better than me.

  47. lollipoplover August 19, 2014 at 4:01 pm #

    @E- It’s not just the movie but a culture shift that assumes older kids need constant supervision.
    Ever watch “Jessie” on Disney Channel? Its about a nanny in NYC and I think the kids are almost as old as she is.

    My 11 yo got a few babysitting jobs by offering to play with kids and teach them to swim at our swim club. Offering herself as a mother’s helper and actively playing with kids (and getting them to request her) got her a few regular gigs in our neighborhood. Still, her close friend who is also 11 (and has a 14 yo brother) has a full time babysitter. I guess each of us knows our kids best, but if you never allow them to be alone, how can you develop self-reliance?

  48. Donna August 19, 2014 at 4:01 pm #

    E – Yes, it is a movie. A movie that could have contrived any number of ways for an old curmudgeon to bond with his younger neighbor and chose one that treats 12 year olds like infants.

    Since it is a comedy, I guess that the 12 year old needing a babysitter bit could be played for laughs, but I don’t get that impression based on the blurb. And, frankly, I know way too many people who do believe that middle school kids need babysitters to automatically assume that there will be some comedic bent to this.

    I certainly don’t think this is the end of the world, but since Lenore brought it up, I’m willing to discuss it.

  49. E August 19, 2014 at 4:42 pm #

    Ok, now we have to judge and whine about feature film comedies that we haven’t seen and have no idea what the context is?

    I’d be more concerned about the kid being exposed to day drinking and cigarettes and no seatbelts (all seen in the trailer) if I wanted to get worked up about a movie, lol.

    No lollipoplover, I haven’t seen that show, never heard of it.

  50. E August 19, 2014 at 4:47 pm #

    BTW, the trailer shows the women in scrubs and who appears to work in a hospital — maybe she works nights and needs help in the evenings.

    But I thought this whole FR idea was doing what works best for your family situation while empowering kids when it makes sense (to you and your family). How about cutting the completely fictional mom a break before you judge her fictional situation since we now ZERO about it.

    Heck, for all we know, the Mom gets and education about her kid being trustworthy/old/mature enough to look after himself in the end, lol.

  51. Christina August 19, 2014 at 4:48 pm #

    Now that I’ve gotten ice for the bruise forming on my forehead, may I just say that I was babysitting other people’s children at the age of 12? Words, so many words. And so few of them printable…

  52. SKL August 19, 2014 at 4:50 pm #

    Maybe she needs a babysitter because CPS has a file on her for leaving her kid in the car for 5 minutes. :/

  53. Emily August 19, 2014 at 4:54 pm #

    Here’s another thought: Maybe the film would have been better if the mother hadn’t been looking for a babysitter for her son, per se, but rather, an older male role model, or if she hadn’t been looking at all, but the boy and the man had met each other organically (except for that whole paranoia about all adult males being predators). Anyway, the storyline would have been pretty much exactly the same without the “babysitter” element, and the movie wouldn’t be indirectly promoting the idea that twelve-year-olds should be treated like toddlers.

  54. Crystal August 19, 2014 at 5:03 pm #

    When I was 12, I got my first full-time job. Yup, from 8 to 5 Monday through Friday, I…wait for it…BABYSAT two children completely by myself while the parents worked several towns away. I even biked myself there and back every day! And my parents never even called to check on me. And I’m in my 20s, so it’s not like it was that long ago.

  55. Emily August 19, 2014 at 5:06 pm #

    >>My daughter did go to an afterschool program in sixth grade because she had no way to get home, and when I would come to pick her up, it usually looked like she and the other older kids were bored stiff. They had already spent years playing tetherball and making lanyards in the afternoons, and they were done. She was much happier when she started middle school and it was close enough for her to walk home.<<

    Yes, this. I've always been an introvert, and when my mom started law school when I was in grade four, my brother and I would walk to a neighbour's house after school every day, for "after school care," because my dad worked. The neighbour had five kids of her own, and babysat all the neighbourhood kids after school, and during March break, etc., when their parents couldn't be there. This wasn't an ideal arrangement for me, because it meant that my "interactive day" grew from a six-and-half-hour school day (our school ran from 9 a.m. to 3:30 p.m.), to LONGER than a full traditional 9-5 work day. Even if my dad finished work right at five o'clock, it still took him about half an hour to get from work to the neighbour's house. Sometimes, he'd be later, if he had clients who stayed late, and sometimes, my brother and I would have to go to the neighbour's house in the mornings before school, if my dad had to go to court early, or had an early meeting, or something. The neighbour kids weren't bad, and neither were the other kids that went there–I mean, we fought and argued like all kids did, but we got used to each other over time, and learned to get along. Still, there was no way to have any "alone time" there, because it was a lot of kids crammed into a smallish house, and this was after a full day of school. Back then, the cut-off age to be home alone was twelve, and I was SO happy when I finally turned twelve and was given a house key. I didn't sneak around or get in trouble after school; I just wanted some time to myself, and I was finally able to have that. So, for all the people who are arguing, "Coming home to an empty house after school is lonely," not all kids feel that way.

  56. E August 19, 2014 at 5:28 pm #

    @Emily – you bring up a great point. This film depicts a Mom who is willing to let her kid be watched by a grown single man! Hooray for breaking THAT stereotype right?

  57. Celeste August 19, 2014 at 5:38 pm #

    Thank you E. I agree with you. At best this conversation is unproductive, with a heavy dusting of smug self-righteousness around how young we all were when we embarked on our illustrious babysitting careers back in the day. At worst it’s a sort of nasty, overly critical thread that belittles what may be perfectly reasonable parenting choices made by others who could have a host of different considerations to address that we don’t.

  58. Donna August 19, 2014 at 5:47 pm #

    E – Our media reflects society in many ways. If the thought doesn’t cross people’s minds, however briefly, when reading the above blurb about the movie, “hmmm, why would a 12 year old even need an after-school babysitter,” it means that the idea that 12 year olds need after-school care is becoming more ingrained in society.

    I don’t think Lenore is saying that we should be enraged by this. Or that we should boycott the movie. Or even that the movie will not have a perfectly reasonable explanation as to why this 12 year old boy needs after-school care. But it is disheartening as it appears to be a reflection of what is going on in the real world.

  59. E August 19, 2014 at 5:47 pm #

    @Celeste — yes the whole thing is, well, strikes me as odd. If you watch the trailer (I linked it in a prior post) it’s clear that very few people would entrust their kid to this guy, no matter how old they were, lol. He’s looking for some money, drinks when he’s supervising the kid, smokes, and drives w/o seatbelts.

    It’s a MOVIE. Why are we taking this one aspect of it so seriously like everything else in it isn’t completely unrealistic.

    There are SCADS of PG13 movies that depict things that we don’t see in society (or shouldn’t). It’s entertainment.

  60. SteveS August 19, 2014 at 5:52 pm #

    I guess I am not going to get too bent out of shape. I wouldn’t get a babysitter for a 12 year old or an 11 year old, for that matter. That being said, I haven’t seen the movie. Maybe the writers, producer, and director felt that the plot/jokes/dialog worked best with a character that was 12.

    Maybe they are trying to promote a message or a certain viewpoint, but 99% of all movies don’t realistically depict their subject matter.

  61. Donna August 19, 2014 at 6:05 pm #

    “But I thought this whole FR idea was doing what works best for your family situation”

    If that was fully what Lenore was saying then there would be no need for Free Range Kids. Most parents are doing what they feel is best for their family situations, helicopter parents included. The idea of Free Range Kids is that society is reasonably safe and kids are more capable than society is currently giving them credit for being and parents don’t have to feel that constant supervision is what is needed.

    However, the idea isn’t that helicopter parents – whether real or fictional – are evil people who desire to handicap their children. It is that they are buying into the media hype that kids need constant supervision. And now we have another media production that, on its face, appears to support the idea that 12 year olds need constant supervision and even hanging out with a drunk adult is better than being unsupervised. The movie may end up being very different and we will all feel stupid, but that is the view that the marketing of the movie is putting forward right now.

  62. anonymous mom August 19, 2014 at 7:06 pm #

    I was reading an article last week–I cannot remember what, or I’d link, but I think it was one linked to here or in an article posted here–which cited a Census finding that only 27% of 10-12 year olds are left in self-care. Now, even assuming that the average is pretty meaningless because many, many fewer 10 year olds are left in self-care than 12 year olds, it still seems to indicate that there are many 12 year olds–many more than we could expect to have special needs or be only children or have another extenuating circumstance that might explain why they needed another person brought in to watch them–whose parents feel they cannot be left to care for themselves for short periods.

    And, regardless of whether this movie is good or bad, that’s troubling.

  63. Celeste August 19, 2014 at 7:50 pm #

    The movie aside – When I see the term ‘self-care’ I don’t think of ‘short periods of time’ (i.e., staying home while parent goes to store, runs errands, etc)…To me (and maybe I’m wrong about this) the term connotes leaving children alone regularly and for longer periods of time (like, for example, every weekday for several hours). Which is absolutely fine for plenty of 12 year olds. Maybe not the best scenario for others. 12 is arbitrary. But since I think the typical American family has changed since we were kids (more mothers in paid labor force/more dual income families/more single parent families), it’s not surprising that there’s an increase in the need for afterschool programs. 12-year-olds are not babies, but they are children. So if you replace the word “babysitter” with “childcare” then it’s not altogether unreasonable that parents who don’t get home from work until the evening might want to make some arrangements for their kids after school. It’s certainly not required, but it’s not what I would describe as troubling, either.

  64. Gina August 19, 2014 at 8:31 pm #

    Of course a 12 year old boy doesn’t need a babysitter.

    As the spouse of a screenwriter, I will tell you that one has to write “what will sell”. And the studios change scripts to “what will sell”. And in this case, Melissa McCarthy and Bill Murray will sell this movie. It’s not supposed to be reality, it’s a romantic comedy.

  65. E. Simms August 19, 2014 at 8:46 pm #

    Blue Bloods has this movie beat. On one episode Frank’s (Tom Selleck) daughter asked him to “watch” her fifteen year old perfectly normal daughter when she was going to be late. The show has also shown parents getting a babysitter for a twelve year old boy.

    This and their continual “it’s a dangerous world” message keeps me from watching except for an occasional Tom Selleck fix.

  66. E August 19, 2014 at 10:47 pm #

    @donna, you snipped my comment as if it ended with a period. My sentence went on to say “while empowering kids when it makes sense”. It makes a difference.

    It doesn’t matter if most kids do Z at age X or even if I’d like my X year old to do what your X year old does if it doesn’t make sense. I have 2 kids, same gender, same parents, same household. They didn’t get the same privileges or responsibilities on the exact same timeframe.

    If my 12 yo stayed home alone and proved to not be up to it (not following instruction, not walking the dog, eating only junk food, or whatever) then I might reevaluate the responsibility/privilege at least for a period of time.

    I get the FR ideals are to talk about the facts, the risks (or absence of them) and help parents stop worrying and give kids responsibilities. It doesn’t mean that Lenore knows more about a household than those living in it.

    But whatever, I’ve already written to much about a movie I haven’t even seen.

  67. SKL August 20, 2014 at 12:50 am #

    Most of the day care options around here go through age 12 or grade 6.

    The rec center has a teen program for the summer, but it seems to be more about community volunteering and having a way to be with other young people every day. It is supervised, though. So I guess if you have a kid who you don’t feel comfortable leaving alone, this would be an option. I think it’s fine to have an option, because there are some young teens who are not ready to be alone all day. Being in the adoption community, I can say that there are foster kids etc who are at a younger emotional age and that needs to be respected. And obviously special needs would play into the equation.

    But there is a problem because local guidelines do recommend that nobody under 12 is left home alone ever. And it’s older for babysitting another child. In Illinois the minimum legal age for a home alone child is 14. The spectre of a possible busybody complaint / CPS visit is unsettling.

  68. no rest for the weary August 20, 2014 at 1:53 am #

    Apparently, the vast majority of Americans think it should be against the law to let your kid go to the park alone until they’re shaving. Or driving. Or something.

    This film is simply reflecting the current ways the values of caring and protection are being expressed in US culture. As in, “I can’t leave my 12 year old alone after school, because…

    a. Most people think that should be illegal
    b. I remember coming home and staying alone after school when I was 8 but “times have changed”
    c. I have to cover my ass or else I will get reported to CPS for child neglect.”

    Ah, what a world.

  69. Miriam August 20, 2014 at 8:10 am #

    Our son is 53. At age 12, he was as tall as now, and looked older than 12. We farmed. He was a full time (when not in school) helper; drove tractors, trucks, tilled the ground AND babysat for his sister, age 12. A lot of farm kids are still doing that. We will NOT be watching this movie.

  70. lollipoplover August 20, 2014 at 8:34 am #

    Speaking of 12 year-olds (and 13 year-olds):

    Anyone else have rabid Little League World Series fans of the Taney Dragons? These kids are playing some exciting ball.
    My older kids are obsessed with this awesome team and especially the pitcher, 13 year-old Mo’Ne Davis, who makes the phrase “You pitch like a girl” the ultimate complement.
    She’s throwing 70 mph fastballs and pitched a shut out game.
    My son just told me she will be on the cover of Sports Illustrated. Not bad for a kid.

    I’d much rather see a movie about her (first Little League player ever on the SI cover) and what kids this age are capable of than tweens that need babysitters. So would my kids.

  71. Warren August 20, 2014 at 8:43 am #

    You really are a piece of work. “work” being substituted for another word, for the sake of this site.

    So Lenore only does this to sell sell sell? BS!

    In reality the people that are all up in arms about protecting kids from every possible risk, are in effect selling more than anyone. They are fuel for the lobbyists, that are funded by the companies that manufacture safety tech and equipment, to get new laws and regulations put in place.

    On the other hand, if Lenore can make a living, thru all this……….that is awesome, because it allows her to continue bringing all these issues to light.

    You take a lot of liberties online, most of which I know you would not do or say infront of someone like me.

    Why did you come here, run out of porn to download, and are bored?

  72. Warren August 20, 2014 at 8:46 am #

    The little league series has been awesome. One of the great things is all the players live, eat and play together on site. Which makes for a great overall experience.

  73. Jill August 20, 2014 at 8:59 am #

    I can’t get too riled up about this because it’s a movie, so any semblance to real life goes right out the window. Bill Murray is one of my favorite actors, but I wonder if a better casting choice wouldn’t have been Nicholas Cage. He could discover that the seemingly sweet kid is doing something awful, like preparing to summon Cthulhu and bring about the end of the world, and have one of his patented freakouts.
    Nobody does a better freakout than Nicholas Cage.

  74. BL August 20, 2014 at 9:34 am #

    “Anyone else have rabid Little League World Series fans”

    I live in PA and spent the day there last Sunday. Not my first time going by any means.

    It definitely looks like the kids (participants and spectators) have the run of the place without constantly being kept on a leash.

    And every time I see the kids sliding down Little League Hill on their corrugated paper sections I wonder how the safety Nazis have been kept at bay so it can continue.

    The only jarring note is the metal detectors and long list of items you can’t take in. I had to return to my car to deposit my small pocket knife. Grrrr. If you wanted to hurt someone, you could do much more damage with a baseball bat, to name only one item readily available inside the complex.

  75. mandy August 20, 2014 at 12:20 pm #

    I guess the easiest way to make a statement about this is to not go to the movie.

  76. Brian August 20, 2014 at 1:01 pm #

    SKL, just a slight correction:

    “In Illinois the minimum legal age for a home alone child is 14.”

    Not quite right. The Illinois definition of “neglected child” includes “any minor under the age of 14 years whose parent or other person responsible for the minor’s welfare leaves the minor without supervision for an unreasonable period of time without regard for the mental or physical health, safety, or welfare of that minor.” Not just the age, but also must be for an unreasonable period of time without regard for the mental or physical health, safety, or welfare of the child.

    The statute gives a long list of factors to be considered–15 in all. But you’re absolutely right that DCFS (Illinois’s version of CPS) will happily indicate you for leaving a 10 year old child at home for a few minutes without bothering to apply any of the factors, forcing you to get a lawyer to fight the charge. I know a colleague who’s defending a family in that exact circumstance–mom took her 5 year old to day camp, left the 10 year old at home with a sleeping adult, and someone showed up, called DCFS, and now they have to fight it out.

  77. Amanda August 20, 2014 at 1:06 pm #

    This kind of situation bothers me because to me it is still a form of helicoptering. Lots of the comments I read talked about they were home alone as kids this age, but it was lonely and we can’t let our kids get lonely, bored,sad or any other negative emotion, now can we?
    read about college students who are in danger of deppression, anxiety, and mental disorders the first time they leave home for college because they have never had to deal with being alone beforeand can’t cope with being lonely. If they are in a dorm with a room mate, do you think it is the roommate’s job to keep you company so you’re not lonely? These are all feeling people should learn to deal with sooner rather than later preferably while you still have the safety net of living at home as a child

  78. EricS August 20, 2014 at 1:15 pm #

    We were staying alone at home (from after school to when our parents got home from work) for at least a couple of hours, starting at the age of 7. We had neighbours we can go to should we need any assistance, and they were aware of it. But rarely did we need them to keep an eye on us. We started babysitting other kids by the time were were 12. So no, I don’t believe 12 year olds need babysitters. So long as they have proven they can be responsible enough to stay home alone. And that all starts from a very young age, when they are taught these age old, yet necessary skills. Teach your kids to be non-independent and helpless, that is what they will become. Teach them to think and fend for themselves, and have street smarts, that is what they will be.

  79. E August 20, 2014 at 1:29 pm #

    @Amanda — perhaps you are correct, but that’s armchair psychology. Just because kids might have more afterschool supervision doesn’t mean they don’t become teenagers that have friends and do things and get out of the house. I know parents of all kinds (helicopter and some bordering on neglect) and none of their kids sat at home with their parents 100% of the time. I don’t know a single parent that would not allow their HS kid to be home (or out) alone at least for some period of time.

    My mother was at home every afterschool of my life. She had a part-time job for a few years but it was during school hours. Most of my generation was like that. How come all of us with stay at home parents didn’t struggle with ‘being alone’. Heck, I grew up in a household of 8 people…it was pretty hard for us to be alone even if we were ready/willing/able.

    There are tons of things that factor into depression. Social media and media in general have bombarded this generation. You are validated by how many followers, “friends”, likes, etc. Everyone else’s college experience is “shared” on facebook and twitter and snapchat and instagram. I could see that if yours isn’t measuring up, you are constantly being reminded how everyone else’s is awesome.

    That’s armchair psychology too.

  80. JP Merzetti August 20, 2014 at 2:54 pm #

    Well we must ask ourselves why a 12 year-old must be babysat?
    The answer must reflect the fact that the new 12 does not chronologically reflect enough maturity or independence to be able to handle unsupervised time at home, alone.
    In the minds of elders, this reflects and promotes the continuing decay and deflation of age-appropriate development.
    Once upon a time the world was full of latchkey kids. They often stood out at school – for their level of maturity.
    In certain ethnic communities, this is still often the case.
    Children younger than this can learn all kinds of responsibilities. If given the chance to develop that way.
    Instead of automatically ‘down-aging’ them.
    Instead, they learn helplessness. Life requires an “app.”
    Life really just requires common sense.
    Learned the old-fashioned way.
    12 is only a year away from being a teenager. An awful young teenager, but a teenager, nonetheless. Old enough for no end of cognitive understanding. Far, far away from baby, toddler, or primary grade school. Old enough for……?

  81. Melissa August 20, 2014 at 4:00 pm #

    At 12 I had a thriving babysitting clientele through other families at church. A pair of girls aged 5 and 3 that I babysat until I was 16 and am still “facebook friends” with today, 20 years later. A family of 2, aged 7 and 5, who became a family of 3 during my time with them. My own siblings (aged 10 and 5) between school and Mom getting home at 6:30, which included starting dinner – real dinner, like oven-baked chicken and rice. I moved out fully independantly a very short 6 years later at aged 18.

    How can we prepare our children for being adults (at least, mostly independant in post-secondary education, managing personal finances, roommates, college applications, part time jobs, etc) at 18, if they can’t be trusted at home for a few hours at 12?

  82. Puzzled August 20, 2014 at 4:42 pm #

    Well, it does say she’s not making good decisions. Maybe hiring a babysitter in the first place is supposed to be an example of poor decision making?

  83. E. Simms August 20, 2014 at 4:44 pm #

    @SKL “In Illinois the minimum legal age for a home alone child is 14.”

    The statute actually says that they can’t be left alone for an unreasonable period of time. There’s more detail here:


    The problem with many of these statutes is that people, including individual police officers, don’t read past the first line and make unfounded assumptions. Then websites giving advice on the subject just put out blanket statements such as “Don’t leave a child under 14 alone in Illinois.”

  84. E August 20, 2014 at 4:55 pm #

    BTW, here’s the blurb/description about the movie:

    Maggie and her adopted 12-year-old son, Oliver, move next door to war veteran Vincent, but when Oliver gets locked out after school one day, Vincent allows him to stay at his house until his mom gets home. Because he has bills up to the ceiling and is desperate for cash, he tells Maggie he’ll babysit Oliver every day after school. Vincent then introduces Oliver to his lifestyle, including gambling, drinking, and his relationship with a Russian prostitute.

  85. Ben August 20, 2014 at 6:18 pm #

    Initially I was outraged by the very idea of a 12-year-old needing a babysitter, but then I thought, well, I guess the “all men are predators”-idea is biting the dust in that movie. You can’t expect society to change completely. I’m happy with the first baby steps and just hope to see more of them in the future.

  86. 3datty August 20, 2014 at 10:11 pm #

    What about Bob?

  87. J.T. Wenting August 21, 2014 at 12:18 am #

    a 12 year old isn’t even a preteen, it’s a teenager…

    At 12 years old I was riding my bike to school, alone, in any weather (except severe storms, was allowed to take the bus then, alone) for 15km uphill either way.

    At 12 years old I was responsible for cooking Christmas dinner for the family (or at least one of the dishes, each of us did a dish each year), including any slicing and dicing, cooking and frying that might be involved (hot and sharp things…).

    At 12 years old I was driving my father’s 30 foot motorboat (ok, under supervision, but I was at the wheel).

    And now a 12 year old is so fragile (s)he’s not even allowed to be home on their own for a few hours, with a telephone right there with which to contact the parents who no doubt have multiple cellphones each that didn’t even exist when I was 12 years old?

  88. Omer Golan-Joel August 21, 2014 at 4:09 pm #

    A kid after the age of 6 or above can be left alone for several hours at a time. This is the law here in Israel. And from the ago of 9 and on, the law allows him to cross roads on his own. The U.S. needs similar laws.