Help This Mom Figure Out a Free-Range Summer for Her Kids

Hi izenrrzeyk
Readers — Here’s a letter I got today. Let’s give her some good advice. Since I get to go first, I ‘ll say the obvious: If you can afford it, send your kids to some kind of not-too-programmed camp. Other suggestions?

Hey Free-Range Kids:  I truly, profoundly want my older daughter to be more Free-Range.  She wants more freedom.  Advice on how I get there is welcome.

My 13 and 11 year old girls are on summer vacation, my spouse and I both work.  The oldest is in open rebellion because, despite my claims that I want her to be more independent, I  won’t fire the babysitter.

Besides not being comfortable with them being home alone for that long a time with no adult less than an hour’s drive away, my oldest has admitted that the real problem with having this particular sitter is that she limits TV and computer time, buys only healthy foods when they are out, takes them to parks to play and lakes to boat  — in other words, she is destroying their summer by depriving her of the God-given right to be a couch potato everyday for 10 weeks.

I do believe summer should be, in part, a time to relax and be lazy.  I do believe a normal 13-year-old should not need a sitter.  But I can’t bear the thought of my kid sitting home alone and getting fat in front of her computer screen.  She’s already too heavy, according to her pediatrician, and I don’t like the trend.

The younger daughter thinks this 20-year-old sitter, btw, is Mary Poppins, and delights in her to no end.  Blatant and unfair favoritism, claims my moody eldest, further proof of the injustice inherent in my system.

Advice on how to get this kid to the point where she is sitting, instead of being sat, would be terrific. — Fed Up Mom

Okay, Readers. Go for it! – L.

83 Responses to Help This Mom Figure Out a Free-Range Summer for Her Kids

  1. Amy July 1, 2010 at 11:42 pm #

    What would happen if you told the sitter that she doesn’t have to take the 13 year old to the park, etc? If the 13 year old opts to stay home and vegitate, she can do so. Then the 13 y.o. is happy, because she can veg, the 11 y.o. is happy, because she retains her beloved babysitter…

    I think the 13 y.o. would stay home once or twice, realize that it’s boring, and then resume activities with the babysitter. You might even mention to the babysitter that you’d PREFER the 13 y.o. go with them on outings, and ask her to “sell” them to the 13 y.o. before accepting “I’m staying home” as an answer.

    Surely you have a neighbor or SOMEONE nearer than an hour away who would be willing to assume responsibility if the 13 y.o. calls and is in trouble of some kind (stranger at the door, kitchen fire, etc.). I’m currently serving in this capacity for my 11 y.o. neighbor, who is too old for a sitter, but too young to be completely on his own.

    Also, you might schedule time for your 13 y.o. to be with her friends (which is what I remember wanting to do when I was 13) rather than with the babysitter. Is there any reason why the sitter couldn’t drop your 13 y.o. off at the mall (or wherever the kids go in your town) occasionally on the way to the park/library/etc.?

    I am the oldest child in my family, and I remember being resentful when my mom hired a summertime babysitter for my younger siblings when I was “too old” for a sitter. Make it clear to your oldest that the sitter is not there to “watch” her – she’s there for your younger child. And make it clear to the sitter, too.

    The weight thing is a separate issue. Please address it now. I’ve spent a lifetime trying to overcome the weight problem that I developed at age 13. My mom always said, “It’ll go away when you hit puberty…” then “It’ll go away when you go to college…” and even, “It’ll go away when you breastfeed…” I breastfed two kids for a total of 50 months. It didn’t go away. When I finally ran out of things to look forward to, I started limiting calories and exercising, and I lost 50 pounds. TEACH HER to keep track of her calories and to burn some off occasionally, so she doesn’t have to struggle with her weight the way I have. I wish my mom had given me the tools I needed, rather than letting me live in denial well into my 30s!

  2. helenquine July 1, 2010 at 11:58 pm #

    A camp of some kind is a nice idea. But if that’s not affordable, have you thought of trying a day a week where your eldest is in charge? An hour’s drive is a long time are there really *no* other adults who couldn’t be available in an emergency? A friends parent? A relative? Maybe you could even pay the sitter to be “on-call” at less than an hours drive?

    You could even start with the weekends – can she supervise her sister on the weekend when you and your husband are at a friend’s down the road or out at the movies for the afternoon?

    The thing is, if you give your eldest some responsibility – to self limit certain things, get certain chores done and make sure her sister gets XY and Z activities, food, etc. you might be surprised by what she achieves. And with the carrot/stick of more autonomy or more babysitter depending on how well she lives up to her end of the bargain she has a strong incentive to prove she’s capable.

    I wouldn’t expect miracles – if she’s never done anything like that before she probably won’t suddenly be completely capable. And she’ll probably never be as Mary Poppins as your babysitter. But it doesn’t have to be perfect to be worthwhile.

    If it doesn’t work out, or you just don’t feel comfortable with her being in charge of your youngest, have you considered asking the babysitter to not be in charge of the eldest from, say, 2 pm? So she gets “free time” for 4 or 5 hours a day. There would have to be some ground rules so she doesn’t get in the way of the babysitter and your youngest, but they could be minimal.

    Best of luck.

  3. Catherine July 2, 2010 at 12:00 am #

    What if you allowed the 13 year old to babysit her sister for a couple of hours in the morning before the sitter arrived. Sit her down and talk to her specifically about the responsibilities you believe this entails. Things like, “I expect you to make sure that you and your sister are both out of bed by x-hour, that you both eat a healthy breakfast in the morning, and that you spend some time doing activities that don’t involve screen time every day.” Make it clear that if she can prove to you that she is responsible enough to meet these expectations then you will consider increasing the amount of “before babysitter” time a little bit at a time.

    I think by framing this as “you are responsible for coming up with non-screen activities for you and your sister” and “you are responsible for making sure that you don’t eat junk for breakfast” then it is no longer about her weight it’s about her proving to you that she can be responsible about time spent without adults. That she is capable of making healthy decisions and helping her sister to make them too. Then it becomes an issue of how mature she is, as opposed to how heavy she is. It’s up to her to show you that she is “old enough” to make good choices on her own. That’s exactly the kind of responsibility and maturity that free range is all about!

    A final thought. When you have this discussion I suggest you also make it clear that you will be asking each and every day how they spent their time in the morning, what they ate, and other questions related to evaluating her follow through on these tasks. You want to set the expectation up front that you will be asking these questions and expecting honest and detailed answers so that she doesn’t feel like your asking them later on is a sign that you don’t really trust her.

  4. Sally July 2, 2010 at 12:02 am #

    I love what the PP said. Dont forget how miserable it was to be this age. And how often do you get to hang around and do nothing in life. I so wish I was her and could get myself to totally veg out.

    As far as the weight issue goes, making her go to the park will not help if she is resistant. She is going to have to find some activities that she likes. I bet some of the reasons she doesn’t want to be active is that she is uncomfortable with her body. Love her up right and she will get through this. I think the way to be free range at 13 and let her be her–even if she is a slug, computer zombie.

  5. Mika July 2, 2010 at 12:04 am #

    Can you compromise -there are ways to set limits on the computer time and TV so they are only on at that time -so some software or timing device is doing the job of the sitter -and then cut the sitter back to 2-3 days a week.

    Can she bike around your neighborhood? Can they earn the lazy afternoon with an active morning -riding bikes or swimming or something?

  6. dmax July 2, 2010 at 12:04 am #

    I tried to set my 14-yr-old up with soccer training weeks during the summer, and he rebelled severely. I took the “let him see how boring the summer is!” approach and it did not work at all.

    In fact, to limit computer screen time, I’ve had to physically remove the keyboard. (Removing the mouse was inadequate and he figured out how to work around it).

    My childhood summers involved my bike, miniature golf, getting wet or muddy, exploring the woods near my home, and general mischief.

    If I choose to not engage in daily, lengthy battles with him, my son’s childhood will be Starcraft.

  7. mvb July 2, 2010 at 12:06 am #

    does the older child have friends within biking distance? perhaps she could go to a friend’s house to hang out a few days a week instead of going to the lake? they may just get together and veg, but at least she’d have to burn calories getting there and back.

    Or, does she have friends who would come along on the babysitter’s adventures? I remember at that age, having a friend along made a big difference.

  8. Colleen July 2, 2010 at 12:13 am #

    Having had 2 daughters with similar age difference and radically different personalities, I can sympathize a bit.

    One suggestion for your older daughter is to find a summer program at a local park or library or Y that is in need for helpers. This gives her a chance to be out without her sister, provides a chance to develop some confidence and doesn’t leave her in front of a TV, computer or video game. Another thought is Red Cross babysitter class and then seeing if a neighbor mom needs some help with her kids. Even other mothers may want a break without leaving home. Again she is on her own but not completely and not sitting at home.

    I also agree with giving her tools now to address her weight issues but engage her , don’t dictate or it will become a power struggle, one she can ‘win’ at by ignoring your advice. If she is willing, teach her about healthy meal planning and cooking then let her plan and prepare one or two meals each week. If she has some control she will likely be more receptive and she will have skills to last her a lifetime.

  9. Pamala Watts July 2, 2010 at 12:18 am #

    I started babysitting my sisters at 10 yrs old. They were 3 and 5. I had a list of chores to do and other than that we basically were allowed to do whatever we wanted. We even walked about a mile in town to meet my mom for lunch on Fridays. I’m not saying every 10 yr old is mature enough to handle this, but I started begging not to have to go to the sitters at 9. We had a phone, I knew the numbers to both of my parents work, I knew how to call 911.. and I was fine.. My daughter is now 8 1/2. I do leave her at home for short periods of time alone and have been for nearly a year now. This fall my nephew may be going to the same school in Kindergarten with the expectation that my daughter will walk him home to my house after school. She walked to and from school alone all last year, it’s only 3 blocks. There may even be times that they are home alone at my house together for a short period of time depending on how my sister’s and my job schedules end up by fall. This isn’t really a suggestion for the OP, but kind of a realization that kids will handle what you let them. I trust my daughter to be able to handle this. I do not think she’s ready to be home alone all day, however maybe next year..

  10. Stacey July 2, 2010 at 12:23 am #

    Let her be free range!!!! Sometimes being free range means vegging out! Isn’t free range about giving up some control and letting kids find themselves, their voice, their independence? School is stressful, difficult, boring, and everyone needs to decompress from that in the summer. (I was a teacher…I remember the fatal mistake I made in teaching 12 days of summer school – it just about killed me AND the kids). Some kids decompress by playing sports, running around, swimming, being active. Some kids decompress by being internal, reading, watching TV, playing video/computer games. Plus, as she gets into puberty, her sleep needs and circadian rhythms change – she probably doesn’t feel sleepy until the wee hours, and then wants to sleep until late in the morning/early afternoon.

    I think the principles of free-range parenting don’t change as kids become teenagers. Sure, have your expectations for chores or whatever, but as they get older I think we need to let go of even more control. Don’t try to control sleep. Have only “acceptable” food in the house and don’t control eating habits (since there’s nothing “off limits” in the pantry, why try to control eating habits?).

    No kid says “boy I wish my mom would have gotten me out of bed earlier when I was a teenager.” You do hear plenty of adults saying “boy I hated it when my dad made me get up early in the summer.”

    I think the issue is really about letting go of control over her normal teenage behaviors and giving her more responsibility. Trust her to make the right choices, or at least trust that she will learn from her mistakes.

  11. Casey July 2, 2010 at 12:25 am #

    As a former nanny, I can see a few problems with a couple of the suggestions of dropping the babysitter a few days a week or hours a day and such. Namely that the babysitter may not want or be able to afford the switch and then you could be left with an all or nothing situation.

    But as far as what the babysitter will and will not buy for the kids to eat or what activities they do, you could probably mention that she could tone it down a bit if you would be more lenient than she is. She is probably just trying to be really good at her job and thinks that’s what you want.

    I’d give the older daughter (and the younger one for that matter) access to calling their friends to plan activities. If both girls found friends to go out with for the day, it’d probably be fair to still pay the sitter (just because by the sound of things this is her full-time job and she most likely relies on the money), but it would still be worth it. The babysitter might also appreciate that the girls are allowed to bring friends along sometimes. Sure she’s responsible for more kids, but at least they play with each other and she can read a book for a bit or something.

    The babysitter and the girls would probably all end up being happier with a little bit of balance to the summer. It sounds like the adventures the babysitter offers are important opportunities for your kids, but what they want would be nice too.

    And as far as the weight things goes, I would just let the oldest pick a sport or activity that she really likes and give her as many opportunities to get involved in it. It’s also important to teach healthy eating, but I’ve always found (and especially as a teenager when you really do burn a ton of calories every day) that the exercise is the most important thing.

  12. Melissa July 2, 2010 at 12:26 am #

    I think you’re doing fine, and see no reason to allow more screen time or ditch the sitter, who at this point is really only a responsible companion. My only additional suggestion is to work with the sitter to make sure she has opportunities to have friends over or go hang with friends, go to the library by herself, etc. See if the schools, library or rec center has any kind of program she might be interested in or if there is a swim class, cooking class or something similar she can do. When I was 13 I took a fun class during the summer and got to take the bus by myself to and from, and it was so liberating.

    The other thing I’ll say it that more freedom = more responsibility, so make sure you’re adding to that side of the equation as well. If you decide she doesn’t need the sitter anymore and can choose her own activities during the day, then maybe she is also ready to assume responsibility for her own laundry and can help around the house by doing yard work since she has more free time than Mom and Dad.

  13. highlyirritable July 2, 2010 at 12:29 am #


    Fire the sitter. Take the computer to work with you, and cut the TV cord. Oil their bike chains, get them a pass for the outdoor pool, a library card, a local park map, and some sports equipment. Show them where the best ice cream cones can be bought (bonus points if the shop is at least a couple miles from your house) and make sure your garden hose works. And leave food that needs to be cooked in the house.

    This could be a real growth opportunity for the girls, and you will do more harm than good when you deprive them of that.

    Have a great summer!

  14. WorkingMom July 2, 2010 at 12:37 am #

    I agree with the suggestions above, but do understand your concern about being an hour away if something happened. In my house, it’s not even the concern if something were to happen – it’s the reality of the siblings fighting and the ensuing phone calls from both. At 11, we let the Oldest be alone in the house, but there was a list of chores (still is) that had to be done. TV & computer were limited by parental controls.

    The weight issue should be seen as a separate issue, and I think the best way to resolve it is some type of day camp, even if for only a half-day two or three times a week. You could also encourage the babysitter to go for walks with the girls – do you have a park or beach nearby?

    Good luck!

  15. Heather Q July 2, 2010 at 12:42 am #

    I think highly irritable has the best advice so far. Tell her she is welcome to stay home, but take the keyboard and mouse with you and get rid of the tv.

    Free-Range is all about giving kids freedom when they are ready. This kid isn’t ready to self-regulate.

  16. BrianJ July 2, 2010 at 12:50 am #

    I agree with most of the suggestions above. I would add that the weight thing is a really big deal because many of the snack foods that are available for kids are horrible for your weight. And exercise, especially if it is done grudgingly, will not be enough to overcome the bad food.

    So I would suggest showing her some of the on line meal planning and calorie tracking tools. That makes it much easier to track your reasonable progress and be honest with yourself about what you are eating and what the expected results of your eating habits will be. Since they are on line, and therefore do not need to be shared with mom, you can avoid the power struggle that can come with trying to get a young teen to control their weight.

  17. Irene July 2, 2010 at 12:50 am #

    RE: The weight issues. It’s not a matter of just one person’s weight issue, it’s a part of the whole family and lifestyle choices. Everyone needs to be on board about making healthy nutritional choices and staying active for the long term, not just the one daughter, or she’s not going to have success. Sometimes even the smallest changes make the biggest differences, such as cutting out or limiting sweets and high fat snacks that come into the house. I agree with everyone that a fun sport or activity will help. Even going for evening walks with the whole family can be helpful, not only for the exercise but as another way to connect with each other.

  18. Annika July 2, 2010 at 1:01 am #

    Keep the sitter for the 11 year old. The 13 year old can still tag along, get advice/help from her, etc., but is definitely old enough to decide whether she wants to stay home instead. Chances are she will get bored and go with them sometimes.

    The weight is a separate issue, and one that should be dealt with separately. If you want her to be free range, you have to let her be free range!

  19. MikeB July 2, 2010 at 1:08 am #

    Would it be possible to arrange for an adult to be on call, nearby, but not physically present all the time? If the babysitter lives nearby and has wheels, she could be paid (a certain amount) to be on call instead of in-house for some fraction of the day, or to pay visits to make sure the house isn’t on fire.

    You know better than we whether your daughter/s would get into trouble if left to her/their own devices. But I agree with several suggestions above, that she be given some bounded opportunity to self-regulate and demonstrate her maturity and ability to handle it. If she excels, expand the boundaries; if not, contract them. But in any case, discuss it fully with her, so that the actions and consequences are clear; that way, if she messes up and loses freedom, she’ll see that it’s her fault, not yours.

  20. coffeegod July 2, 2010 at 1:15 am #

    I completely agree with highlyirritable. You can block out the tv in case you don’t want to cut the cord. I’ve programmed all my cable boxes so my son’s television won’t work after a certain time. Leave healthy food in the house and make sure the bikes are in working order. My bike was my best friend from about 11 years old onward. I was a loner kid and frankly preferred it that way. Your girls are old enough to stay by themselves. Trust them. Your 13 year old might surprise you.

  21. Christy Ford July 2, 2010 at 1:21 am #

    At 13, I was allowed to do what I liked over summer. If I wanted to read, watch tv or go online, I did. If I wanted to ride my bike, I did. And so on.

    I had chores to do of course, but I shared them with my sister (when she wasn’t off at camp)

    I had a great time.

    During the school year, kids have everyone telling them what to do 24/7. Summer should be about freedom.

  22. SKL July 2, 2010 at 1:22 am #

    My mom used to give us basic rules and chores, and leave the rest to us. (When we were a lot younger, by the way. My oldest brother was 10 when he starting “babysitting” the three younger sibs.)

    The chores: some thing that had to be done every day before Mom got home. This encouraged some level of responsibility despite the relative lack of structure.

    The rules: she would couch it in terms that actually encouraged what she was limiting, e.g., you can go swimming ONLY if it’s not going to rain and not going below 79 degrees. You can go all the way to __ ONLY as long as your chores are done on time and your oldest brother goes with you.

    We were not restricted as far as TV or other sedentary activities. However, we only had 5 channels and most of the programming was soaps or baby cartoons, so we didn’t bother with TV if there was anything else to do. Rather than prohibit TV and video games, it might be better to talk to your kids about prioritizing a limited amount of screen time and finding a healthy balance. (Does she know this is a concern of yours?)

    Consider giving your kids a paid job such as planting a vegetable garden or prepping food you normally buy prepared – and pay only for success.

    Consider having your daughter’s doctor talk to her honestly about her health.

  23. Angelina July 2, 2010 at 1:23 am #

    There is a lot of good advice above. However, only you know what your daughters need or can handle at this point.

    I think at 13 she is ready to babysit her sister and take on more responsibility. Enroll her in a babysitting and first aide course so that she feels more confident and prepared.

  24. Kelly July 2, 2010 at 1:49 am #

    Dear Fed Up Mom,

    Good for you for trying to tackle this problem head on. I can sense some anger, fear and frustration with your eldest daughter and I hope that here on this site you have some helpful advice.

    I’m going to agree with others and say that if you truly want your chlid to have more freedom you need to bite the bullet and let your child make choices you don’t like (I.e. “sitting around” etc). I believe if you do this and lighten up on your eldest daughter and her intentions and lifestyles, she will get her rebellion (which I see no reason to sneer at) out of her system and then after a time she can figure out what she would like to do.

    Concomitant to this I hope you start checking your baggage regarding your daughter’s whole self and her autonomy (body and emotional) over her weight or perceived fatness. I’d suggest you read up on FA, or else inflict more self-esteem damage and chance of disordered eating on both your children. Obesity scaremongering is at its height in this country (so many here in this comment thread will disagree with what I’m saying) but I urge parents to start thinking past the hype. There was an awesome article posted at Body Love Wellness today and there are many more health professionals who are focussing on, you know, health. If you’d like to email me I can point you to many more sources.

    Best of luck and I wish you and your daughters a wonderful summer!

    – A Very Enthusiastic Mom Whose Kids Are Happy, Healthy, Active, and Allowed To Sit And Eat What They Like

  25. Lucy July 2, 2010 at 1:59 am #

    I mostly agree with highlyirritable too, except for the fire the sitter part. Your girls are only 2 years apart, i have one sister who is 2 years older than me and there is no way i would have reacted kindly (or she graciously) to her being the “babysitter” of me.

    Now that said, if you take the computer to work with you, and cut the tv cord then the baby sitter is no longer the ‘bad guy’. She is suddenly transformed into a person who is there to help alleviate the boredom, instead of inducing it..

    If they don’t have bicycles, get some. My sister and I were allowed to lay around and read books (a highly sedentary activity) as much as we wanted, but we also had to bike to the library, about 3 miles away, to get said books. Since we were fast readers, we biked often.

    As far as the weight goes, the best thing would be to cut her carb intake and make sure she gets plenty of fat and protein. It’s no coincidence that the most free-range child in our neighborhood is also the most overweight, sure he is very active. Constantly on his bike, scooter, cutting peoples’ lawns etc, but all that activity just makes one hungry and sating hunger with carbs gives weight gain. Check out the book Strong Kids, Healthy Kids by Fredrick Hahn.

  26. Nicola July 2, 2010 at 2:03 am #

    Stacey, Irene and a few others had the right idea in my book.

    Your daughter is 13. Let the sitter be there for the 11 year old, and let the 13 year old do as she wishes. It’s summer and she’s old enough to decide if she wants to do something active, or doesn’t. Make sure she has responsibilities to take care of (such as mowing the lawn, washing dishes, doing at least one load of laundry) and let her veg.

    If you’re worried about the computer, as others have said, take the keyboard and mouse with you, or if you have a flat screen, take the monitor. Get her a library card and tell her that you’d like her to at least read a book a week and let her get herself to the library and choose her own adventure. (Remember those?)

    With her weight, it sounds like you might need to do a whole house cleaning. The only way this kid can stay home and gain weight is if there is food conducive to her gaining weight in the home for her to consume. I won’t assume that I’m correct in this – but if I am and if you change your own eating habits and what you buy and bring into your home, she’ll have no choice but to eat better unless *gasp* she gets up off the couch, bikes to the store with her allowance gained from doing chores, and buys her own treats. 😉

  27. Virginia July 2, 2010 at 2:09 am #

    IMO, Kelly is on exactly the right track regarding your concerns about your older daughter’s weight. Another good resource for you would be Ellyn Satter’s book “Your Child’s Weight: Helping Without Harming.” The central messages are that (1) you are not responsible for your child’s weight and (2) overemphasizing a child’s weight will actually do more harm than good.

    As far as the babysitter goes, since you and your younger daughter are both happy with her, I would suggest keeping her but giving your older daughter a little more freedom than she has now. I totally understand a 13-year-old feeling that she’s too old to be taken to the park to “play.” Maybe she goes with them when they go out in the boat but gets to stay home when they go to the park, or maybe she needs to get out of the house in the morning but she can hang around on the computer in the afternoon–whatever works best for both of you. The sitter also needs to understand that your goal is to give your older daughter more freedom, even if that means she doesn’t do everything exactly the way you’d want her to.

    BTW, I would not count on your daughter “getting bored” if she’s allowed to sit around the house all summer. I could happily sit around watching TV and reading books at that age–still can–and with the computer around, there’s basically no reason ever to be bored at home!

  28. Jenne July 2, 2010 at 2:56 am #

    Honestly, if the issue is that you “can’t bear” the idea of your child gaining weight, then you should enroll her in fat camp now, because she might as well get used to the idea that you are only in the Free Range movement because you think it’ll make her thin. At least in a fat camp she’ll have other teens to commiserate with.

  29. Gee July 2, 2010 at 3:05 am #

    Most of the advice about weight is really bad.

    Why are you asking people on a website? Why not ask your daughter?

  30. Elizabeth July 2, 2010 at 3:09 am #

    Thank you, Virginia and Kelly – I was going to recommend Ellyn Satter, too. I wish my Mom had known this stuff when I was 13.

  31. sconzey July 2, 2010 at 3:12 am #

    There’s some really good ideas here, and some really awful ones. Having been a teenager myself until very recently, I’d advise Amy not to underestimate quite how lazy a teen can be, as dmax and others have experienced!

    With that said, time spent on electronic devices isn’t always unhealthy. My computer’s let me meet all sorts of strangers from around the world, as a result, I like to think I’ve grown comfortable and open to other cultures and ethics. In my teenage years I dumped creativity into short stories, and taught myself to program.

    What got me away from the computer was cycling to the next village over to meet up with my friends ( and go on their computer 😉 ), or flying model aeroplanes with my Dad. Structured activities can work, if they’re things your kid genuinely wants to do, rather than things you think they should want to do.

    Catherine and helenquine‘s suggestions about giving the eldest responsibility for self-regulation are excellent. Never underestimate what a little bit of responsibility can do for a child’s self-belief.

    Banning things and confiscating things are really poor ways to regulate your kid. Particularly in teenagers they really kick off the rebellious instincts, and can very quickly turn into an arms race, as dmax has seen, and as my dad saw when he tried to filter my web access. 😛 Instead change the incentives; financial rewards, or even better: praise and attention, for being productive.

    In the long summer months a project that they get some material benefit from can focus the mind; woodwork, cooking, business. If you don’t suggest something, I can guarantee your kid will: find all the feathers on Assassin’s Creed 2, get a better tan than Kirsty Winkell, let Jimmy Baker get to second base. 😛

  32. frantically heidi July 2, 2010 at 3:52 am #

    I haven’t taken the time to read all of the comments yet, but how about a compromise? Could Mary Poppins work less days per week? Or how about a some half days?
    In her absence, let the 13 year old be the paid sitter – but with stipulations about what you expect her to do. Inform her that this is arrangement is on a trial basis.
    Don’t expect her to be drill sergeant to the her sister – let them have some veg time. Part of being free range is learning to self govern, right? Even when the choices made might not be the ones we prefer for them.
    One more thought: maybe stock the house with only good food, no junk in the house makes it hard to eat junk.
    (But leave some money for the occasional ice-cream man. It is summer, after all.)

  33. Davonia July 2, 2010 at 3:58 am #

    When I was 12, my dad found a lady at our church who had 3 younger (under 8) kids. So, I was hired to “babysit” during the summer. I later found out that my dad had hired her to “babysit” me that summer. They had alot of property, so I got experience running after kids all day, usually outside in FL, and being the extra set of eyes and hands on them and getting some money. And the lady got an extra pair of eyes and hands to help her during the summer and a little bit of money too. She also worked from home. It worked out wonderful for everyone!

    I think this would work better than having the older one babysit the younger one. That may cause contentions.
    Plus, this would give the 13 yo some experience being the one in charge. You could always keep the babysitter for the 11 yo.

  34. Kim July 2, 2010 at 4:07 am #

    The Red Cross offers a course for babysitters, the minimum aged is 13. I highly recommend it- I sent my oldest when she turned 13. She got to see from another perspective the responisbilities babysitting incurs and I knew she had the skills to take care of herself and her sister. We have rules about not having anyone over, no going in the pool,l etc but she did fine. My little one was 8 at the time. Oldest knew she was responsible for feeding her sister and making sure sister didn’t sit around like a lump, I think this really helped in making her more active. She really stepped up to the plate.
    At 13 I was dragging my sister around town, I had to take her with me to the movie theater, to the park where we went swimming ( there was a lifeguard). We crossed busy streets, sometimes walking a whole mile.

  35. Gina July 2, 2010 at 4:11 am #

    I think a lot of these comments are right, and I also agree with this mom to a certain degree. Your daughter has obviously shown her colors: if left alone and in charge, electronics and junk food will rule the day. So, she has not yet earned the right to be in charge.

    If you can afford a sitter, maybe those funds can be better steered to a free-range set of activities: sports, summer camp, art classes, etc. Something to get them out, moving and playing while still allowing some time to “veg out”, if that is her preference.

    If she does well with the choices placed before her and proves that she can make more responsible choices with her time and her diet, you can ease up and give her free time all day, every day. 13 is old enough to be on her own all day, but she has to prove she can be responsible.

    If she is openly talking about breaking every rule you have (limited screen time, dietary guidelines) which all seem reasonable, by the way, what rules will she break behind your back?

    She needs some supervision, still, until she has proven otherwise. 13 years old is old enough to take care of herself, but she still needs guidance along the way, and that’s where letting her pick a series of semi-supervised activities will help.

  36. Casey July 2, 2010 at 5:08 am #

    @Davonia – what an excellent idea! I would love to get paid to take care of a 10-13 year old girl for the summer who could in turn take care of my 1.5 year old daughter and son who should be born ANY DAY!!! I’ve been wishing I could have time to “train” a babysitter to do things the way I like when I’m gone, but I just don’t have the money to pay for that. With this idea, I’d be getting paid, helping out another parent, giving a kid some awesome experience and relaxing a lot more! I’m going to see if I can find anyone in town who would be interested in this…thanks so much for the idea:-)

  37. Denise Jobin Welch July 2, 2010 at 5:37 am #

    Thanks everyone — there’s a lot of good advice up here, and I’ll keep checking back as we try some of it out. Nest week is family vacation — visiting folks in a very rural part of the country, lots of outdoor activities planned, as well as down time — and we are going to send both kids to camp for a few weeks (a regular backwwods sleepaway camp –not a “fat camp ” — where they can occasionally interact with each other but will be in separate cabins.) I’ll let you know how all this worked out at the end of the summer.

    Someone suggested I read up on FA. Sorry — can you please spell that out for me?

    Sleep issues — I am trying to be sensitive to the circadian issues. On the other hand, schools, as many of us know, are not sensitive to a young teens need to sleep later, so I don’t want her to go totally overboard during the break, because it will be much harder to get her bcak on schedule come Sept. Not to mention camp is not going to let her sleep through breakfast and chores every morning. So for now, the sitter doesn’t arrive at the house until 10, and the kids don’t have to be up til 10:30.

    Age appropriate activities — the problems started because the sitter asked both girls to plan activities with her for the firts two weeks of summer, and my eldest, resenting the presence of a sitter, refused to plan. So my 11 yr old and the sitter planned out things the younger one would like. I think my eldest has learned the cost of absenting herself from the decision making process — we had a long discussion last night — and the sitter agreed that walking around the mall with a friend was a good substitute for walking around the lake sometimes. More to come on that score.

    Weight — the best comments are the ones that remind me that whole family needs to work on this issue together, on our calorie intake and our exercise. After vacation, we’ll talk about somethings we can do to get all of us in better shape. Most if the women in my family are overweght or obese — myself included — and I know emotional an issue this is for both young people and adults. I am not judgmental of her, nor is my love conditional on her body shape — I just know from her own comments that social situations are harder for her because of her weight right now — clothes shopping involved many tears — and I want to help her, or at least allow her to help herself.

    I don’t forsee a situation in which I would allow the 13 yr old to be in charge of the 11 yr old. Two close in age, and while the 13 yr old is immature for her age, the 11 yr old is precocious and would never accept her sister’s authority or advice. Either they get to the point where I trust both of them to take care of themselves, or I keep the sitter.

    Thanks for the advice everyone.

  38. Mary Margaret July 2, 2010 at 5:39 am #

    I don’t care what you do with the 13 yr old but keep the babysitter. 11yr olds love the attention of older girls and your daughter obviously enjoys this one. Don’t let the 13 yr old mess this up for her. The younger daughter is learning a lot of things (including a healthy lifestyle) from the babysitter that she would not be learning from her older sister. The babysitter sounds excellent. There may also be things that the 11yr old may want to ask an older girl that she may be too timid to ask her mother. The babysitter is giving your 11 yr old a wonderful summer.

  39. Elizabeth July 2, 2010 at 5:43 am #

    FA stands for “fat acceptance”. Frankly, it sounds like you’re not ready to go whole-hog into fat acceptance, but you might benefit from doing some reading about how much you actually *can* affect body weight in children and adults. I personally like Satter’s “Secrets of Feeding a Healthy Family”, which is not a fat acceptance book but will give you some good data on the best ways to raise your kids to have healthy food attitudes as adults – data based on actual studies, not wishful thinking. You might like it for yourself, too.

  40. Amy July 2, 2010 at 6:15 am #

    Around here there are a lot of volunteer opportunities for kids starting at age 13. Our local parks and rec department uses kids at that age to help out in classes doing things like setting up, kid wrangling, taking kids to the bathroom, cleaning up, etc. My son helps out in the pottery department for several hours.

    The Humane Society also accepts 13 year old volunteers to walk dogs, clean cages, and help people find just the right animal.

    I think volunteering is so important and kids learn a lot that way. They learn about job skills like punctuality, getting along with others, following orders (even when you don’t want to), and dealing with the public.

    Let her volunteer!

  41. Spindle July 2, 2010 at 6:23 am #

    Hello there. This is my first time commenting on this website, and, sadly, it’s shock that’s prompting me to do so…
    You’re worried that you’re children’s summer will be bereft of mental stimulation, this I understand quite well. You’re concerned about leaving them at home without immediate access to help if they need it, and this is also a sound concern.
    However, I have to admit that I was truly taken aback by these two sentences:
    “But I can’t bear the thought of my kid sitting home alone and getting fat in front of her computer screen. She’s already too heavy, according to her pediatrician, and I don’t like the trend.”

    Madame, I am a fat seventeen-year-old. I started gaining weight as an extremely active ten-year-old, and my body has maintained its squishy disposition ever since. One thing for which I am profoundly thankful is that my mother and father have never tried to coax, hint, or force me into losing weight. It worries me profoundly that, of all the health-concerns that may come first (eye-damage from too long in front of screen, malnutrition from a limited diet, negative influence from the media pouring into brain, et cetera), you are most troubled by your daughter’s potential fatness. This, if you’ll pardon my impertenance, does your daughter a great disservice. I worry how your judgement against her body may affect her in the long term.
    It’s been stated in many a place, including this very site, that the medical community is often wrong when it comes to the matter of obesity, especially in children. They jump to conclusions, make correlations where there are none, and recommend drastic measures for people whose bodies are already in a delicate state of flux. Do you really want to reinforce, however subtly, that you daughter’s body is an ugly, imperfect thing that she must fix with force in order to be acceptable in your, your docter’s, and society’s eyes?
    I hope that you find a way to make your daughters’ summer a good one, and find that essential balance between productivity and relaxation, but please, don’t let a thirteen-year-old’s weight-loss be your primary goal.

  42. Shallay July 2, 2010 at 6:39 am #

    I am shocked that you have a sitter! At 11 I was baby sitting babies, at 13 I was babysitting on overnighters.

    It is time to cut the strings and help them to know themselves and the capacity that they have within themselves.

    Wean them off the sitter.

    Talk to them about how to be in charge of them selves. What projects they might pursue, what lunches would be fun to make. And don’t worry if they sit and veg out or pig out on junk food. They have to learn for themselves how to live and it is best that they start now while they have guidance around.

  43. Karen July 2, 2010 at 7:33 am #

    I like the idea of giving the 13 year old the option of staying home when the sitter and younger daughter go on outings that do not appeal to her. You may also want to give her the option of inviting a friend to go with her on some of these trips. I can remember as a teen that it wasn’t that I didn’t want to go to the park/lake/beach per se, it was that I didn’t want to have to hang out at the park/lake/beach with my family. But if I could take a friend along and we could do our own thing there, my attitude changed totally.

    I have a 12 year old who is volunteering through the red cross this summer as an aide to the Red Cross swimming instructors at pre-schooler swim lessons. He goes about two hours a day and bikes to the pool and back. You may want to check and see if there are any similar youth volunteer programs in your area.

  44. Rob K July 2, 2010 at 7:47 am #

    Caution: Overturned Seesaw Ahead! Watch out for upside-down kids!

  45. Kimberly July 2, 2010 at 8:18 am #

    I would advise giving the 13 yo more freedom while keeping the babysitter for the 11 yo. The 11 yo likes the babysitter and activities. Also it would be unethical to fire the babysitter who is counting of the summer income, because your 13 yo is being a 13 yo.

    Set some expectations of chores the 13 yo should complete, how often she should check in with the babysitter. Eliminate unhealthy snacks from the house. Unless she is engaging in dangerous behavior on the computer, I think removing the keyboard and mouse is going to be damaging to your relationship.

    Also brain research shows that teenagers biological clocks are set to sleep in later and stay up later than adults and younger kids. They also may need more sleep than we previously thought. This makes them look lazy to the adults because they are actually sleep deprived.

    A friend did an experiment with her stepdaughter last summer. They let her set her own bedtime. She had a curfew based on her parents need to get a good night’s sleep for work, but once home could stay up. Talk to friends, watch TV, play on the computer, work on her AP homework.

    They found the girl did sleep about 10 hours a day, but was much more active during the day.

    At their house she would get up eat breakfast, go out with friends, bike ride, go to the neighborhood pool do things.

    She said when she visited her mom, who made her keep to Mom’s schedule, she felt groggy and jet lagged the whole time.

    During Last school year the girl actually set herself an earlier bedtime so she got about 10 hours of sleep a night, even with her early start of school.

    Now it is summer again and she has the freedom to stay up later and sleep in more.

  46. JenJen July 2, 2010 at 8:23 am #

    Keep Mary Poppins. She sounds wonderful. Cutting her hours could cost you a delightful sitter before you really are ready. I would have a conversation with HER about how to proceed.

    I have kids about the same age. I would be fine with the older one being dropped off by the sitter for a more teen-ish activity or meeting up with friends. She’d just have to check in with the sitter once in a while.
    Or letting her stay home and veg once in a while.

    My kids are on their own while I’m at work and it works out fine. If I had the luxury of such a fine sitter, I’d use it for the best of both worlds. Someone to keep my younger one entertained and someone to drive the older one around.

  47. Silver Fang July 2, 2010 at 8:34 am #

    Have the babysitter just look after the 11-year-old and give the 13-year-old some autonomy. I was staying home by myself at 13. It’s perfectly fine.

  48. Q July 2, 2010 at 8:42 am #

    Just a note that, in some places, dropping a thirteen-year-old off at the mall or movie theatre or the park is still going to get you in trouble with the mall cops, who may call the local authorities, who may decide to open a case, and then you’re basically screwed, even if you’re Parent of the Year otherwise. It’s not always as easy as “she’s old enough, so she can do it.” Follow the rules, no matter how dumb they can be, or you’ll be buying yourself and your daughter a boatload of hassle.

    I also agree that a mother expressing worry about weight gain is more likely to cause weight gain than prevent it. A lot of thirteen-year-olds are rounder than they have been or will be; it could be a phase. Or, maybe she’s just going to be naturally rounder than other girls, which isn’t necessarily a health risk, no matter what your pediatrician says.

  49. KarenW July 2, 2010 at 8:45 am #

    You believe that the sitter is a good influence on your daughters, and you don’t feel comfortable with your oldest daughter taking full responsibility. I think you really need to trust your instincts on this. It shouldn’t matter what other parents would let their 13 year olds do. My oldest daughter is 10, and I really hope that I can be done with babysitters for good when she is 13. But, some 13 year olds are more mature and responsible than others. I was a total idiot at that age. Any time that I was unsupervised, I was pretty much doing things that I was not supposed to do. I agree with giving your older daughter some smaller periods of freedom (not all day every day for the whole summer) to see how she responds.

  50. Janalee July 2, 2010 at 8:59 am #

    No advice, just relief. My girls are 8, 7 and 5 months (yeah, whoops!). I think about the years ahead and wonder, ‘what will I do with my teens while my baby still needs constant attention?!’ I’m reading these comments breathlessly. I think I’ll “hire” my eldest to care for the others a couple days a week. She’d revel in the responsibility.

  51. Susan Epstein July 2, 2010 at 9:01 am #

    A 13 year old is the perfect age to be a volunteer. This could be for 3 to 4 hours per day. What are her interests? Volunteering serves many purposes for middle school kids:
    => gets them away from computer/tv/phone
    => gives them something productive to do
    => gets them involved in their community
    => exposes them to others less fortunate and creates compassion and empathy
    => gives them work experience
    => lets others appreciate them and tell them thank you!

  52. Larry July 2, 2010 at 9:13 am #

    If you’re worried about too much TV/internet, just get rid of the TV or loan it to a friend for the summer and set the computer to only allow logins a restricted range of hours (if not the computer, it’s often possible to program the network router to only work certain hours, or simply take the little router with you to work!).

    Keep the babysitter, but tell the older child that she doesn’t need to hang out with the sitter and younger child during the day — 13 is old enough to keep herself busy. Or if you don’t feel ready for that, say she doesn’t need to hang with the sitter in the mornings, or afternoons, or whatever.

    She’ll probably be bored without TV or computer, and find something else to do. Let her veg if she wants. So what? Would it be so bad if the need to veg was so strong that she ended up reading books continuously all summer?

    Give her a hand by helping her to scout out activities she can do during the day, safe places to hang out, etc. Can you afford some kind of camp with a theme that will hold her interest?

  53. Angeline July 2, 2010 at 10:13 am #

    I feel like at that age I was usually enrolled in something a few days a week to keep me busy, but my off-time was pretty self-guided, free range if you will. One summer I was enrolled in a local (cheap, I’m sure) basketball camp to and from which my younger sister and I had to take a bus, I also took a variety of swimming and Jr. lifeguard lessons, etc.

    My mom was home in the summer because she was a teacher, but I didn’t really “do” that much with her. She was essentially “the babysitter” in this scenario. Sometimes she drove me places I wanted to go like friends’ houses, but she didn’t spend all her time finding entertainment for me like taking me to parks or boating. She was pretty much just present to make sure that I was safe while I did whatever 13 yr olds do and she did whatever moms do. I messed around outside, watched tv, took walks, played with what passed for computers back then, read a book, complained that I was bored.

    It seems like the your babysitter could be more like mom in my scenario. There for protection and guidance, but not play camp counselor to a reluctant camper who would prefer to be more self-directed in her own home. Also, I agree with the first commenter, that staying home is boring. The first few times you get to stay home alone you feel like the movie “Home Alone”, you want to eat all the junk food, watch all the bad tv, rifle through your sister’s diary… but after you get your fill, you wonder what’s going on in the world and hate to be left behind. Maybe the 13 yr old could be more like “partners” with the babysitter in helping hold down the fort and accompany the 11 yr old places. That shift in perspective might help too.

  54. Jane from Maine July 2, 2010 at 10:25 am #

    Re: weight issues…
    I have struggled all my life because my mother was always after me about my weight and eating habits. In my family I am tall and built totally different then my siblings. My all including my parents are small boned petit people. I always felt like the Jolly Green Giant compared to them. Looking back at old family photos I was a healthy normal weight. Because of all the attention I got about my size and weight I have never felt slim enough. Even when I was too slim and looked sick (note: even then the charts said I was overweight). Step back and take a deep breath and think before you nag and push your daughter. I am sure my mom meant well as do you but you are in danger of making your daughter’s weight a life long issue for her.
    PS I was watching my siblings at 11 and paid to babysit for other families by the time I was 12. At 13 I spent a very long summer babysitting for a neighbors three kids, but I was sure proud of having my own money to buy school clothes with. Kids are way more capable then today’s parents give them credit for.

  55. Taylor July 2, 2010 at 11:08 am #

    Only 10 weeks of summer?!

    One of the first stated concerns was not having “an adult” within an hour’s drive, change that. Move closer to work. Radical, yes. Maybe a half hour’s drive would change things.

    Other than that I’m in the camp that says keep the sitter for the 11-year-old. Although this may make the 11-year-old feel like she’s being babied. Who knows?

    As for the weight issue… I think the comments show how touchy that issue is. I’ve got no advice there. Do your best.

  56. Jen July 2, 2010 at 11:27 am #

    I remember having the same fight with my mom! I was too old for a sitter! Mom insisted because she wanted someone to drive us around and because there were no near neighbors.

    My mom left us a list every morning of things that we were expected to do(sitter or not). We had to have that list finished by the time she got home or there were consequences. Things like sweep, dust, vaccuum, housekeeping, and other chores.

  57. Party Piper July 2, 2010 at 12:15 pm #

    Why not give her a few days “off” as a reward for being good, however you define that? Like, if she is nice to the babysitter, she goes along to the park, she acts nicely, she gets one day “off” a week where she can do what she wants, when she wants. If she’s not “good,” well, obviously not old enough for this privilege, and babysitter it is. Maybe it could be things like getting prescribed amount of household chores (which can double as exercise) done, or similar. The better she does, the more privileges she has. Maybe she gets to go see a movie by herself or something.

    I mean, having an adult around to drive you places isn’t such a bad thing, especially if she’s there with the 11 y/o anyway. However, I spent a lot of afternoons where I could have used an adult guiding me on what to do, but maybe didn’t need to be “watched,” ya know what I mean?

  58. Party Piper July 2, 2010 at 12:20 pm #

    Oh and as far as weight? Don’t fall into what some other parents do with their kids when one is chubby and one is slim. If it isn’t good for the chunky sister, it probably isn’t good for the slim one either. Junk food is junk food, and isn’t good for you regardless of weight. A diet is easier to follow if the entire family is on board and the kid isn’t getting singled out.

  59. Gary July 2, 2010 at 3:03 pm #

    I don’t want to seem too helicopterish…BUT, leaving a 13 year old alone for days on end with the computer?? Aside from the lack of physical exercise and the damage to ones eyes from staring at a screen, repetitive stress injuries from keyboard and mouse, etc… You KNOW how 13 year olds are with computers. She WILL sit on there ALL DAY LONG. So take the KEYBOARD and MOUSE to work with you in the morning. If i is a laptop take the charger cable. She’ll be outside playing in a few hours. Same goes for te Nintendo or other portable. Take the charger away to limit her daily play time. She will get bored with TV very quickly.

  60. Babs July 2, 2010 at 3:16 pm #

    This is such a loaded issue…I wish things were like ‘the old days’ when our moms were still at home. However, I hardly had time to be bored/idle. I was either at camp a few weeks, or busy playing with friends on non-camp weeks,. or doing things like day trips to the beach or an amusement park. I still take pride in how, one summer, my sister and I (we were almost 13 and 10, respectively) teamed up with the neighborhood kids, put on a carnival (held in the yard of one of the kids) — all on our own initiative. We used the proceeds to go see “Jaws” as a group 🙂

    The adolescent/teen years can be challenging, and kids do need some (but not heavy, I think!) supervision. If parents have to work, that is understandable. Kids can still go to camp (maybe sleepaway camp for two weeks, if that is feasible, or a sports/arts camp if there is a strong interest?), or, better yet,.work as a camp aide for a local day camp/summer rec program/YMCA or YWCA. The summers I was 14-16 (not quite old enough to work legally part time) I was an aide (assistant counselor) at my old day camp, was paid a small honorarium, and that kept me busy.

    Does your 13 y.o. have friends that are doing things this summer? Maybe you can work out a ‘swap’ where one friend can stay with your family for a week (and you can see if their family can do the same? just a thought?)

    If your older daughter is more engaged, she will be less likely to be a ‘couch potato’. Not saying ‘no’ to TV at all, but less of it is not a bad thing. Bored kids tend to be fat kids, I notice. My 11 y.o. niece is proof positive of this — granted, my SIL/BIL have their own weight issues and are not healthy eaters — my once-pleasant, sweet niece has also become very sullen, moody, and is not encouraged to do any work around the house, or pursue potential interests (partly because of limited finances, but I also believe limited finances can spur some great creative thinking!) I have some time off over the summer, and plan to have her over a couple of times, if only to get her out and do some fun stuff (I may do some at-home cooking lessons, go on a hike, or whatever comes to mind). Last summer, we actually went walking during a visit at my house — apparently, this kid is not accustomed to doing such! (Long walks around the neighborhood, and hikes in area parks provide great adventures/fitness opportunities to young teens.)

  61. Erin July 2, 2010 at 6:42 pm #

    I think you’re a great mom. For me, free range in part means that there is no one right or wrong answer to raising a kid, and it sounds like you’re really cognizant of that.

  62. Diana July 2, 2010 at 9:21 pm #

    my eldest is 13 yr. old, and I trust her to babysit for $10-20 a week for her 2 sisters (8 and 9) WITHOUT plopping them in front of the screen. Here’s their schedule:

    Morning cartoons (until 9:30, they get up @ 8:30)

    Breakfast (if not during cartoons- sometimes she does eggs, or the 9 yr. old does them, or waffles, ect.)

    Activity (making dog/cat toys from socks, baking stuff, ect)

    Invite friend for lunch (8+9 yr old friend)

    Lunch (Mac+cheese, grilled cheese, sandwich, waffles,eggs)

    Play w/ friend (while older sister cleans house)

    Tennis lessons

    TV until dinner (about 1/2 hour)

    Dinner (leftovers, takeout, chicken, soup, eggs, (and about 15 other things 13 yr old can cook)

    Downtime (TV, reading, computer, until shower)

    Bedtime (shower, bed, story from me)

    During this time, unless the weather is nasty, she doesn’t play on the computer, (except during down time or bedtime for kids) no matter HOW tired she feels, she doesn’t use the TV as a sitter. They only get 1-2 hrs of screen time a day.

  63. Christine July 2, 2010 at 10:12 pm #

    I think I would either use camp to replace the sitter for both (if it’s not prohibitively expensive) or do sitter for somewhat less of the day and let the 13 year old babysit for the other part of the day, but make it impossible for her to turn the TV or computer on. Then leave a big stack of Board games, crafts and so on.

    Generally though I think all day for a 13 year old and 11 year old is a bit much — 16 is more appropriate for that. Also why should the younger one be stuck with her sister all day inside, since it seems likely that if the older one does have access to the computer and TV all day she won’t pay much attention to her sister. Although I think kids need downtime, if they are personality inclined to use it behind the screen, I would be inclined to make them do something else for a good part of the day — camp, volunteer work, or whatever. She will thank you for it later I think.

  64. su N July 2, 2010 at 10:15 pm #

    I agree completely that you are a great Mom. I applaud you for thinking about the choices. Facing the tough decisions and making the best choice is exactly what Free Range should be all about!

    I am a bit concerned because some seem to think that being Free Range is all about following the crowd and doing exactly as they say to do. IMO that is just another way to make drones out of our children. Sorry ladies if this chomment offends, but please think about what you are saying, for goodness sakes!

    My advice would be to keep the sitter for the 11 year old. She us happy with this lady and obviously doesn’t want to sit around all day with your 13 year old (which as you know is what will happen if you fire the sitter).
    I also like what was suggested about getting the 13 year old a “job” of helping to watch other kids. That was great!

    As for the weight, I suggest only keeping healthy foods in the house. If she wants junk, let her spend her allowance on it – that’s what my parents did.

  65. su N July 2, 2010 at 10:25 pm #

    Sorry to hijack, but it is my personal opinion that Free Range does not mean you have to accomodate every whim.
    I am a bit bothered by the thought that Free Range is being mistaken for entitlement. My thought is Free Range is empowering, while entitlement is just the opposite.
    A parent (free range or not) is never obligated to provide junk food snacks or TV or Internet connections or video games.
    Have a wonderful day!

  66. Sally July 3, 2010 at 1:56 am #

    I love that we are all on the computer worried about a kid spending all her time on the computer. Most of us probably spend all day in front of the computer at work.

    I spent several summers doing not much more than watching game shows and soap operas, eating pb &j, and eventually I got around to riding my bike to a friends house. It was fabulous. I did all of the housework for the family and got paid $1 an hour.

    I am sure my mom worried that I was sluging around and getting fat–but she didn’t bug me about it since there really wasn’t much more for me to do. I survive long enough to sit on this website when I should be at work.

  67. Eika July 3, 2010 at 3:33 am #

    As a twenty-year-old, I don’t have kids of my own, so I can’t say I’ve tried this. However, when I was ten and my sister twelve, we were allowed to stay home alone without our parents. My sister was officially in charge.

    Bad idea. Not only did that create a lot of resentment, but she was only in charge because she was older, not more responsible; it got to the point where, if she didn’t want me going to the neighbors’ house to talk to a friend, she would pull my hair or physically push me into my room because I was being ‘bad’. Not the case with most kids her age, but she’s always been rather ‘unique’ in that regard. Even if she hadn’t been that way, having her in charge would’ve created friction; we’re close enough in age that we compete. If the gap were bigger, I’d say to go for it, but not with them so close.

    As for the weight, don’t push it too hard. This goes against almost every comment here, maybe all of them, but trust me. I have a dozen obese relatives, some grossly obese, mom’s worried about me my whole life… but guess what? I’m fine. Technically overweight, yes, but those weight/height charts don’t take body type into account, and I have doctors’ assurances. But at that age, when my mom started telling me about how I needed to watch it and how I was chubby and did I want to end up like (insert relative here), I briefly tried to starve myself. It didn’t last, due to some factors that may not exist there. Encourage healthy eating, sure; teach her to cook, and start keeping only healthy foods in the house, but don’t hound her.

    I don’t know your kid as well as you do, but it seems to me that some suggestions- having the sitter be in charge of her sister all day, and her only half of it, for instance- would work well.

  68. susanstarr July 3, 2010 at 4:06 am #

    I’d agree with posters who think that making the 13 yo get out of the house will put off weight issues. Bet the whole family needs a food makeover.

  69. Tara July 3, 2010 at 9:41 pm #

    I’d agree with the very first poster who suggested letting the sitter let the older child be a little more free range. If the sitter is truly as awesome as she sounds she will be more than responsible to let the older child range a bit and be able to teach her how to do so in an appropriate manner.

  70. Samantha July 3, 2010 at 9:48 pm #

    My suggestion would keep the baby sitter for the younger child. Like Erika my brother and I were close in age, and when left alone, though in this case with me baby sitting, all it lead to was resentment on both our parts and lots of arguements.

    So in the end he used to get a sitter. Well that’s what Mum said. Basically, there was still an adult in the house, she was still in charge but she was not “officially” baby sitting me. She had a list of places I was allowed to go alone and what I was and wasn’t allowed to do, but I didn’t have to join in with the sitters activities if I didn’t want to and I could tell my friends that she was my brothers sitter so my “face” was saved in front of my friends.

    Maybe you could work out a similar compromise with your elder daughter. If you are worried about her spending all summer in the house maybe you could say she has to go on x number of outings a week with the sitter and the rest is her own time. And still give the sitter the right to limit computer etc time.

    As for the weight thing be very careful. My mother started mentioning my weight to me when I was about your daughters age and all that made me do is when the rebellious years kicked in I would eat and eat to get back at her for making me feel bad about myself. (Even though now I realise it just came from a place of love and caring and she was never anything but nice and supportive about it, my teens were not my most rational time). I figured if my mother said I was fat I was fat and that now defined me there was nothing I could do about it so I should just eat. When I look back now I started my teens maybe 10 pounds overweight. I ended them morbidly obese.

    Anyway at 13 your daughter is probably aware she is overweight. So maybe talk with her about what she thinks she should do about it and maybe empower her to find things she likes to do outdoors.

    When my brother noticed my niece was putting on weight, he remembered what happened with me and instead of confronting her about it asked her for suggestions to to help him loose weight. They teamed up and the watch what they ate together and every morning before school they’d both go for a run or walk the dogs together. It is something they still do now every morning and has become their special time where they talk and exercise and its made them both a lot closer.

  71. Omundar July 4, 2010 at 9:41 am #

    The other commenters have responded to the main issue quite well, but about the circadian rhythm — I have always had problems maintaining a normal bedtime dating back from when I was a toddler, so I might be the anomaly, but when I was 13, my parents stopped giving me a bedtime in the summer. You know what I did? I stayed up later, and later, and progressively later; to the point where I would go on awesome early morning bike rides at sunrise almost every day and then crash when I got home a few hours later. By the time school started, I was staying up so late it was early, so there was fairly little adjustment to make. 😛 The last summer before I got a real summer job, I was learning Portuguese from a website called LiveMocha and I guy I knew from Brazil was helping me, as well. I guess what I’m saying is that a lot of parents see a restriction like that and think that it is keeping things from derailing into chaos, when many times kids can pick up interesting activities and find things they enjoy if they just let go. For most, this is the only extended period of time where an individual has no commitment to anything like school or work. Try to help them make the most of it. I guess some kids could veg out indefinitely, but I’d figure most would eventually find some sort of direction and set of objectives and activities to fulfill.

  72. Jane July 4, 2010 at 11:58 pm #

    It’s not clear to me if this sitter is coming to the family’s home or if the kids are going to the sitter’s house…some of these are more applicable if it’s a college student coming to your own home situation.

    The kids could be home alone for a half day and the sitter could watch them the other half day. 13 & 11 year olds should be able to dress, brush teeth, and make breakfast without supervision.

    The older child could be home alone on Mondays & Fridays (or whatever parents deem appropriate) but have supervision the other days.

    The parents could outline for the sitter what activities, food, etc. they are allowing for the older child/children. IOW if you are happy with her watching TV all day long, tell the sitter to let her do that.

    The sitter could be for the younger child (who appreciates her company) and she could be asked to essentially ignore the older child unless she’s squabbling with the younger or doing something dangerous. Invite her along on outings but she can stay home if she likes.

    Why not just give the 20 yr old & 13 yr old guidelines like you’d use for yourself… you are comfortable with her being home alone X hours (with or without friends, no boys, whatever), Y hours of TV/computer (with whatever restrictions on content you have for your kids), chores need to be done by whatever time of day, etc. but she has to display appropriate behavior or she’ll need more supervision.

    Just make the expectations of behavior more clear to both the 13 yr old and the 20 yr old.

  73. SKL July 5, 2010 at 3:08 am #

    Samantha, that’s a great idea about the girl’s weight problem. I am already “walking that line” regarding my precocious 3-year-old’s weight. She LOVES food and frankly I love to see her enjoy it. I encourage her with healthy food choices, which would work well if it weren’t for other influences encouraging her to eat too much junk. Finding a free-range solution to this problem has been on my mind for a while. I’ve asked around, too. Nearly 100% of responses are that I am probably over-thinking, to my kids’ detriment. Am I the only person who thinks some sort of intervention should be done before the child meets the “obesity” criteria?

  74. SKL July 5, 2010 at 3:20 am #

    Back to the weight question, I’d love to see a discussion here just about that topic, i.e., what does free-range fitness for at-risk kids look like? I know free-range tends to lead to more exercise on average, but there are always kids who have a greater tendency to gain weight for a variety of reasons. And as much as we unconditionally love them, we know it will be hard for them in their teens, as well as risky for their health. Can we get kids to proactively make better health decisions as part of a free-range lifestyle?

  75. Omri July 5, 2010 at 6:02 am #

    There is no set age for any degree of freedom a “free rang” chlid should get. Every measure of liberty should be given when the kid has shown himself/herself able to handle it.

    This 13 year old, alas, is behind schedule. It’s the luck of the draw. She’ll deserve the freedom to go without this sitter when she has shown herself able to replace the sitter and do the same thing for her younger sister, i.e. feed her right and take her out.

  76. Esmeralda M Rupp-Spangle July 5, 2010 at 7:56 am #

    Wow. It’s so interesting that we are all on the same website and we all want to be “free-range” but we have VASTLY differing ideas of *what* exactly that is. It’s really super fascinating to hear what everyone else has to say about this, and I have really been given occasion to now think hard about this, and what it will mean for my (and my childs) future.
    People appear to be pretty opinionated about this, but I’d say it’s really a case-by-case type of thing. There’s not really a “right” way to go about solving this, though there are probably a lot of wrong ways, you just don’t know what those are until you try them and they don’t work! Ha!
    I guess I’m not really sure what would be the “right” thing for your daughter, but I CAN tell you what my life was like at that age (I’m 29 now, and often I feel like my peers have already forgotton what it was like to be 13. I’ll remember, that’s for damn sure)

    My mom was really excersize oriented and a health food junkie. She was probably a little *too* obsessed, but she didn’t really push me too much. My dad on the other hand couldn’t have cared less about his physical body. He didn’t even watch tv, he just read all the time, walked when he felt like it, and ate as he pleased.

    My parents let me stay home after I turned ten. I don’t remember the day, but I’m pretty sure it was my 10th birthday that was the “ok, no more babysitters” day. It was entirely based on the legality issue, as I’m sure they would have let me stay home alone earlier than that if it had been permitted by the state. My dad worked nights and often was sleeping while I was home, so I suppose some of the time I was not *alone* alone, but I didn’t notice the difference and he wasn’t there to monitor me, just to sleep. My mom often would not get home till 9pm, which was about my “bedtime”- though I often stayed up much later than that, and my parents didn’t force me to bed, as long as I was in my room and quiet.

    I was 100% self regulating at that point in the summers.

    Yes, I got a bit fat, I sat on my ass and read books and watched crappy daytime tv, though not a ton because we had no cable and an ancient old telly that got pretty shoddy reception. We did not have a computer.
    I didn’t have many friends since I was the nerdy weird kid, but I did eventually figure out how to arrange my own schedule and go hang out with the few I did have when it suited me.

    My parents didn’t have a car, and I lived in the city, so I bussed and walked when I wanted to go out (never learned to ride a bike!)… My mom asked me if I wanted to enroll in some summertime stuff (camp, dance classes, art classes, whatever) and I did occasionally, but most of the time I just kept myself entertained. There was no real restriction on where or when I could go out, and I knew where to draw my lines.

    Like I said, I got a bit chubby, but I got over it for the most part, since my mom only left cookable food in the house. I had to actually toast the bagel, boil the pasta, etc etc. She bought low fat cheese and lots of fresh veggies and no sugar, because that’s what she ate. My dad pretty much just ate at diners and stuff so he didn’t have much to swipe, and anyhow he liked “weird” spicy food.
    She left me dried beans and rice and pasta and some jars of organic pasta sauce. There were corn tortillas, vegetables, spices, olive oil, granola, fruit… and no junk food. Not because she was keeping me from it, she just didn’t eat it, so she didn’t buy it. I didn’t eat fast food till I was 13. Seriously. Becasue of this, fast food still smells like chamicals and poison to me. Ew.

    It didn’t stop me from gaining weight. I made peanut butter bagels and sat on my tookus, but I’m sure my blood pressure was groovy. It also gave me decent habits just by osmosis. My fridge looks pretty much like hers did, except I’m not as terrified of butter as she was. ha!

    I’m still a bit on the chubby side, but not objectionably so (I’m 8 months pregnant right now, anyway!) and my mom looked like a fitness model pretty much until the day she died. It was a cruel twist of fate that I got the “short fat” genes and she got the “tall thin” genes, but I’m also fairly lazy, and not perfect when it comes to food. I eat really good stuff, but I probably eat too much. I still walk and bus as much as possible, and though my significant other drives, I don’t (read: again, never learned how)

    I think I turned out pretty well. I wasn’t the most responsible kid in the universe and made some dumb choices along the way, but I wouldn’t be the person I am now if I hadn’t. I never resented my parents or rebelled against them because they gave me anything to rebel against. It was like trying to hit a wall that wasn’t there. I did try to rebel against any OTHER form of authority though (school, convention, etc) but my parents were the “cool” ones among my friends as I got older. I didn’t realize how much freedom I had until I found how little others had, but I’m very glad they left my leash as nonexistent as possible.

    The weight issue is so touchy. If you talk to her she may feel like she’s being judged, but if you don’t it may feel like you’re ignoring her issue. Whatta minefield!
    IMO, it’s best if you teach her how to eat right simply by doing. If the whole family needs to eat better, then stop buying junk. People make it seem really complicated but it’s mostly just a matter of learning to self regulate at the grocery store, and learning how to cook at home, rather than eating out. She will also have to learn to cook. Oh noes! Boiling water! chopping onions! Whatever shall I do?

    I also find that ordering my groceries online (safeway is cheap!) is a great way to avoid “shopping when you’re hungry” syndrome. I always shop better when I buy online. Plus having them delivered is great.

    I personally think traditional excersize is TOTALLY overrated. I excersize incidentally. I walk a lot, and get stretching from house cleaning & gardening. You would not believe how *few* calories one burns on a treadmill. It’s also torture. I’d prefer to just go to the park because it’s a beautiful day, not because I’m forcing myself to run laps.

    Those are the sorts of things I’m going to try to pass on to my kid. Right of wrong, that’s my way of doing it. Passive absorbtion of knowledge by setting a decent example. Sounds easy, because it is.

  77. esmeraldasquietlife July 5, 2010 at 8:23 am #

    ps, sorry, that was REALLY long, and filled with tech errors.

  78. Sky July 6, 2010 at 2:04 am #

    I have one idea re: junk food. If you end up ditching the sitter for the 13 year old, just don’t keep ANY junk food in the house. ONLY keep healthy foods. And ONLY let her have pocket money if she does chores. Then, she can still get junk food, but she’ll have to expend energy walking or biking somewhere to buy it, and she’ll have to expend energy on chores for the money, and she’ll have to spend her own money – so the net effect will be reduced.

    “This is such a loaded issue…I wish things were like ‘the old days’ when our moms were still at home.”
    Well, in the “old days,” my mom worked and I rode my bike around and played outside and read and went to the pool most of the time I wasn’t in school. Nowadays, I am “still at home” with my kids, and yet I spend about three times as much time a day with media than I did as a kid. Go figure. I think it has more to do with major technological change than with working or non-working moms…My kids still play outside a good part of the day, but they watch more TV than I did as a kid, probably because there’s more of interest to watch. (And we don’t even have cable or satellite or TV reception – just interent Hulu and Netflix watch now.) It’s not like I had TV restrictions as a kid – I just wasn’t interested in what was on offer on the five channels. I didn’t have Atari restrictions either – it’s just there’s only so many times you can play Pitfall or Pacman before you get bored.

  79. WorryingSis July 8, 2010 at 4:16 pm #

    Ok, a couple of things…

    Some of the commenters have suggested letting the 13 yo be in charge of the 11 yo… I believe the OP has already shot this down, or someone else has, and I have to agree with that. My sister and I also have a 2 year age gap, and when my Mom left us alone and put me in charge it just led to a lot of her lashing out at me in resentment, and was horrible for both of us.

    Eventually my mom changed the rules to “you’re both in charge of yourselves, but if you leave the house you go together”. This was great because it taught us to work together instead of putting us at odds with one another. We had to agree on when and where to go when we left the house and made us great compromisers! It didn’t hurt that we had at least a few common interests, of course, but I think the principle is a good one.

    And, of course, I have to chime in on the weight issue. The most important thing, I think, is not to emphasize it too heavily; I’m not saying don’t address it, but too much attention to it can do WAY more harm than good.

    As I said, my sister and I were two years apart, and I was the older one. I started getting chubby around 11 or 12, and my mom made a huge issue of it. She was constantly putting me on diets and even got me a personal trainer. I resented it to no end. Now, I fully believe that my mother had good intentions, but all I heard at the time was that I wasn’t good enough and that I was embarrassing her. I rebelled by eating as much sugar as I could get my hands on. In the end, that turned out to not be too big of a deal. When I was 19 I got a little perspective and lost the weight on my own. Now, even after my second child, I’m at a healthy weight.

    My sister, however, didn’t get off so easily. She saw our mother constantly worrying about my weight and began obsessing over her own eating habits. She developed anorexia, but because she was always “the skinny one”, it flew under the family radar. To this day, as an adult, she still struggles with this. Even if she didn’t go through days, weeks and sometimes months where she can’t convince herself that it’s a good idea to eat enough, she’d still have other problems. Her poor eating during puberty may have some lasting effects on her life; she’s recently been diagnosed with a heart condition that can be caused by anorexia, and she’s also devastated that she’s having a hard time conceiving.

    So… be VERY VERY careful how you treat the weight issue, and always be aware that what you say and do might be meant for your older daughter, but the younger one will still be there to witness it.

  80. ebohlman July 9, 2010 at 5:57 am #

    To the original poster: You should really be discussing your weight concerns with your daughter’s pediatrician. With his/her help, you can determine if in fact she’s falling off her growth curve in a worrisome way, or if you’re just seeing normal adolescent weight gain. Without professional advice, your concerns over her weight turn basically turn into concerns over her looks, and that can cause all kinds of trouble.

  81. Sarah Weisman July 10, 2010 at 3:06 am #

    I don’t know if it’s the right approach or not (I think parenting is really a life-long experiment!), but we tried a “Renaissance Period” last summer with our four kids, then ages 8, 9, 10 & 12. During the Renaissance, which lasted from 11 am to 6 pm, screens were off-limits. No computers, no televisions, no video games. We had a sitter at the house from 12-5 and she took the kids to the beach, played outside with them, took them for bike rides to the general store, took them to the YMCA, etc. As you can imagine, we got a lot of grumbling about the Renaissance from our kids. This summer, we tried a different approach. We nixed the Renaissance and are allowing the kids to self-regulate. Some days it works well and other days it doesn’t. The sitter still comes from 12-5 and does interesting activities with the kids. Truly, we’re still trying to find the right approach to screen time. It’s a tough one. The problem is, it is often impossible for kids to self-regulate screen time. There have been a number of studies that show that screen time increases seratonin levels in the brain, basically giving kids an addict-like high. Some researchers have even gone so far as to say that expecting a kid to regulate their own screen time is like putting crack in front of a crack addict and saying, “now listen, I want you to use this responsibly, okay?” We’ve talked about using parental controls, but with our kids, the more you regulate, the less respect they seem to have. I try very hard not to regulate things that don’t need regulating. I lean toward believing that screen time does need regulating, however.

    As for your daughter’s weight problems, I would highly advise against counting calories or placing any emphasis on her actual weight. It is your responsibility as the parent to bring only “acceptable” foods into the house. Once you’ve done that, you should allow your daughter to eat what she wants when she wants. Also, please understand that there is a very wide range of “healthy and normal” for weights and I’m even skeptical of the wisdom behind BMI measurements. If your doctor is worried about your daughter’s weight, he should be talking directly to her and then giving you suggestions about how you can reinforce a healthy lifestyle at home.

    Good luck! There are no easy answers… but I suspect that if you give your daughter some of the freedom she craves, she’ll be less cranky about the way she’s being expected to spend her summers….

  82. MarkF July 11, 2010 at 5:25 am #

    myself, i see three immediate issues with this. the childcare. the electronics. the weight. & for the future, the idea of structuring (free) time.

    childcare: keep the babysitter but advise her to more leave the 13 year old be (within proper ground rules) & concentrate her supervision/structure/activities more towards the 11 year old. at some point it will be time to wean girls off babysitter & towards the friendly, pre-arranged adult tht one contacts in case assist is needed. but it doesn’t sound like this is the time.

    firing the babysitter & having the 13 year old watch the 11 year old? probably a bad idea. best case scenario: sibling issues will come into play. also possible that the 13 year old could be overbearing or disinterested and the 11 year old won’t respect her authority anyways.

    the electronics: myself, i don’t keep a tv set at all & don’t want one, so that gives you an idea how i feel about that! the computer presents safety issues which means i would either install software that limits usage or take mouse/keyboard with me upon leaving house (make sure there are NO SPARES!). cell phone/texting? depends on maturity level & usage.

    even when you are home, any computers & tv sets should both be in public areas of the house ONLY. ie in living room/dining area/kitchen. and in my book, that applies to adults too.

    weight: make sure there are only acceptably healthy foods & snacks in house. again, this applies to adults too. the only way junk food should be available is by making a foray on bikes, which should be easily available & mechanically sound.

    at age 13, you may do well to direct your daughter to seek out economically useful activities that people outside your home will pay her for. that is to say, babysitting someone else’s kids (first aid/red cross classes first please), tutoring, pet/animal care, housecleaning, yardwork, etc.

    if not something economically lucrative, then at least something “constructive”. camp. sports. classes. volunteering. church activities…. whatever the activity in question may be.

    unstructured time + bored kids = bad idea. if the 13 year old does not yet know how to structure her free time towards such “constructive” activities, that’s where parent needs to step in anyway.

    hope that helps.



  1. Interesting cross post from Free Range Kids « Esmeralda's Quiet Life - July 5, 2010

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