how to overcome challenges

Is our culture too overprotective of children?

Grandparents in West El Paso, Texas left their five grandchildren home alone while they ran into town to “take care of some business.”  The eldest was thirteen, the youngest four.  They never expected to receive a call there at the IRS from the fire department telling them they had to come home.

They never expected their house to catch on fire.  Fortunately, all five children were rescued, with the eldest being taken to the hospital to be treated for smoke inhalation.  She was upstairs, where the fire began, but is expected to recover fully.

Hopefully we can all agree that the fact that this couple was homeschooling these children is fully irrelevant, but it does bring up the question of supervision.  At least to the local news channel reporting on the story.

But some may say that 13 years old is too young to be a babysitter for four other kids.

According to Texas law, there is no specific age said to be too young to be left home, and each child and situation should be taken into consideration.There is a law, however, that defines something called neglectful supervision. A law that states a child should not be put in a situation that a reasonable person would realize requires better judgment and maturity than the child has. KFOX14

I’ll play that “reasonable person,” but there are too many other questions in my mind that would need to be answered before I could definitively say that this thirteen year old lacked the judgment and maturity to be put into this situation.

  1. How long were the adults intending on being away? An hour or two?  Most of the day?
  2. How old were the other children? We know the youngest was four, but a twelve year old could help and a ten year old could be responsible more or less for him or herself.  Just knowing the age of the eldest and the youngest leaves me a tad suspicious that the reporter is trying to stir controversy where perhaps none need be.  But I’m just suspicious that way.
  3. How mature is the thirteen year old? I’ve known thirteen year olds who were quite capable and responsible and full grown adults I wouldn’t trust with my puppy.  I would hope that the grandparents would be better judges of her maturity level than any arbitrary age level.
  4. What are the relationships between the children like? I wouldn’t leave my ten year old with any of them just yet, but I’d sooner leave her alone with her two sisters and baby brother than with just her six year old brother.  He is “active” and they do not get along very well.
  5. What about the neighbors? If you know your neighbors and your children have some place to go in an emergency, the situation looks a lot different.  Especially if those neighbors know the children are home alone and are keeping an eye out on the house.

Here in Nebraska, you can send your eleven year old to the Y or to the American Red Cross to earn their babysitter’s certificate, even though I have a hard time imagining leaving my daughter responsible for another child at that age.  But just because I wouldn’t do it doesn’t mean it constitutes neglect.  It reminds me a bit of the discussion last spring surrounding the columnist who allowed her nine year old son to navigate the Subway system to get home.  Alone.  In New York City!  My first reaction to that story was a resounding “She did what?!”  But I was born and raised in the Midwest and I would be uncomfortable navigating the NYC Subway system alone.  This child, on the other hand, has grown up with it.

There was a time when a thirteen year old girl could expect to marry soon, have children and raise her own family.  This, in fact, still happens in parts of the world.  And young Sarah Noble was but eight when she left with her father to explore the wilderness and cook for him.  Granted, these children had/have a far different upbringing than most of our suburban youth.  Today, they would probably be placed in protective custody.

But I still wonder.  Was this couple neglectful in leaving their grandchildren home alone?  Or has our culture artificially extended childhood by becoming too overprotective of children?