Question: My child, aged 12, has a best friend and spends a lot of time at their house. I am Ok with this but I don’t really like some of the things that the friend’s parents allow. Recently, they left their son and my child in charge of the younger children while they went out. My son felt uncomfortable about this so told me about it.
Answer: I remember as a child having an established best friend a few doors down from my house. One day my parents told me that she was not the ‘kind of person’ I should play with. When my friend next asked me out to play, I said I couldn’t and gave her the reason. She told he parents and they turned up angrily on our door step of course. I got into trouble even though I protested that I had told the truth.
The fact that I am retelling this story decades later, says that my inner child still feels aggrieved about this even though the adult in me is smiling at the humour of the situation. Your situation has the same difficulties- honouring friendship, respecting the choices of others, protecting your child etc.
The key thing in your situation is to give feedback to your child that their sense of discomfort is an excellent way to judge the rightness of any situation. This ‘knowingness’ is a wise friend that they should rely on. It will keep him safe at every level.
Then discuss what it was that worried him- was it that he didn’t know what to do with the little children, was it what could go wrong, was it that he just wanted to be with his friend to do ‘their stuff’, was it that he felt ‘used’? When you know more about this, it will determine how you respond.
You may advise that if this situation happens again, your son simply says that he doesn’t think he is old enough to be this responsible so if it’s OK, he would prefer to return home until a more suitable play date can be arranged. The focus is on him, it is honest and it does not criticise the other family.
As parents there are lots of these ‘when is it the right age to…’ moments e.g. to have a mobile phone, to go to the movies on their own, for girls to wear heels, to go on a date, to have a store card. There are of course legal permissions which influence some of your decisions and being home alone, baby-sitting and looking after others come into this category, although family traditions about what is ‘usual’ do come into it. For example, in a large family, older children may well be used to taking care of little ones , may be very competent and not give it a thought, whereas this might never be the experience in a small family.
Most of these are not resolved through clear cut decisions. In this particular situation you may, over time, agree to allow baby-sitting only during the day, or only in the house or only for up to 2 hours, and so on. You may not agree to your child taking responsibility for children using their bicycles or skate boards, for preparing snacks, for children under the age of 6 and so on.
It may be helpful to think through a sliding scale of increased responsibility for a few situations that your child might be asked to join in e.g. watering the neighbour’s garden, looking after a pet while the owner is away. In this way everyone’s dignity remains intact, there is no negative reaction, just a reflective negotiation that ensures both success and safety for your child and peace of mind for yourself.
- Appreciate your child’s awareness and willingness to dialogue with you about indecisions and concerns.
- Share with them that you have moments like this and how you come to a conclusion, even if you do not know if your choice is the ‘right’ one. This is a developmental turning point because you have been ‘telling’ them that you ‘know best’ since they were little. Well, haven’t you? So now you are telling them about the world you share together as human beings. Embrace the moment!
- Check out the legal advice for those things that might over-ride your view of what is ‘right/ appropriate’ e.g. baby-sitting, alcohol, substances, financial responsibility etc.