Use caution on baby-sitters

Published 10:14 am Monday, May 4, 2009

“I don’t think parents should let a boy baby-sit their daughter.” So advises a judge of a metropolitan district court, who appealed to me to do what I can to warn parents. I won’t be as absolute as this, but I certainly do caution parents and also sitters. Unusual caution needs to be exercised when an early adolescent boy baby-sits a young girl, because the boys are liable and the girls vulnerable. (A similar caution is indicated for girls who baby-sit.)

The judge, who serves in the juvenile division, continued: “It doesn’t matter how well the parents know the kid or how great a family he comes from. It just isn’t worth the risk. Weekly I have sex abuse cases with good boys from great families sexually abusing little girls.”

The judge explains by his observation that the typical situation is when the girl is between ages three and seven, and the boy is between ages 13 and 16. This much is enough to make us all take the situation seriously and think it through.

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The age factors make sense to me. Boys this age are understandably curious about female bodies, and young girls may seem opportune. The girls, on the other hand, often won’t recognize what is happening and feel they must comply with the sitter as in authority. This combination of a curious and immature boy and a nave and unsophisticated girl can be volatile.

I added my concern, and the judge agrees, that asking a boy of this age to sit such a girl might also be unfair to the boy, because it places him in a risky situation.

Recognizing this generalization sounds unfair and perhaps even biased, the judge defends his counsel to parents: “When it’s your daughter, you have the right, and maybe even the obligation, to generalize if it increases the odds of protecting her.”

I add the qualification that any such decision must be done in such a way as not to constitute sexual or age discrimination, especially in violation of law.

I have inquired of court and social work personnel in our area as to their observations. All recognize the judge’s concern and respect his counsel. However, some experienced professionals recognize no significant difference between the liability of boys as sitters from that of girls. All agree parents (of the sitters as well as those hiring sitters) need to be alert to possible trouble and preclude it by safe-guards.

Boys can make excellent sitters, I feel, and in some situations be more effective than girls. Just as fathers as well as mothers, men as well as women teachers, contribute to the emotional and social growth of girls, having a boy sitter should be wholesome for girls. Boys should gain early the experience of caring for children. So, I feel we should actively encourage boys to be sitters.

However, I feel the disturbing reality of abuse by sitters, girls as well as boys, ought to be factored into their employment. The risks as well as the requirements involved need to be known and understood by parents who hire, parents who allow their children to sit, and the girls and boys who do the sitting.

These factors should be featured in parental orientation as well as the fine training classes offered by such as the Red Cross, YMCA, and schools.

We take risks in trusting any sitter, and every sitter is in a precarious position.

Some social workers suggest a sitter, boy or girl, who offends is more likely to do so consequent to their own sexually dysfunctional home background. Knowing the family, then, is important.

Whether a boy or a girl does the sitting, all sitters should be fully trained and oriented and well screened.

Once so employed, they should be carefully supervised and held immediately accountable. They need to understand and respect that anything and everything they do can and will be known.

Regardless of the gender or age of sitter or child, baby-sitting must be done almost professionally and certainly in a transparent manner well above suspicion.