09/01/2010 07:40 am ET Updated Nov 17, 2011

How Young Is Too Young to Babysit?

This may be an age-old question. Before technology brought us websites and online mommy message boards with babysitter listings, our own Baby Boomer parents hired the neighbor's son or daughter as the Saturday night sitter. Perhaps hiring the teenager with braces and pimples was always a leap of faith. But if you knew the parents and they had a good kid watching your kids, you could go to your dinner party, rock out to Blondie and drink a couple of Jack Daniels before driving home without wearing a seat belt.

But times have changed. And parents are more safety conscious when it comes to hiring care, and the age of their babysitters. Especially heartbreaking earlier this summer was the hospitalization of a 23-month-old in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, who had suffered abuse at the hands of the child's 10-year-old babysitter.

How do we determine whether or not our child is ready to babysit? Many parents draw a line around age 13, but there's no legislation out there that says that's the magic minimum babysitting age. Most state laws, if they exist, state that for a child to be left alone at home, the minimum age is 12.

Which begs the question: when are you considered old enough to handle the responsibility of another human being?

I was intrigued by Jeff Opdyke's piece in the Wall Street Journal titled "Should I Make My 13-Year-Old Get a Job?" -- he's torn about whether to get his son off the couch and working, or whether he should let him enjoy his childhood as much as possible. It's a question that even the First Family is facing because even President Obama wants to teach his daughters about money and responsibility.

Malia, 12, and Sasha, 9, come with their own secret service security team, but even they might be a little on the young side to start babysitting. If you think your child is ready to start babysitting but a little on the young side, there are plenty of resources available to them. Kids ages 11-15 eager to get a jumpstart on training can attend First Aid/Safety Training classes at their local American Red Cross chapter. Local YMCAs often have a babysitting training course that includes CPR and water safety. In addition, younger babysitters can volunteer as mother's helpers after school and on weekends and take care of a child while their mother is present. This can give them valuable experience with children that can prepare them for when they're ready to babysit on their own.

Should your 13-year-old get a job? Depends on who your kid is. In many instances, getting your kid to put down the remote control and pick up a lawnmower, hammer or a paint brush might just be the best thing to teach him about the value of money and making an honest living. With regard to babysitting, it all depends on the maturity of the kid, his or her ability to handle children and challenging situations. We, as parents, need to be able to gauge this -- for our own kids and for the kids we choose as babysitters.

There are few laws, if any, to tell us definitively how young is too young to babysit, but it's never too early to start teaching your child about responsibility and the value of hard work.