The XX Factor

The Babysitters Club in 2010

Scholastic is reissuing the Babysitters Club series, in the hope that it will capture the hearts and minds of middle-graders as it did in the 1980s, when its various 213 titles sold 176 million copies total. Nina , I know you’re thrilled-and the WSJ has Laura Vanderkam hoping that the updated series will inspire more young teens and tweens (the Junior Babysitters of the books were 11) to take on some responsibilities, earn their own money, and experience a little independence. In the books, it all worked out fine. As Vanderkam says, “The children … had a good time, their parents got a well-deserved night out; and the earth did not crash into the sun.”

But things didn’t go quite so smoothly for Bridget Kevane , whose decision (in 2007) to drop her 3-, 7-, and 8-year olds at the Bozeman, Mont., mall with two 12-year-olds (Kevane’s daughter and a friend) resulted in her being charged with endangering the welfare of a child after the older girls left the younger children outside of a dressing room. There was no disaster-the children weren’t even distraught-but store employees called security, and the result, eventually, was a guilty plea from Kevane, who probably won’t be buying the newly reissued Kristy’s Great Idea any time soon.

I thought of Kevane last week, when I let my 5-, 4- and 3-year olds walk three blocks down our own small town Main Street, supervised only by my 8-year-old son and his 9-year-old friend. I had no doubt that I was making a fine parenting decision (Sam’s tougher about holding hands in the crosswalk than I am), but I did wonder how others would judge me. And then I waved, turned my back, and let Sam and his friend Dory take over. Our ideas about what kids are capable of and safe in doing have changed vastly even since I was a latch-key first grader. Would a new generation of 12- and 13- year olds even be allowed to baby-sit, and if they did, would they find any takers? (Probably not in Bozeman.) Our kids may see Kirsty, Claudia, and the rest the way they do Harry, Ron and Hermione-as products of a different world.