### Why Does My Child Idolize the Babysitter as a Superhero?

When I was approximately 10 years old, a significant influence on my fashion choices, views on boys, and general outlook on life stemmed from interactions with our teenage babysitter. Rumors swirled that she had a distant familial connection to Madonna, sparking a sense of reverence within my young mind. She served as my entry point into the realm of teen magazines and was the mastermind behind my initial, albeit flamboyant, makeover featuring teased 80s-style bangs and vivid blue eyeshadow.

Fast forward to the present day, and I observe my own 10-year-old daughter exhibiting a similar admiration for our current teenage sitters. The dynamic is both powerful and undeniably adorable.

For instance, this past summer, my children excitedly recounted an intriguing discovery introduced by our 15-year-old babysitter: CDs. In response, I proudly presented them with a three-ring binder overflowing with albums from the likes of Britney Spears and The Chicks (formerly known as the Dixie Chicks) and offered to play a few tracks. However, to my surprise, their interest waned.

Unlike my conventional approach, the babysitter, exuding a far greater sense of coolness, encouraged my kids to transform the CDs into artistic projects by painting them. Embracing their creative impulses, my children spent the afternoon engrossed in painting over my cherished “1999 Car Jamz 4 The Ride 2 School” mixes.

Had I proposed such an idea involving repurposing my old CDs, my children would likely have remained engrossed in their Minecraft endeavors. Yet, when the suggestion originates from a high schooler, it suddenly becomes the epitome of brilliance. This pattern recurs consistently. Tidying up post-art project? A non-issue for the sitter but a monumental struggle for me. Considering retiring a worn-out top? Sage fashion advice from an older peer, but a questionable notion when it stems from mom.

This phenomenon appears most prevalent among tweens and teens, as evidenced by my friend’s experience with her two sons, aged 7 and 9, who mirror the behaviors of my 10 and 12-year-olds. Not only do they aspire to emulate the activities of their older counterparts, but the older children also wield significant influence within their social sphere. “If they propose an idea or game, my kids are eager to participate in any capacity,” my friend remarks.

While occasionally exasperating, the inclination of our children to value the opinions of slightly older peers over parental guidance is not a perplexing concept. To children, adulthood, particularly one’s forties, appears incredibly distant. Parental advice may feel discordant and unfamiliar because kids struggle to envision their parents in similar circumstances, even if it was in “the 1900s.”

When counsel echoes from a marginally older neighbor, teenage babysitter, or young adult cousin, children find it more relatable. These older individuals inhabit the same contemporary world and have recently navigated the developmental stage that our children currently occupy.

Scientific studies corroborate this phenomenon. A study published in Psychological Science nearly a decade ago revealed that adolescents aged 12 to 14 are more inclined to trust the opinions of their peers on matters of safety and risk compared to their parents. Tween and teens exhibit a profound reliance on peer influence, with slightly older individuals holding a particular allure. Younger children, as per the study, tend to maintain trust in adults, while older teens eventually rekindle an appreciation for parental guidance.

Tween years signify a period of substantial transformation, prompting children to seek guidance from teens who have recently undergone similar experiences. It provides solace to realize that this trend is not unique to my children, albeit slightly disconcerting.

As with numerous parenting dilemmas, perhaps we must adopt a “this too shall pass” mindset concerning the fascination with older kids. The hero worship phase, while developmentally anticipated, may indeed play a pivotal role in their identity formation. Fortunately, as research suggests, they are likely to reevaluate the significance of our opinions in due course. Ultimately, when faced with decisions at Target, I find myself seeking counsel from my mother, not my former babysitter.

Meg St-Esprit, M. Ed., a journalist and essayist residing in Pittsburgh, PA, is a proud mother to four adopted children, including twins. Her writing delves into the realms of parenting, education, trends, and the comedic aspects of nurturing young minds.

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