i think it always depends on the maturity of the older child. my friend has a 9 year old who is more than capable of "watching" her 6 year old, given that they are close with all their neighbors as backups. she would never leave him for long, perhaps just to run to the grocery. and it helps that her 6 year old has never been much trouble. of course, with many other children, that would never work out. i don't know for sure, but i think in my state a child can stay home alone at 12 legally (but right now i have nothing to back that up.) if you are in any way not confident about the older child's ability to handle an emergency then don't try it yet. it sounds like you need a good babysitter. i too dislike the idea of teen watching my children, and as we are without family in the area, i have relied on women who work in the daycare at my gym. i get adults who can handle anything, who won't spend the entire time on my phone or computer, and can lay down the law like only an adult can. we don't peanuts either, so we don't go out much, but i recommend looking for someone with many years of childcare experience. good luck!