I was a teenage babysitterFeb 15th, 2009 | By admin | Category: Features, Learning Kids
I was a teenage babysitter
Advice for parents and teens—from the trenches
By Janis Hashe
You may be thrilled that your next-door neighbor’s child is finally old enough to babysit,” says Care.com founder Sheila Lirio Marcelo, “but you still need to make sure she is mature enough to leave your children with.”
Most parents, at one time or another, rely on teenage babysitters. Few families can afford full-time nannies or unlimited professional daycare.
Dad Greg Pitkoff is, he admits, luckier than most:
“My mother-in-law lives not far away and has been a ready and willing (and free!) sitter virtually whenever we’ve needed her the past nine-and-a-half years since my daughter was born (we have a 7-year-old son as well). We also quickly and easily found a sitter we (and my daughter) loved when my wife went back to work after maternity leave when my daughter was born. So we’re rather spoiled on the point of sitters. I have a friend, though, for whom it seems it’s a full-time job to find and manage sitters. His 12-year-old daughter has autism-like symptoms, and they have a 9-year-old son as well. The effort to find qualified help is a topic of virtually every social discussion I have with them.
“All this, on top of my realization that some people really do have it tough finding a sitter, as embodied in the currently running commercial in which a new customer who received four companion air tickets uses them as blackmail to acquire the number of one of her friend’s sitters.”
Finding and keeping teen sitters
Chattanooga mom Julie Baumgardner has done it all: She’s been a teenage sitter, she has hired teen sitters, and her own daughter Ashley, 15, is now occasionally babysitting.
“All parents go through the, ‘I’ve never left my child’ anxiety,” she says. Unless parents plan to stay home until their child leaves for college, however, they will need to get over it. Ashley, Julie says, took a babysitter certification course that covers basic first aid and other essentials. “It boosted her confidence level,” she says. “And we have emphasized it’s never a bad thing to call and ask for help.”
At Care.com, Sheila Lirio Marcelo has created several tools for parents to use. Her own blog on the site constantly updates users with new information, and the “babysitter calculator” allows you to find out what the going rate for babysitters is in Chattanooga.
“Right now, for two kids, a babysitter with one year of experience is typically getting $11 an hour in Chattanooga,” she says.
Julie Baumgardner notes that the rate varies depending on the age and number of children, as well as other factors. “I’d say people are paying from $6-$10 an hour,” she says.
(Mom Vicki Runge suggests: “Pay anything they want, plus some! It’s the only way a parent can trump other parents. Think of your money spent on sitters as a savings account—in the long run your child may very well be babysitting and therefore earn back all monies spent in the past for their care.”)
But of course, more than money, parents are concerned with finding sitters who like children, who are reliable, and who will follow house rules. Marcelo gave us the following guidelines:
Availability. As most parents know, needs can change dramatically year to year, so it’s really important to find a caregiver whose schedule matches yours.
Experience. A mom of a newborn will have different needs than one with a 10-year-old. It’s important to find someone who has the right skill set for your child. “If your child is considering babysitting, play out some scenarios with her,” Marcelo suggests. “What if you’re dealing with the 3-year-old and the baby reaches into the toilet?”
Personal needs. A parent may need a caregiver who has his or her own transportation or one who speaks a second language. “Also, you may want to find out about their interests and see if there is a good match with your child’s,” she says. (Notes Julie Baumgardner: “Ashley sometimes looked for her own babysitters! She came home from camp one year really enthused about her camp counselor. And we did hire her to babysit.”)
Trust is first and foremost. If you are planning a long-term relationship with this babysitter, it is important to introduce him or her to your child first and observe the interaction to make sure that it’s a good match. (It’s also important for the sitter and his or her parents to know all the details of the job, Julie says: “They need to know how many kids, for how long, where, do I know the people? What is going to be required: baths, dinner, etc.?”)
Safety is critical. It’s important to ask the right questions. How does this person handle a crisis situation? How would they react if your child’s not listening? “Of course it helps to know the parents when you are hiring a sitter, but if you don’t, you should certainly check references. If the sitter has a Social Security number, you can do a background check,” advises Marcelo. Parents must always leave a list of contact numbers for emergencies, and the list should also include important rules, such as, “Please do not leave the back door unlocked.” She suggests going over the list verbally with your sitter, giving him or her a chance to ask questions.
Do an unannounced check-in at some point early in the relationship. “Come home a little early or stop by at some point in the evening,” Marcelo says. We asked her if she believes in a “one strike and you’re out” policy with teen babysitters. “It depends on the situation,” she says. “If the house is a little messy, but your child is happy and you like the sitter, pick your battles.” On the other hand, if you have been firm about no visitors, and the babysitter has not followed your instructions, that sitter should be an ex-sitter.
Besides asking the sitter how things went, be sure and ask your child or children. “What activities and games did you play? Did you have fun? If you get a sense that they might be scared, that is not a good fit,” Marcelo says.
Julie Baumgardner says for her teenage daughter, working as a babysitter has had benefits beyond the extra money in her pocket. “I know for my daughter, babysitting has been an eye-opening experience,” she says. “She came home from sitting for a baby once and said, ‘I am exhausted!’ It’s really helped her to recognize the responsibilities of being a parent.”
On condition of anonymity, one Chattanooga teen agreed to share her horror story of babysitting for one family that will never see her again.
“Some people I often babysit for had recommended me, but I was not familiar with the family,” she says. “They had a boy, 4, and a girl, 6. When I arrived, the husband pulled out a list of all the things they wanted me to do and didn’t want me to do, including emptying the dishwasher, not using the computer under any circumstances, etc. They acted as if I was a maid.
“The little boy would not do anything I asked. He’d just hit me and then run away. I finally called the mother, and she said, ‘I did tell you he is belligerent. Just keep trying.’
“Then on top of everything, they called me the next day—at school—to ask if I had taken one of his toys! I was appalled. Then they called back, said they’d found it, and would call me again for babysitting. Of course I’ll never work for them again.”