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Teenage Babysitters: Can We Trust 'Em?

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The verdict is out.

Momlogic's Jenny: When I was 13, I babysat all the time. I would babysit for infants, toddlers, and even kindergarteners. Either my mom would drop me off at their houses, or their parents would come and get me. I would stay for a few hours -- at night-- sometimes the kids would be awake and we'd play (and watch TV), and other times I'd pretty much just housesit and wait for the parents to come home while the kids slept. It wasn't a tough gig, though hard during temper tantrums and diaper changes. And frankly, I was pretty good at it-- the kids loved me and at 13, I was quite comfortable in the role of the caretaker.

Baby sitter on the phone and girl writing on the wall

However, as a new parent myself, I am not so sure I'd be willing to hire a tween or teen to watch my toddler. In fact, when I think of the time that a baby I was sitting for fell off the couch because her older sister pushed her --  because I happened to turn away for a second to get the older one juice -- I am almost certain that I would not hire a teenager. I'm not even so sure I'd even feel comfortable having them "sit" while the baby sleeps. Is a teenager equipped to handle an emergency? When the baby fell, what did I do? I called my mom for help! But perhaps there are teens that are cautious and capable to watch my son. One of our staff members with a teenager of her own says her daughter babysits all the time and that she's quite good at it -- and of course can be trusted. Another mom said, "I used a teenage babysitter from across the street -- she was 13 years old -- for my 2-year-old. But only for a couple of hours, during the day and ONLY when the girl's mom was at home."

So should I only consider using a neighbor? Certainly, using a teenage babysitter is a lot cheaper than hiring a "real" nanny. But is it worth it? Does a teenager know how to not only physically handle a baby but also how to react to a crying baby, a teething baby, a hungry baby? Should I wait until my son is older to entrust a teenage babysitter? One mom on our staff says she's had a 14-year-old babysit her 5-year-old but would never have a 14-year-old babysit her 5-month-old. "For my 5-year-old, a babysitter is in many ways a playmate ... and our neighborhood babysitter always has energy and enthusiasm when it comes to playing Barbies or American Girl dolls."

Pediatrician Dr. Cara Natterson believes it's really a personal decision. "It depends upon the babysitter and the parents too. It is more important that your babysitter is engaged with your children and watching everything. I had one 19-year-old at my house who texted her friends all night long -- she started before we even left the house! The next time we hired a 15-year-old who was MUCH more focused on our kids -- and made us feel a lot more comfortable."

Clearly, deciding on who will care for your child, whether it's a nanny, relative or even school is a personal and big decision. But should there be an age requirement?

Tell us your thoughts!

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10 comments so far | Post a comment now
Kristine December 22, 2008, 3:51 PM

I started “babysitting” when I was 13. I started off as a “Mother’s Helper” ie I would go over, once a week, for a couple of hours and watch the kids (aged around 7, 4 and 3, or so) while the mother was home so she could get some work done. I didn’t start watching babies (ie 1-2 year olds) until I was 16ish. Even then, I think I’m a lot more responsible than a lot of people my age, and I was then too. It all depends on the person you’re looking at.

Anonymous December 22, 2008, 6:21 PM

I started babysitting at the age of 10, there was a disaster that happened, my aunts were of course, with me, while my aunts and i spoiled my baby cousin with sweets, you know, at night, her tonsils got infected. The next day when we have to pick up her mom at the airport, i was thinking that she’d outrage, luckily she wasn’t.

I think parents should teach their teens babysitting 101 or something

Chrissy December 22, 2008, 10:31 PM

Before I started babysitting my mother had me take a babysitting class that was offered by the community center where we lived. I remember getting a certificate stating I took the course and passed. I was 13. I think those are a great idea for tween and teens today.

Jane December 23, 2008, 9:32 AM

The “emergency” situation is one of my biggest fears about using teenage babysitters.

Kirstie December 23, 2008, 10:09 AM

I started babysitting around age 13, and the first family I was sitting for had a 6 year old, a 3 year old, and an 8 month old. I was, under every day circumstances, perfectly capable of it, and I always had people on hand who could rush over in case of an emergency (although if it was an emergency meriting police or an EMT, of course they’d be phoned first!).

I never had a major emergency while sitting, in terms of injury at least, in my many years of babysitting (I’m almost 20 now and still sitting =]) .. the worst thing that ever happened was when I was 13 or 14, however, with the aforementioned family. In the same night, the middle child got a bag stomach bug and felt miserable and the oldest child got mad at me for not allowing him to slide down the stairs in a box, and while I was changing the baby’s diaper, dialed 911 to “send me to jail”. (At six, children should know what 911 is for, and what it is not for!)

Of course, the police had to come out, as a matter of protocol - 911 gets called, a car goes out, end of story. They simply explained to the child that he needs to only ever call 911 in an emergency, and that it’s not a toy, etc.

Meanwhile, I had called the mom twice at this point .. once because her daughter was very sick and once because of the 911 fiasco .. and she refused to come home from her date! It was lovely.

First thing I did, after calling the kids’ mother? I definitely called MY mom. Though I knew how to handle the situation, my mom - who was only 4 houses down - needed a phone call about this one. I needed the reassurance, and she needed not to have a heart attack when she saw the flashing lights outside the house I was sitting at!

Point being .. some teenagers are perfectly capable, some are not. The key is, interview them the same way you would a real nanny. Find out if they’ve ever taken a safety class, like Chrissy mentioned, or if they have any other childcare experience (for example, through my high school I took childcare and development classes, during which I taught in a district pre-school). Ask if they would ever have a friend over. Ask how they would respond to specific scenarios. Before you go out and leave your child with someone, have them over for a ‘mother’s helper’ session as a trial run, so you can see how he or she interacts with your child(ren).

Teenagers can be wonderful babysitters - I loved babysitting when I was a younger teen, and I maintain the bonds I had with those kids. I still get Christmas cards from the boys who are too old now to have me babysit .. I loved those kids =]

Tracy December 23, 2008, 2:47 PM

My parents started leaving me sit for my younger brother and sister when I was around 10, I started getting babysitting jobs shortly after that. I was very mature for my age though and times were much different than they are now. I still do childcare from my home today and have a 5 and a 2 year old of my own. I’ve never hired anyone to watch my kids, only my mother and father in law have watched them. I guess I’m just very paranoid to leave them with anyone else. Back in my day we didn’t have cell phones,video games,the internet and all that extra stuff that kids have now a days that would keep them from focusing on the kids. I think there are some responsible teens that are able to do a good job at babysitting but lets face it, teens these days lead a much different life than we did 20 years ago. It only takes a second for something to happen to a child, It’s easy to get sidetracked while answering a text or on your phone. I personally don’t think I will be hiring any younger kids to babysit for me.

elizabeth January 5, 2009, 10:51 PM

I agree with the idea that we shouldn’t generalize by saying all 13 year old babysitters are or are not capable of competance. My half-brother “babysat” me when he was 15 and I was 5. He regularly left me alone and sometimes I followed him to his friends house where they all teased me. Therefore, I have a reason not to hire a boy babysitter. I babysat with my mom from age 8 and by myself at age 12. I was very competant and became the regular babysitter for many families at my church. No babies, though. I also took a course on babysitting and cpr at the local hospital. I have a newly turned 17 year old babysitter who is great and loves my kids. She feels like part of the family. However I have warmed up to her (as far as trust) over a period of five years. She still has only babysat on her own my 6 and 8 year olds a hand-full of times for a few hours at a time. Even then, I first asked her to do that without me home a year ago. That’s what made me comfortable.

Madison May 15, 2009, 10:02 PM

This is awful. I mean I understand that some teenagers aren’t responsible to handle your children but i know far too many mature 12 year old’s that could babysit for 3 kids at once! Personally, I feel that that picture is a little extreme.

Halley March 14, 2011, 8:48 AM

Well, I’m thirteen years and I’ve been babysitting since I was about ten. Mostly for my family, and sometimes other people’s kids as well.
I’ve always been pretty good with kids. I cook, clean, and play games. Sometimes it’s too much work, like when I have to watch my little siblings over the summer.
But, I think if you trust the family and if you trust the teenager, you’ll be fine.

Taylor April 4, 2011, 5:37 PM

I wouldn’t let my 7 year old with another child of 15 years old! I think that tweens and teens shouldn’t actually be babysiters. They have their own problems of age to have to deal with, and not have to take responsibility for younger siblings or children of others. If your tween or teen is looking some activity that gives a bit of responsibility and some money after school, he can be a office assistant or a helper in a small shop or grocery store. With that, he also learned to handle money and also give value to it. Another interesting activity and less stressful is caring for pets (to bathe, feed, take them for walks. While their owners are working)! Nowadays, I think tweens and teens go through so much stress and frustration, and I don’t really like the idea of child care for another child. Life has stages and they will learn to deal with children when they are finally parents.

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