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Home Family Parenting Advice It’s time to hire a teenage babysitter — Good Parenting

It’s time to hire a teenage babysitter — Good Parenting

babysitterDear Dr. Debbie,

We are blessed with lots of extended family nearby and several dear friends who don’t mind babysitting for us. A few times, however, we have had to cancel plans when no one is available. I’ve been asked why we don’t find a neighborhood teenager. I didn’t babysit as a teen and cannot imagine myself nor any of my friends at that age being up to the job. Since then my children have taught me — time management, ingenuity, selflessness, patience, short-order cooking, boo boo tending and how to communicate with someone who hasn’t yet acquired intelligible speech. How could I possibly leave my 2-year-old and 5-year-old with someone half my age and possessing none of my parenting experience?

How Do People Do This?

Don’t miss last week’s column Appropriate expectations for a child with special needs — Good Parenting


Yes, parents have been known to entrust their children with babysitters who are legally still children themselves. A competent teenage babysitter can be invaluable for parents, and a lot of fun for the children. They are still young enough to enjoy some play time, but mature enough to follow your instructions for a modest fee. Here are some suggestions for tapping into a valuable neighborhood commodity.

Years in the making

There is usually a short window of time between the legal age for babysitting (13 in Maryland) and a busy life of sports, dating and academic overload. You can get a head start on finding a good sitter by using a younger child — age 10 is ideal — to be a mother’s helper. Trust is involved to get this going. You should have already established a neighborly relationship with the helper’s parents for them to consent to their child taking care of your children while you are still at home. The helper will invest in a couple years of familiarity with you, your home and especially your children as he or she matures until you can see your way clear for short trips of errand running. As the 13-year-old proves to be reliable, you can extend your forays further and longer, adding responsibilities of meals and bed time.

Immediate preparations

Think through what a sitter might need to find in your absence. Are your first aid supplies stocked? If a meal or snack is in your children’s schedule, keep it as simple as possible. Remember that ovens and microwaves may require additional instruction, as well as additional mindfulness. If a change of clothes, including diapers, may be needed for your children, lay these out in an obvious place. Beloved toys or essential comfort items should also be located and pointed out before you leave.

Ready the kitchen/bedroom/family room so that the essentials for childcare are easy to find. Your 5-year-old may already be a master of the remote, but be a good host and show the sitter how to use it for when the children are fast asleep. Prepare a list of phone numbers with other written instructions so anything glossed over as you are heading out can be referenced as needed. If all this preparation still feels lacking, ask for a text, a call, or FaceTime if you must, or let the sitter know what time you plan to check in. And don’t worry if you’ll be inaccessible, a young sitter’s own mother is almost always a phone call away with at least 13 years’ experience to draw from.

Handing over (some) authority

Do your children have limits on screen time? Are there limits as to where, what and how much food can be consumed? Go over the house rules — in front of the children — so that your authority is clearly transferred to the sitter. Some children will take advantage of substitute parents — just as they will substitute teachers — knowing that they aren’t really in charge. By the same token, a babysitter should not be expected to serve up consequences for behavior, so try to anticipate any areas of confusion. If warranted, be clear that the sitter should deliver a report at the conclusion so that the parents can deal with misbehavior themselves.

When I was a young teen, I once babysat for a family that had a list of rules posted on the refrigerator that their family therapist had helped them draft. The three children would probably agree with me that the evening was frenzied but fun. The parents had a much-needed night off and I gained confidence — though not perfection — in my child management skills. If your children are generally well-behaved, appreciate that they are in good enough hands even though the sitter may not do everything exactly as you would.

Time and money, and snacks

As a considerate employer, settle on fees and times when you make the arrangements with the sitter. If you are late, be sure to compensate and apologize accordingly. Don’t risk losing a good sitter by not sticking to the deal you agreed upon. If you’re not sure of the going rates, ask around or ask the sitter.

I fondly remember the moms I babysat for who bought and even baked snacks just because I was coming. If you respect your sitter’s needs, you stand a better chance of keeping him or her in your family’s network of resources.

Dr. Debbie

Deborah Wood is a child development specialist in Annapolis. She holds a doctorate in Human Development from the University of Maryland at College Park and is founding director of the Chesapeake Children’s Museum. Long time fans and new readers can find many of her “Understanding Children” columns archived on the Chesapeake Family Magazine website. You can find her online at drdebbiewood.com.

What do you think? Leave your thoughts in the comments or submit a question to Dr. Debbie at Betsy@jecoannapolis.com

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