Finding a Reliable, Caring Babysitter
A few years ago my office manager showed up late for work because her seventeen-month-old son’s baby-sitter had canceled at the last minute. (She usually brought her infant daughter to work with her.) It was the latest in a series of frustrations she was having finding someone to help her out for a dozen or so hours per week.
“I’m looking for the type of baby-sitter I was when I was in high school,” she said plaintively. “It’s a constant problem. The other parents in my neighborhood won’t give me the names of their good baby-sitters. They don’t want them to be stolen away,” she added.
Parents searching for baby-sitters often receive a crash course in microeconomics. If you’re trying to hire someone to look after your children on a summer morning or a Friday evening, you’ll soon discover that you’ve entered a seller’s market.
But with teenage sitters, the critical variable may not be how much money you offer or even what your children are like. Baby-sitters often rate their employers more by the quality and abundance of the snacks they leave than by the behavior of their children. (Having a reputation for providing two pieces of cake, a pizza, or a pint of the latest gourmet ice cream can sometimes mean the difference between finding a sitter and not.)
Adults who baby-sit not including those who provide full-time childcare either in their home or in yours are relatively rare. While older adolescents may have the maturity and reliability parents want, they often prefer to take jobs in fast-food restaurants since they see them as offering higher status. That’s partly because, unlike baby-sitting, there’s a minimum age for such workers. (Actually, teenagers and adults can sometimes make more money baby-sitting even through they may have a lower hourly wage, since they’re almost always paid in cash and seldom report the income on their tax returns.)
That leaves the younger adolescents, who may not have the maturity and judgment you want in someone who cares for your child, even for a few hours. One response to the shortage of older, experienced babysitters has been the development of formal courses and videotapes that help early adolescents learn the rudiments of childcare.
Baby-sitting courses are now offered by the Red Cross, YMCAs, churches and synagogues, and Scouting groups. In addition to learning how to change a diaper and play with a toddler, such training often emphasizes what to do in a crisis, such as a fire or a medical emergency. The courses include basic first aid and CPR, as well as elementary work etiquette. (“Never eat the first or the last piece of anything in the refrigerator” is a common guideline.) There are also some programs on videotape that help young teenagers and even experienced baby-sitters learn some of the tricks of the trade, review emergency procedures, and give them some insight into child development.
These courses and videotapes also provide teenagers with a much-needed sense of status for what they’re doing. Young adolescents respond very well to the “professionalism” that goes along with a Scouting merit badge or a diploma from completing a course in baby-sitting. The certificates are tangible signs that they are progressing toward some of the responsibilities and privileges of adulthood. For many children, baby-sitting is a way to test new approaches to relating to adults as peers rather than superiors. Being aware of adolescents’ needs to see signs of their development into young adults can make hiring and retaining baby-sitters easier for parents.