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Teenaged Babysitters, Plus Week in Review

Dear Debi,
How should I prepare a teenager to care for my child?
Debi's Tips
Debi Gutierrez
Debi Gutierrez
  • Age of babysitter depends on maturity level, but generally they should be at least 14 years of age
  • Prescreen your babysitter – discuss child care scenarios and check references
  • Children under the age of two are too big a responsibility for most babysitters to handle
  • Provide emergency contact info so your babysitter can reach you
  • Use babysitter only for an appropriate length of time
Week in Review
Don’t forget about the great things that we learned this week:
Expert Advice
Blanca Alarcon
Blanca Alarcon
Child development specialist
Most parents experience the need for a babysitter at one time or another. For many parents, a good option can be a teenager that they know and trust. But how exactly should you prepare a teenager to care for your child?

For the most part, a teenager won’t have the same kind of training as a child care provider, so parents have to be more patient and understand that he or she won’t have automatic knowledge of many things. You’re getting a young person who has limited training and experience. Their main responsibility is to keep your child safe within short amounts of time. Your main expectation should be that he or she has common sense. It’s important to consider your child’s temperament and the kind of match it will be with the prospective teenager.

Age of Babysitter
In order to care for children, your babysitter should probably be between 14 and 18 years of age. That doesn’t necessarily mean you should rule out a 13-year-old, but I would certainly take the 13-year-old’s level of maturity into consideration when deciding whether or not it’s appropriate. It’s going to depend on the individual teenager.

Age of Child in Care
I wouldn’t recommend leaving an infant or a child under the age of 2 in the care of a teenager. There are so many different emergency situations that can arise with a young child that age. You really want someone who can handle those situations. Obviously, if a teenager has a certain kind of training, such as CPR training, she’s going to be much more mature and better prepared. But usually, caring for a child under the age of 2 is going to be too big a responsibility for most teenagers.

Screening a Babysitter
When meeting with a potential teenaged babysitter, you want to be an observant parent and watch for cues that indicate the level of maturity. The teen’s demeanor and level of comfort answering questions can be a sign of maturity level. Ask if they’ve had any formalized training or taken any classes in school that would apply to child care experience. Ask them about their interests, hobbies and how they’re doing in school. All these things could be indicators of their maturity level.

It is absolutely appropriate for parents to ask for references. If you know that the teen has cared for other children, it’s a good idea to ask for references. Ask about their family structure. If they’ve taken care of their own siblings, you know they have at least some experience. If the teen doesn’t have references, it might be a good idea to do a couple of trial runs where you leave for an hour at a time and see how comfortable he or she is and how comfortable you are leaving your kids.

Emergency Contact Info
Make sure that you provide your babysitter with a list of emergency numbers – all the phone numbers where the parents can be reached, and additional back-up phone numbers of other trusted friends and family members. Parents should review emergency procedures with the teen. If your child is sick and is taking medication such as antibiotics, then it might not be the best thing to leave your child in the care of a teenager because dosages can get tricky.

Parents should find out where the teen lives and how to get a hold of the teen’s parents in case of an emergency. In terms of information relevant to the care of the kids, the teen should share what happened and what the kids did while they were gone. If parents had specified things they wanted the sitter to do, such as feeding or putting the kids to bed, then request a report of what happened while they were gone.

Duration of Babysitting
Finally, remember that leaving your kids in a teen’s care for prolonged periods of time can be trying and can lead to a tired and frustrated teen. An appropriate length of time for a teenager to baby sit your kids should probably be not much longer then the time it takes for you to go to dinner and a movie.

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