Times have changed since the days when your neighborhood teen could pop over last minute to babysit for the first time. A teenage babysitter is still a great solution for when you want to go on a date night or run some errands, but parents need to think about safety issues and prepare the sitter for emergencies.
Safety should always be your top priority when it comes to leaving your kids with a sitter. Nearly 30 percent of parents have rejected a potential babysitter because of safety concerns, according to a survey from the Red Cross.
Do your homework before hiring a teenage sitter — just as you would with any sitter — and follow these tips to ensure all safety concerns are addressed before you step out the door.
Determine If the Sitter Is Ready
Most teenagers start babysitting around 14 to 16 years old, but how do you know when a potential sitter is up to the task of watching your child?
When you’re hiring a teen sitter, “the key attributes to look for are maturity, trustworthiness and responsibility,” says child safety and health expert Debra Holtzman, author of “The Safe Baby: A Do-Yourself Guide to Home Safety and Healthy Living.”
She encourages potential employers to speak with the sitter’s parents before hiring and “ask for references from past employers, teachers, camp counselors, etc., and check them out thoroughly.” When interviewing the teen, ask questions about school, friends and extracurricular activities. Talk about his or her social life. Look them up on sites like Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, to see how much time they spend on social media and if they are posting anything objectionable.
Look for Proper Training
Age isn’t the end-all, be-all qualification for a sitter. Look for teens that are serious about babysitting and have taken training and safety classes.
Holtzman emphasizes the importance of confirming your sitter is trained in CPR, first aid and infant and toddler safety. “If you and your family like a potential sitter who has not had training, recommend that he or she take a training course at a local hospital, school or safety organization [like the Red Cross],” she says.
Share this article with them on How to Get First Aid and CPR Training
Introduce Your Sitter to Your Home
Once you’ve decided a sitter is a good fit, Holtzman recommends giving a tour of your home and acquainting her with the dos and don’ts of the house.
She suggests that you “point out and demonstrate how to use all the safety devices you have installed [like gates, child-resistant latches and locks]. Show him or her where you store supplies, such as a flashlight, first-aid kit and fire extinguisher. Identify those areas of your home that are off-limits to your children.”
In addition, familiarize your new sitter with your family’s fire escape and earthquake procedure (if applicable), and establish a meeting place should your sitter and children be evacuated.
Introduce Your Sitter to Your Kids
Before you leave your kids with a new sitter, you want to make sure they get along and the sitter knows how to behave. Think about hiring the sitter to watch your kids for a few hours after school, while you stay in the house and get chores done.
Tell your sitter anything she should know about your kids, like how you expect your children to behave, their routines and any their favorite toys and games.
Define Responsibilities and Expectations
This groundwork should be laid out long before your sitter arrives for a first night on the job. “Be specific about your expectations and what information is important for the sitter to know. Write these down and discuss them, too,” says Holtzman.
Here are some things you may want to go over:
- No friends/boyfriends/girlfriends allowed over
- No smoking in the house
- No sleeping on the job (even when the baby is napping)
- No high-risk activities, like swimming in the pool when you’re not around
- No bath time for babies, unless the sitter has been trained and has your permission
- No leaving the house with the child without your permission
- What food/drinks the kids are allowed to have
While your kids are always angels (ahem), tantrums and bad behavior do happen. What should your babysitter do in these instances?
Talk About Electronics
Make sure the sitter understands his or her primary concern is the safety and well-being of your child and they should put away all distractions or leave them at home (phones, tablets, computers, etc.).
“It’s difficult to properly supervise children while you’re multitasking, so tell the sitter to avoid texting, talking on the cell or using the Internet, unless absolutely necessary,” says Holtzman.
Set ground rules for when the kids are sleeping — what’s allowed and where?
And under no circumstance should your sitter be posting on social media sites about the babysitting job, including who, when and where he or she is babysitting — this includes taking photos of the family or the home. Teenagers use social media all the time, so it may not even occur to them why this is a problem.
Get more tips from this article on 9 Social Media Rules Your Nanny Should Follow
Explain Medicines and Allergies
“If your child has special medical needs or takes medicine the sitter may need to administer, explain the dosage,” states Holtzman.”Be sure the sitter understands that he or she should never give the child any medicine without your permission and instructions.”
What should the babysitter do if your child gets sick while you’re gone? What warrants a phone call to you?
If your child has any allergies, create a guideline that includes all allergies (food, pets, grass, etc.), a description of the reaction signs and procedures to follow in the event your child does experience an episode.
Read up on Allergies 101 for Your Sitter
The babysitter you hire should plan lots of fun games and activities to keep your kids entertained while you’re gone. Ask what your sitter has in mind and make sure they are safe and age-appropriate for your kids. Knowing your children are home having fun can be a relief for parents who may be feeling guilty about leaving (you’re allowed to enjoy yourself!).
Offer Parting Instructions
“It won’t hurt to have last-minute instructions written down along with the other guidelines,” concludes Holtzman.
A few examples include:
- Keep the doors and windows locked
- Turn on outside lights in the evening
- Never open the door to anyone, unless you personally know him or her and you have specific permission
- Always check before opening the door to anyone — look through a peephole or window first
- Know the emergency plan
Before you leave, make sure your sitter knows where you’re going, how long you’ll be gone and how you can be reached.
Stress several times that your sitter should never hesitate to contact you for any questions, says Holtzman. “I always explain that no matter how minor or silly it might appear, I would always welcome the call.”
A teenage babysitter can be a safe and convenient for finding child care. Do your research to find a sitter with the necessary personality, safety know-how and maturity to care for your kids.
Jennifer Geisman is a freelance writer in Los Angeles. Her work can be found here.