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10 Tips for Babysitting a Teenager

Experts share their best advice for caring for teenagers.

Although teenagers often can be left alone, sometimes sitters are asked to look after them.

To learn the dos and don’ts of watching teenagers, we turned to Dominique Jordan, author of “Teen Help and Information;” Narelle Bitunjac and Fiona Debarge, authors of “The Little Survival Guide for Nannies;” Fran Walfish, child and family psychotherapist and author of “The Self-Aware Parent;” and Louise Heren, author of “Nanny in a Book.”

Here they share their best advice for caring for teenagers.

  1. Find Out Why a Sitter Is Needed
    “You must find out why you are being asked to watch someone who is often old enough to watch themselves and start planning your approach accordingly,” Bitunjac and Debarge say.

    One common reason is there are younger children in the house who require a sitter; another explanation is siblings who fight when left unsupervised. Before accepting a caregiving job for teens, take time to learn about the situation and its challenges.

  2. Communicate With the Teen
    Teens aren’t always on board with the idea of having a sitter. If that’s the case, make sure the lines of communication go both ways. When a teen resents having a sitter, Walfish recommends that you “Encourage the kid to tell you about it directly. Say to the kid, ‘I’m the kind of person that’s ready to hear about it.'”

  3. Understand Emotional Effort Required
    Chasing after toddlers is physically exhausting, but teenagers can lead to a different sort of exhaustion. “They may try to hook you in a power struggle,” says Walfish. However, take time to get to know the teenager and many potential discipline issues will fade away. “Gain the teen’s trust,” adds Heren.

  4. Be a Friendly Authority
    Jordan explains, “The sitter should let the teen know that he is in charge and that he’s there for the teen’s own safety and protection.” However, don’t try to rule as a dictator; as Walfish says, “Most teenagers hate to be told what to do.” She encourages sitters to “serve themselves up like a friendly big brother or big sister.”

    Keep the relationship professional, however, because if the situation arises, you still need to be able to maintain your authority.

  5. Stick to the Rules
    Sitters should ask parents about the rules of the house. If teens balk when you enforce the rules, Walfish suggests telling them, “I wouldn’t be a very good sitter if I didn’t hold to what your parents want me to do.”

    Bitunjac and Debarge encourage sitters to ask parents for a bit of leeway, though. “What rules can you use as a bargaining chip,” they ask. For example, it might be all right with the parents if you let the kids stay up late as a reward for cooperative behavior; just clear it with them ahead of time.

  6. Follow the Parents’ Lead
    “Use discipline approaches that work for the parents, as they will be more likely to work for you, too,” advise Bitunjac and Debarge. In some homes this might mean taking away privileges; in others, it may be parents want to be notified. Stick to what the parents prefer and have a backup plan. Sitters should ask the parents whom they can call when things get out of control.

  7. Allow Freedom
    Teens are at a unique phase in their life, where they need space to make their own decisions. “They’re testing the limits of their own authority,” Heren says. Rather than micromanaging, give the teens options, adds Bitunjac and Debarge.

  8. Stay Tuned in
    Although teens are able to take on more responsibility than younger kids, that’s not an excuse for the sitter to check out. The caregiver must be in touch with what’s going on. As Bitunjac and Debarge put it, “You need to be tuned in, not texting or chatting to people on Facebook.”

  9. Keep Kids Engaged
    Spend time with the teenagers in your care. Walfish stresses the importance of teens engaging with others in the common areas of the home, rather than isolating themselves in their bedrooms.

  10. Ask for their Ideas
    “Ask them what they want to do,” Heren says. “You can’t come to a house with teenagers and expect them to do the activities on your list.” Activities that interest many teens include cooking, watching movies, playing video games or taking bike rides. Others might want to play cards, draw or watch television. Be open to the teenager’s suggestions and have a good attitude about taking part in their favorite pastimes.

“One of the hardest things to do is look after teens,” say Bitunjac and Debarge, but don’t despair; take the experts’ advice to boost your confidence and success in your role as a caregiver to teenagers.

Meghan Ross is a freelance writer. Her work can be found here.