Yes, You Should Hire That Teenage Babysitter

It could be the best thing for you, your child, and the teenager, too.

babysitter with baby

Getty Images / juanmonino

An article on the Let Grow blog caught my attention this week. Titled "Are Teenage Babysitters and Babysitters Clubs Obsolete?," it drew attention to the fact that few parents these days seem inclined to hire neighborhood teens to watch their kids, despite the numerous benefits to be had from such an arrangement. In fact, the article states that the average age of babysitters in the United Kingdom has risen from 14 to 34 over the past several decades.

Those benefits include teens earning money and developing a heightened sense of responsibility, kids being able to interact with a generation that's in between them and their parents (and thus more accessible), parents getting a break from their kids without having to spend a fortune, and teens getting out of their houses and nurturing friendships with children and other adults at a time when they may not want to interact with their own families.

I worked as a teenage babysitter for years and can relate to all of those benefits. I did hourly babysitting, overnight babysitting, summer weekdays as a live-in nanny for wealthy cottagers in my region, and even took a two-week trip to Atlantic Canada to help a family traveling with young children. I chaperoned children at fancy dinner parties and concerts. I had a standing weekly date with a 4-year-old whom I accompanied to all of Toronto's art galleries and museums, up the CN Tower, and to the zoo. One memorable evening I babysat eight children under the age of eight while several sets of parents went out for dinner. I had to turn down invitations to babysit in Hawaii and France because of school conflicts. There was more work than I could possibly take on.

At the time, I viewed those jobs as mostly tedious and a means to an end (more money in my bank account), but now I see them as formative experiences of their own. The Let Grow blog post reminded me of just how significantly babysitting influenced my worldview and my approach to parenting. It made me think that more teens should be babysitting because it really does prepare you for life in a way that few other things can. 

Babysitting taught me the value of raising well-behaved children. It makes everyone's life easier. When kids are consistently polite, pleasant, and responsive when spoken to, they're a delight to be with. I discovered that many kids who act bratty in front of their parents are lovely as soon as their parents leave, and that picky eating habits often evaporate when food is placed in front of them by someone other than their parent.

I gained many practical skills pertaining to children – how to change diapers, wipe little bums, wash sticky hands, avoid choking hazards. I discovered that the outdoors is an effective balm to many emotional ailments and the best way to wear out high-energy children. I learned that reading books aloud is an excellent way to pass the time and that music makes an instant party.

Babysitting revealed how other households operate. This is a fascinating, invaluable lesson. It's like doing a mini student exchange for just an evening, minus the travel. I observed skincare regimens and fashion choices and cookbook collections and bookshelves and snack cupboards for clues about how other people live, stashing those tidbits of information for future pondering. 

I realized that adults can be cool and fun. I had great conversations with the parents of children I babysat. Some parents introduced me to their favorite music on the drive home, described their own jobs and interests, and showed curiosity about my schoolwork and life goals. One parent encouraged me to sign up for a year-long student exchange program when I was 16, challenging my initial assumption that a year was too long. Based on her encouragement, I applied and was accepted.

Perhaps most importantly, babysitting taught me how smart and resilient children are. Kids are great at entertaining themselves and they won't fall apart when their parents leave for a day (or if they do, they recover quickly). In fact, children often enjoy having some time away from their parents, with someone younger and more energetic to watch over them. This taught me to view them as strong, independent little beings whose identities are not defined by their parents.

In a society where families are increasingly isolated from each other, where children are no longer raised by a "village" or community of caring individuals, where parents feel like they're doing it all on their own and are fearful of letting children explore neighborhoods on their own, hiring a teenage babysitter is a simple way to bridge that gap and fill a void. It brings a small part of the community into the home, while giving that teen a chance to gain some independence, too. 

The next time you're craving a date night with your partner (and the world has reopened enough to allow it), don't hesitate to call on that teen down the street and offer him or her a job. It could be the best thing for all of you.