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Babysitting Tips for Teens and Tweens

Can we guess what your first job was? Chances are, if it wasn’t a paper route, lawn care or snow clearing – it was babysitting! Were we right?

Well, now that you have a tween or a teen at home, there’s also a good chance that they will be babysitting soon, too. Babysitting is a big responsibility, and there are important things that you and your child need to consider before getting started. Here are some babysitting tips from ManitobaParentZone to help your child stay safe and have fun—and maybe even make a little money at the same time.

Most parents feel that 12 is about the time that tweens are ready to start thinking about babysitting, although not all 12 year olds are ready to stay at home alone, never mind babysit. Remember that Manitoba law states that children under 12 may be in need of protection if they are left unattended and without reasonable provision for their safety. If your child is expressing an interest in babysitting, consider what other responsibilities he or she can handle successfully. Children with younger siblings might have a higher comfort level babysitting, but it’s usually best to base this decision on your child’s individual skills and maturity.

The Canadian Red Cross, as well as other organizations, offer babysitting courses for tweens and teens. These courses provide first aid and safety information as well as practical tips and helpful hints for first time babysitters. Having this certification might help your child feel more confident in their babysitting abilities. It may also help your child promote herself or himself to potential clients.

Of course, your child will also need to find families to babysit for! One of the best sources of babysitting clients are those families that are known to you – either family friends or families in your neighborhood. You can spread the word amongst family and friends once your child is ready to babysit, and very likely, you will get a few bites. Using the internet or social media to offer babysitting services is not recommended as it can place your teen in difficult to manage and potentially dangerous situations. If you don’t know the family especially well, it is a good idea to accompany your child on a visit to the home before he or she commits to babysitting. This gives you an opportunity to see the home, as well as to get to know the parents and family a little better before your child is left unattended in the home.

Before he or she agrees to babysit, remind your teen to discuss expectations for routines like bedtimes and snack times, and to ask what cleanup should look like in the home – for example, do dishes go in the sink or in the dishwasher right away? Your teen should also have an idea of how long the babysitting shift will last. Will it start at 5 p.m. or at 7 p.m.? Does your teen need to feed the children in his/her care or will they be fed before the parents go out? It’s also a good idea for you and your child to have an idea of when the parents expect to be home. For example, if the babysitting is to occur on a school night, will the parents be home by 11 p.m. or do they expect to be home after midnight? Make sure the expectations feel reasonable to your teen and to you.

Fees should also be set beforehand. Negotiating fees and rates might feel tricky to a less-assertive teen, but your child has the right to be paid fairly for her or his services. You can help by getting an idea of the going rate in your neighborhood by asking around or your teen can check with friends who babysit.

Each babysitter has different skills and comfort levels, and it’s okay for your child to decline jobs that he or she isn’t ready for or doesn’t feel are a good fit. Not every teen feels ready to babysit a very young baby, a child with behaviour challenges, a child with life-threatening allergies, or several siblings at once. It’s also important to notice any potential safety concerns in the home, such as renovations in progress, unruly pets, or swimming pools and hot tubs, and discuss them with the family before agreeing to the job. Remind your child that even if he or she declines a particular job, another will come along.

Babysitting is a job, so encourage your child to be at his or her best, by being on time, courteous, and dressed comfortably and appropriately. Although your teen might have a cell phone, encourage her or him to tuck it away in an accessible but non-tempting place, and to use it sparingly. It is not a good idea for friends to visit while your child is babysitting, nor is it safe for him or her to use headphones after the children go to sleep – he or she may not hear them if they call.

At the beginning of the babysitting shift, your child should also be informed of where the parents will be and how best to reach them. Your child should also ask the parents if they would like her to answer the phone while they are out. She or he should also find out where the first aid supplies are in case they are needed, as well as what the family’s fire escape plan is. Don’t forget family pets – it is important to know if your child is expected to feed the pet, to know how often they might need to go outside, and if they are allowed on the furniture. It might also be helpful if your child is able to reach you throughout the time period he or she babysits - particularly for the new babysitter. Knowing that you are available to assist him or her, if things start feeling overwhelming, can be very comforting to a new babysitter.

Make sure you and your child are both clear about how she or he will get home after finishing the shift. If a ride home is needed and you know the family well, you might be comfortable with a parent driving your child, or you may prefer to pick your child up. It is essential that your child knows not to accept a ride home if he or she thinks the parents might have been drinking. Create a backup plan with your child ahead of time so that your child is comfortable with the options available to him/her. You might want to rehearse what she/he would say to the parent, as well as come up with a plan for how your child can contact you quickly and discreetly if needed.

After your child gets home, talk to her about the experience. Ask what went well and also explore if there were any problem areas. Check to see if there was anything that made him or her feel unsure, uncomfortable, or even just gave him or her a strange feeling. Use your parental intuition and investigate further if you need to.

Babysitting can be a great way to gain experience and references for future part-time work, and hopefully your tween or teen will have fun along the way, too. Check the links below for more great tips and information about babysitting, aimed at both teens and parents.