How to hire the best teen sitter ever
Better Babysitter training class covers safety and suggests age-appropriate activities to engage kids.
PHOTO: JOSHUA HUSTON
Long ago, parents yearning for a night out would call a neighbor girl to babysit. It was a custom as reliable as it was easy.
Enter 2018, the age of the millennials and post-millennial-aged sitters. These kids have academic commitments, year-round club sports, mandatory volunteer hours and may actually need a free Friday night more than parents. What’s more, even in this tight labor market with climbing childcare rates, this teen generation is choosing to work less than previous generations.
Is the neighborhood babysitter a dying institution? No. They’re out there, and can be reliable, delightful and not so long out of their own childhood, really good at genuinely playing with kids. Oh, and, 5 to 10 percent of the time, the babysitter is a young man.
The first challenge is finding teen sitters. Look on the hyperlocal neighborhood sites such as Nextdoor, or home association newsletters. Try local pools or rec center camps with youth leaders. Neighborhood churches with active youth programs can be babysitter bonanzas.
“It’s good to know the family,” says Lynn Perkins, co-founder and CEO of UrbanSitter, an online babysitting company where sitters, as on Care.com and Sittercity, must be 18. Care.com allows sitters as young as 14 with parent-monitored accounts. Perkins knows the institution of babysitting: she started UrbanSitter because she kept hearing from friends who were great managers at work but self-described “disasters” when it came to managing their nannies and sitters. And there is the crux of the issue; it’s a management game. Start with the interview and set the tone of expectations.
1. Ask the sitter what kind of activities she would do with your kids. Does she cook? Have dance parties? Throw a Barbie Ball? Does she bring a backpack of art supplies?
2. Ask under what circumstances she would telephone you. Emergency? Clarification of bedtimes? Kids arguing? Dessert options? Wi-Fi password? Look for an answer that shows she can solve a problem while respecting the household rules and understands when the situation calls for parent contact.
3. Find a babysitter’s passion. “You could say, ‘I see that you like art. I would love for you to spend time with my kids doing art while you are here,’” says Perkins. It keeps everyone happy and away from electronics.
4. Advertise for a sitter with a hobby or passion that relates to your children, be it volleyball, chess or Legos. “You get a more invested sitter if you put that as part of the job description,” says Perkins.
PHOTO: JOSHUA HUSTON
Instructor Teresa Rugg teaches a five-hour course for aspiring babysitters.
Look for sitters who have taken the Better Babysitter training class through Seattle Children’s Hospital. The five-hour course, geared for babysitters from about ages 11-14, is taught at Children’s campuses in Seattle, and also in Bellevue, Federal Way and Everett. The class doesn’t teach CPR (that’s a separate class, CPR and First Aid for Babysitters) but covers topics such as safety and suggests age-appropriate activities to engage kids.
At the onset, it’s crucial to over communicate with a sitter. Isabell Sakamoto, an instructor and coordinator for the Better Babysitter classes, recommends that sitters have a family information form for each family they work for, covering emergency contacts, routines, rules and the like.
“You have to be very clear about it,” says Perkins, who advises families to have their own instructions written out. Her personal instruction sheet includes consequences if her children don’t behave — for example, electronics will be taken away if the kids argue — and instructions for the sitter to show the kids the rules on the checklist. Perkins goes over the rules with the sitter and kids to make sure everyone understands what’s happening.
Babysitters may not know that your family has guidelines around electronics, so be sure to include that information in your instructions. Address likely trouble spots, such as kids trying to watch a forbidden show or bedtime pushback.
Give yourself an extra 15 minutes’ cushion to run through the checklist or just to chat. Build a relationship where the sitter will feel comfortable communicating and asking questions. “Millennials are motivated by meaning and purpose. They really want a relationship with the families they work for,” says Perkins.
This generation of babysitters is digital natives; use that to your advantage. Ask the sitter to text when she’s on her way over, particularly if it’s an afterschool sitting arrangement so that running late won’t be a surprise.
Tell your sitter to please limit cell phone use while she is babysitting and the kids are awake. Say it, put it on the instructions and check with the kids to see if the sitter was on her phone. Some wily kids will ask to see the babysitter’s phone to play with their apps or use the phone to take pictures of the pet. Advise the sitter not to fall for this ruse.
Many parents have said that they’ve come to find their children long asleep, the sitter on her cell phone and the dinner dishes sitting like a still life on the table.
Again, spell it out. “Some of them had helicopter parents,” said Perkins. They don’t know that it is their responsibility to clean up, or God forbid, ask the kids to put their plate in the dishwasher.” Be specific about whatever tidying up you expect from the sitter and/or your kids. Should they clean up any messes created while they are on duty, including dinner dishes?
“The parents should not have to come home to a mess,” says Sakamoto. “The expectation is that the sitter will clean up after herself and the children. We tell them to be respectful of the space and clean up.”
Sometimes babysitting is great at the beginning, then things start to slip. Reprint the instructions if you make a change or two, and keep true to your instructions.
UrbanSitter Babysitter checklist: blog.urbansitter.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/04/URBS_BabysitterChecklist.pdf
Seattle Children’s Hospital Better Babysitter Class: seattlechildrens.org/classes-community/current-class-offerings/better-babysitters/