Like every millennial, I spent many hours of my childhood in the care of neighborhood teenagers. My parents would order a pizza, write down the number of the restaurant they were going to, maybe pick up a movie from Blockbuster, and drive happily away in their station wagon while Dana or Dorothy or Sarai turned on a movie and proceeded to do whatever teenagers did in someone else’s house before Wi-Fi was widely available.
When I was 12, I started babysitting for the neighbors’ kids. My Girl Scout troop went en masse to the local hospital and got certified in infant CPR and the Heimlich maneuver, making our services worth a shocking five dollars an hour. By thirteen, I was regularly babysitting up to four kids at a time, and nobody thought anything of it. It was a great way to make money, and I enjoyed some aspects of it. (But not the part where the dad drives you home at the end of the night. That is never not creepy. If you hire a female teenage babysitter, please try to avoid having a man make awkward conversation as he drives her home.)
When I had my first child, I assumed that hiring teenagers was a thing people still did. I was wrong.
I was the first one of my friends to have kids. So nobody told me that teenage babysitters were a thing of the past. As a middle school teacher, I had access to an almost infinite labor pool. My son had his first non-family babysitter when he was about a year old when I hired two 7th graders from down the street to look after him while my husband and I went out to dinner.
Hiring teenage babysitters looks a little different than it did 30 years ago. They charge a higher rate, want the Wi-Fi password, text you worrying questions like, “Do you have any more paper towels?” and are likely to request Thai food from Uber Eats instead of Pizza Hut. They’re also less likely to have experience because apparently nobody hires teenage babysitters anymore.
In 2015, Care.com reported that parents were most interested in babysitters in the 20–25 age range. SitterCity.com reports that, when the site began in 2011, the average age of sitters was 18. Now it’s 21. The situation in the UK is even more extreme: The average age of babysitters has risen from 14 to 34 over the past couple of decades! And it’s not a particularly new trend. In 2012, (the same year I left my toddler with two twelve-year-olds), a Connecticut mom was arrested for leaving her children in the care of their 13-year-old sibling.
According to much of the Internet, hiring a teenage babysitter is the height of irresponsibility.
Consider this blog: “I Would Never Hire a Teenage Babysitter.”
Or this Buzzfeed article about The Baby-Sitters Club, which asks, “Why did the parents of Stoneybrook think it was okay to entrust their children to … actual children?”
Or Romper’s article, “I Was a Babysitter, and Here’s Why I’d Never Hire One.”
All these articles make similar points: that teens’ brains are not fully developed, that teenagers may not have the skills or maturity needed to cope with a crisis, and that teenagers are perpetually distracted by technology. And there may be some truth to those points. But there are plenty of great reasons to hire a teenage babysitter. Here are my top reasons.
Teenagers are energetic, creative, and great at relating to younger kids.
My teenage babysitters have been master sidewalk-chalk artists, creators of brilliant snacks, and teachers of WWF moves. (We were a little concerned about the last one, but nobody has been to the hospital yet.) My kids are used to spending time with adults. After all, they have parents who are in their thirties. But they rarely get to spend time with teenagers. My preschool daughter finds her 8th grade babysitter unbelievably glamorous and cool. My son got some great soccer tips from a high school varsity player. Which brings me to my second point.
Teenagers make a great addition to your village.
Kids need to engage with older people who are not their parents, especially as they grow. It’s a fact that in every generation, once a child turns 13, their parents suddenly transform into absolute idiots who are totally out of touch with the world. Enter teenage babysitters who will be there for your kids, long after they need a sitter. My kids aren’t out of the sitter years quite yet (aged 9 and 3), but we have a lasting relationship with one of our first babysitters. We talk to her on the phone, FaceTime on birthdays, and spent time together outside. She buys clothes for my daughter at yard sales, and I write scholarship recommendations and edit her papers. I hope that, as my daughter grows up, her babysitter will become an older, wiser friend who can see her through tough times she might not want to share with her parents.
Teenage babysitters are an investment in the future.
By the time my son was born, I already knew how to change a diaper, warm up a bottle, and rock a baby. I knew that spitting up is not a sign of imminent doom, and I knew enough to flip the diaper up during the change so I didn’t end up with a pee shower. I learned all that stuff while babysitting. Not only does hiring a teenager make them part of your child’s village, it makes you a part of theirs. You have the opportunity to help a teenager learn responsibility, budgeting, and parenting skills, all while having a glass of wine with friends and escaping your children! Teenagers who have jobs have greater responsibility, better résumés, and well-rounded college applications. And babysitting teaches them some skills that’ll help them be more confident and prepared parents.
Teenage babysitters have affordable rates and are available.
I mean, babysitting can be pricey. In my city, the average babysitter pay for one child is $15 an hour! We could pay that for a date night, but our “date” would have to be sitting in the Kroger parking lot and clipping coupons for Top Ramen. Teenagers, on the other hand, have zero disposable income. They’ll work for peanuts, not that I’m advocating underpaying your sitter. We pay middle school sitters $10 an hour for two kids, plus a meal. Thirty bucks is a lot of money when you’re 13, especially if you’re getting paid to watch YouTube videos while the kids sleep! And despite rampant overscheduling, it’s still easy to find kids who have free time, especially if they can’t drive yet.
So you should consider hiring a responsible teenager to look after your kids. I wouldn’t recommend hiring them while you’re on vacation, but they’ll be fine for a few hours. You might return to find the dog in a homemade costume or, like a friend of mine, blueberry smoothie plastered on your kitchen walls. But it’s worth it. Babysitters clubs might be a rarity today, but we can—and should—make their more commonplace.