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Babysitting refers to caring for a child or children while parents are away, usually for a brief period. There is a long history of babysitting in the United States, with the Saturday Evening Post describing babysitting as a “key industry” in 1948. The importance of babysitting continues—today, with the majority of adolescent girls reporting that babysitting was their first paid job. Parents often hire a babysitter to mind their children in order to allow themselves time to run an errand, carry out work responsibilities, or engage in child-free leisure activities and socializing. From the time babysitting was in its infancy in the 1920s, parents have expressed concerns about the well-being of their children when under the care of a babysitter, and thus, great attention is often given to hiring a babysitter.
Responsibilities Of A Babysitter
The tasks and responsibilities of a babysitter tend to vary greatly based on the age of the children and the characteristics of the family. For instance, a sitter caring for a young infant may be expected to change diapers and prepare bottles, whereas a sitter for a seven-year-old will likely serve more of a supervisory and entertainment function. Regardless of the age of the child being cared for, maintaining the safety of the child is the babysitter’s first priority. Babysitters often play with and read to the children under their care. In addition, baby sitters may be responsible for more routine care, such as feeding, bathing, and dressing the children under their care. If parents are out for the evening, babysitters may be responsible for bedtime routines and putting the children to sleep.
Child Safety Considerations
Parents often are very careful to selecting a sitter, with particular concern for the physical safety of their children. A recent survey by the American Red Cross suggests that more than half the parents report that they have struggled to find a trusted babysitter and have elected to simply stay home as a result. Approximately 30 percent of parents report that they chose not to use a particular babysitter because they were worried about the safety of their child/children. These concerns are not entirely unwarranted as other studies have found that babysitters frequently report encountering minor household emergencies such as children cutting themselves and even more major events like children choking.
A number of programs have been designed to teach teenagers to be responsible babysitters, with the goal of reducing accidental and preventable injuries and deaths when children are out of their parents’ care. Patricia Kenner started one such program, Safe Sitter, in 1980, after a colleague’s child died after choking while under the care of a babysitter who was unprepared for such an emergency. A similar babysitting program is offered by the American Red Cross, and the American Academy of Pediatrics BLAST (Babysitter Lessons and Safety Training) Program also seeks to teach teenagers first aid skills and basic child development information.
Although parents report preferring a babysitter with training in first aid and babysitting skills, research studies report that many adolescent babysitters have not completed these types of training. A recent study compared the survey responses of babysitters with formal training and those who lacked such training. There was a great deal of similarity in the responses of trained and untrained babysitters, with the exception that trained babysitters are more likely to request emergency contact information from the parents whose children they are babysitting. Certain unsafe babysitting practices were also reported: 36 percent of babysitters reported leaving the child in their care unattended, and 24 percent reported opening the door to a stranger. The pediatricians who conducted this study point to the importance of improving the training offered to babysitters by including more simulations and role plays to better prepare babysitters for the types of emergency situations they may encounter.
Working As A Babysitter
Some parents are able to rely on friends and family members to assist with caring for their children, but when they hire a babysitter, it is more common to employ a nonfamilial teenager than a nonfriend, nonfamilial adult. This is likely because babysitting is not a steady job but may be ideal for teenagers who are balancing school and extracurricular commitments. Adults seeking employment in child care often become a nannies or work in a day care setting, given that this is a more permanent form of employment than babysitting.
Children below 14 years of age are banned from carrying out most forms of work, but they are allowed to work in informal, freelance settings. Many youth engage in less formal work arrangements, with 43 percent of 14-year-olds and 40 percent of 15-year-olds reporting freelance work. The majority (91 percent) of freelance jobs for female adolescents are related to babysitting, and often this is their first work experience. In contrast, the majority of male adolescents report doing yard work; less than 25 percent report doing babysitting.
Babysitting offers many advantages for adolescents. First, youth can earn money by babysitting; the average hourly rate is between $10 and $12, which is higher than the minimum wage. Furthermore, adolescents can develop professional and networking skills, and many babysitting programs focus on developing a business plan and recruiting clients.
Recent Trends In Babysitting
There are some interesting recent trends in babysitting. The American Red Cross and other training programs have noted an increase in the number of male babysitters. As a result, many programs are revising their training materials to feature male as well as female babysitters. There are also now several high-tech tools and Web sites for matching babysitters and potential clients. Some of these sites draw from the methods used by dating sites— and one even offers a babysitter search similar to speed dating: Parents meet a number of sitters for only a few minutes and then indicate whom they would be interested in hiring.
- Forman-Brunell, Miriam. Babysitter: An American History. New York: New York University Press, 2009.
- Hackman, Nicole, Katie Cass, and Robert “Compliance of Middle School–Aged Babysitters in Central Pennsylvania With National Recommendations for Emergency Preparedness and Safety Practices.” Clinical Pediatrics, v.51 (2012).
- Rothstein, Donna. “Youth Employment in the United States.” Monthly Labor Review, 124 (2001).