Choosing a teenage babysitter

Apr 13, 2011 at 9:10 p.m. ET

For generations, teenagers have been the first line of babysitters (after siblings, of course). Here are some tips on how you can find a great teen babysitter to care for your child!

Teen babysitter and child

The question:

We have a 6-month-old baby, and my husband and I feel like we might be ready to go on a "date" alone for a few hours. I know I did a lot of babysitting when I was a teen, but I am still concerned about hiring a teenager to babysit for our son! What should we look for in a teenage babysitter? - Ricki in Petaluma, California

The Childcare Expert Answers:

Good for you for wanting some "alone time"! With a little sleuthing, you can certainly find a very good babysitter and enjoy a well-deserved night out with adults only.

The qualities to look for in a teenage babysitter are comparable to the fundamental characteristics of all fine caregivers.

1Likes kids: First and foremost is to find a babysitter who likes kids. Don't assume that everyone who babysits likes children -- lots of teens do it for the money or because there are no other jobs available.

2Common sense: The next critical element is a healthy dose of common sense. Don't worry: there are rarely real emergencies while a child is being babysat. However, it is important that the babysitter be able to exercise good judgement on a range of everyday issues such as safety, comforting the crying baby and appropriate types of activities. A related characteristic is responsibility, meaning a caregiver who is trustworthy and knows how to handle childcare matters.

3Experienced: Try to seek out a babysitter who has experience with babies. In my area, many sitters have worked with toddlers and young children of pre-school age. It is less common that a babysitter works with younger children, especially because many parents share your hesitation on using a sitter at this age. By no means does that suggest that you should stay home for the next 52 Saturday nights, in fact, you probably deserve a night out! Still, it is worth looking for someone who is comfortable and experienced with babies.

4Teachable: If you can't find an experienced of sitter, consider "training" the person. Invite the sitter over for two hours (paid, of course) while you are home and let her get to know your child, change a diaper and hold him for a bit. That way, you will be able to assess firsthand if she is up to the task.

5Has references: For the first time using a babysitter, it is reasonable to ask for references (if you didn't get the name from other families who have used her and been satisfied). It takes just a few minutes on the phone and can make you feel much better about the sitter's qualifications and capabilities.

A few more tips

Some final advice for your first foray into Parents' Night Out:

  1. Try to stick close to home, bring your cell phone (and leave it on!) or go somewhere that you can easily be reached.
  2. Keep the evening short -- only plan to be out for two hours or so. (Check out these Two-hour dates for busy parents!)
  3. Prepare yourself for the possibility that your son may not be overjoyed at the thought of you going out without his charming company. That type of crying happens to 99.9 percent of all parents who try to leave their children with a babysitter for the first time (the other 0.1 percent sneak out the back door) and should not stop you from going out.
  4. Call home 15 minutes after you have left to find out what happening -- I'd be surprised if he isn't happily engaged in a game with the babysitter while you're still suffering pangs of guilt.

So go out and have a great time!

More about childcare & having a great night out

When can siblings babysit?

How to plan a parents night out

Babysitter Blues - Real Moms guide