Melissa is the mama of two girls and a boy. She is happily married to a superhero. She writes about her life and laughs in Phoenix on her blog, Nouns and Violets.

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Whatever Happened to Babysitting?

It wasn’t unusual for me to spend my allowance on the newest book in the Sweet Valley High series. I was too wrapped up in the Wakefield twins’ spoiled lives to read The Babysitter’s Club series but those books inspired tweens everywhere to become babysitting entrepreneurs.

Image: via Amazon

My sister was one of them. She babysat for a few “good families,” which were highly coveted jobs. They were the families with well-behaved older children (no diapers!). They didn’t expect their hired tweens to do household chores and they had cable TV. Over summer vacation the good families skipped daycare in favor of a sitter, nine hours a day, Monday through Friday. The parents saved money and the babysitter could afford all the Tiger Beat magazines and Bonnie Bell lip gloss her heart desired. Win-win.

I hated babysitting. The only jobs I begrudgingly took were the ones my sister accepted but had to cancel, and that was only if she’d sufficiently bribed (or blackmailed) me. So, as a person who never willingly watched kids when I was younger I can see how others could feel the same. But, is it just me or do today’s teens not babysit?

What was once a thriving and competitive business for young girls is now virtually non-existent. Out of all of my daughter’s friends, and she has many, only one of them babysits. This sweet, responsible girl has a few families that depend on her to regularly watch their children while they enjoy date night and social functions. She’s the exception and not the rule.

I realize that today’s teens are busy. For starters, they have hours and hours of homework. When I was their age, if I did forty-five minutes of homework in one night it was because I’d been absent and had make-up work to do on top of regular assignments. For my daughter, forty-five minutes of homework is not only the norm, it’s usually the minimum. Add to that school events, football games, sports practices, rehearsals, chores, birthday parties, and church or family commitments and there just isn’t any time leftover for teens to babysit.

It doesn’t help that today’s families are different. Higher divorce rates mean many parents don’t need a sitter for date night; they go out when their ex has the kids for the weekend. If they remarry, blended families often mean older siblings watch the younger ones, with or without pay.

While babysitters may not be in high demand, there’s still a definite need for them. I often meet mothers who ask me for a referral, thinking because I’m a Phoenix native with a teenage daughter that I have a group of girls to recommend but I don’t. I confess I’ve never used a babysitter. Both sets of my children’s grandparents live nearby, as well as some aunts, uncles and cousins. And yes, my oldest daughter occasionally watches her toddler brother for some spending money, but never her baby sister and she never sits for anyone else. I’d like to find a responsible teen to fill in on nights when my daughter and extended family aren’t available. I just can’t find anyone.

I’m disappointed today’s girls aren’t getting the opportunity for the time-honored tradition of babysitting. It’s important practice for their first real job and when they earn their own money they begin to grasp its value; suddenly something they’re begging you to buy them in Target isn’t so desirable if they have to pay for it themselves. I’m disappointed for us parents too. As much as we love our kids, we could really use a break.

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Comments (2)

  1. Melissa 10/01/2012 at 1:53 pm

    Tracy, I absolutely agree. Today’s parents do expect a lot out of teen babysitters. The teens that have those desirable qualifications, like CPR training, want hourly pay that reflects that. It’s just not economical for parents to pay high babysitting fees when Grandma is an alternative. While I see both sides of the coin, I’m sad that what I believe was once a mutually beneficial arrangement is now a thing of the past.

  2. Tracey 10/01/2012 at 1:24 pm

    I think it has more to do with the parents and demand than the teens not wanting to do it. Parents these days are freaked out about letting anyone watch their kids. Any type of “sitter” has to be more of the type of qualified professional with a background check, some early-childhood education courses under her (or his – yes, I used to have a GREAT male nanny who was a good fried of mine) belt, and must plan activities like a teacher would in a classroom. The expectations are just too high for any normal teen to meet. In my day (I’m an older Mom), it was pretty normal for a teenager to spend most of her time babysitting chatting with friends and reading those Tiger Beat magazines than engaging us, other than a game here or there. Today’s parents just find that unacceptable. On top of that, today’s over-qualified babysitters (child care specialists!) are charging $15+ per hour! I, too, don’t use babysitters, although I have gotten “nannies” through some of the specialty businesses that do the background checks, etc. There are very, very few babysitters in my area – and I think it’s because of demand. My kids go to Grandma’s when it’s needed as I don’t want to lay out $15 an hour for sitting services, even well-qualified ones. They are usually asleep during 90% of the evening! It was 25 years ago that I was a babysitter, but I got $2-3 an hour, which was pretty on par with my qualifications and services. That’s some hefty inflation.