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.
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.