Parents' Guide to Hiring Tween or Teen Babysitters

Why a Parents’ Guide to Hiring Tween and Teen Babysitters? Well, I’ve raised two crops of daughters, some twenty years apart, so when it comes to the topic of girls who babysit, I’m a wee bit of an expert. I’ve sent my older girls out in the world to babysit, and learned along the way that I had one who loved it and one who’d rather play sports. I’ve hired teenage babysitters for my twin girls when they were little, and experienced amazing babysitters who left my kids clamoring for more, as well as my fair share of not-so-great babysitters.

Now, those twin daughters are old enough that they’re out in the world making their way as babysitters and we’re doing it all over again.

Since not many parents get the chance to do this twice (raise kids, that is), I realized that there are some fundamental things that parents should maybe know that I can pass along based on my slightly-less-than normal experiences on this front. And that’s where this Parents’ Guide to Hiring Tween and Teen Babysitters comes in—hopefully there will be some advice in here that will help make your experiences with tween or teen babysitters even better than they already are.

Parents’ Guide to Hiring Tween and Teen Babysitters

She’s Making Her Way

This Parents’ Guide to Hiring Tween and Teen Babysitters is intended to celebrate these young people and to help parents navigate what can sometimes be uncertain waters. First and most important, know that your tween or teen babysitter is a pretty awesome human being if she’s interested and industrious enough to seek out babysitting jobs. She’s taking her first steps, and making her way in the world, learning about work and work ethic. At the same time, she’s taking on a big responsibility. In fact, she’s taking on pretty much the biggest responsibility of any job-taker anywhere—she’s responsible for the safety and wellbeing of little human beings that you brought into the world. Note that I’m going to generalize here and call those babysitters “she” but I also know that there are plenty of boys who babysit out there. I can’t give advice about boy babysitters—I’ve got no experience there. So my advice is all female-focused, and specific to everything you need to know about your tween or teen babysitter.

She Likes Kids

A key tenet of the parents’ guide to hiring tween and teen babysitters — is understanding her motivation: She’s likely there because she wants to work, and she probably also likes kids. Otherwise, what’s the point in babysitting? So if you’ve got a tween or teen babysitter who is regularly taking care of your kids, it’s safe to say she likes the work and she likes you and your kids.

A love of kids is not a universal character trait, and it’s important to know if you’re a parent hiring babysitters. I will admit right up front that I was one of these non-kid-crazy teens. While I babysat occasionally, I didn’t love it. I also was never a late night kid, so babysitting could be kind of tortuous to me, which is probably one of the reasons it wasn’t my favorite. And as soon as a job opportunity came along that allowed me to move away from kid-patrol, I was all in. And that? That’s totally fine. I think it’s your challenge, as a parent, to try to find those girls who love babysitting because of the work and because of the children—those are the real gems.

In my recent experience with tween and teen babysitters, I really learned a lot and I learned how to tell the difference between kid-loving sitters and, well, the opposite of that. I experienced girls who showed up, did their homework, talked on their phones, or were generally speaking engrossed in their devices and their own friends, leaving my kids to entertain themselves. That kind of teen or tween sitter can be fine, in an emergency—but she was pretty much always the sitter I hired once and rarely hired again. My kids were also very vocal about which sitters they liked and which they weren’t all that crazy about, so it wasn’t difficult to suss the best sitters out.

The amazing sitters I found and hired again and again and again were the sitters who approached the job with a mindset that their focus during the time they were there was my kids. Those babysitters built forts with my kids, read books or found cool movies to watch together, played games with them, or thought up fun arts and crafts projects to keep them occupied. They also didn’t leave my house a total wreck, and cleaned up when there was a mess that hadn’t existed before they came on duty, which was so very much appreciated. Those are the sitters my kids woke up in the morning talking about and who they couldn’t wait to have back again. Those sitters? They are worth their weight in gold and when you find one of those, do everything you can to keep her coming back. Those are the sitters your kids will remember forever.

She Doesn’t Want to Talk Money

At the top of the list of important points in the parents’ guide to hiring tween and teen babysitters, is the money business. When it comes to money, know that your tween or teen babysitters are generally not at all comfortable talking about money. She’ll probably take whatever you offer to pay her because talking about that stuff is hard. Heck, it’s hard for adults to discuss fair compensation and it’s one million percent harder for tweens and teens to go there. My advice when it comes to compensation is easy: Remember that you’re asking this person to care for your most precious assets. Don’t be cheap. Also, if her parents drive her to your house or walk her over and if they pick up her up afterwards, that’s one less thing that you have to do and an incredibly valuable “service” to take into consideration from a compensation standpoint. Make sure you’re compensating your tween or teen sitter fairly, but please, don’t expect her to talk money with you—to her, that’s awkward and uncomfortable.

She’s Got Choices

When it comes to tween and teen babysitters, compensation and their availability remember this simple thing: She’s got choices. When word gets out that a girl is available as a babysitter, there is no shortage of parents who are lining up to hire her, especially if she’s got a reputation as a great sitter.  If you’re one of those people whose mindset is to pay as little as possible for a sitter, know that she’s going to choose to work with those parents who are more generous with compensation all day long. They are also going to choose to work with parents who do what they say they will do (see below for more on that).

Competition for great sitters is tough, and they are often booked well in advance and/or have standing weekend engagements with their best customers. The great thing about tween and teen sitters is their availability and interest, and you’d be smart to maximize that while you can. They’ve often not yet gotten full on into the social scene that is the ritual of teenagers the world over, and you’ve got their undivided attention and access to their time for what is likely to be a fairly short window of time. When you can endeavor to be their top choice when it comes to work they’d like to do, you’ve got a babysitter who is going to try to be available for you as much as possible, and who is always going to go the extra mile for you. My strategy with sitters was to always pay more than the going rate. At most, it cost me an extra $20 per babysitting engagement, but what it did was endear me to my favorite sitters and make sure that when I needed them, they were available. I considered it a small price to pay for amazing sitters.

You Made a Deal and She Wants You to Abide By It

Perhaps the most important thing to know and remember about your tween or teen babysitter is that you are making a deal with her from the get-go and it’s her expectation that you’ll abide by that deal. When you ask her to babysit from 6pm to 9:30pm and she accepts the deal, she’s pretty clear on the terms. She shows up on time, and she works until the time you’ve asked her to work. Then she gets to get paid and go home.

This is where so many parents mess the whole thing up. When you ask her to commit to caring for your kids for a certain time frame, that’s your deal. And while she loves your kids, enjoys spending time with them, and wants the work, she wants you to keep your end of the deal and to show up when you promise you’ll show up. When you ask her to report for work at 6pm, she doesn’t show up at 6:30 or 7:00 or whenever she feels like it, she shows up when you’ve asked her to be there. She feels the same way about your obligation to show up at the end of the time for which you’ve engaged her.

This is important to keep in mind when she’s babysitting for you during the daytime, but it’s critically important that you remember this when she’s babysitting for you in the evening. She’s playing by rules that you set, and when you tell her a window of time you want to hire her for, she takes that seriously. In the case of tweens and young teens, as a parent, you need to keep in mind that she is young. Her normal bedtime might be 10 or 11pm, and if you’ve made a deal with her that you’ll be home by a certain time, you can rest assured that she’s watching the clock counting on that deal. She’s looking forward to your return as promised and to her opportunity to be snug in her own house, and perhaps even in her own bed.

When you pull the calling her 30 minutes before you’re supposed to be home and asking if you can stay out longer, you are putting her in an awkward position—what’s she going to do, say no? Of course not! She’s a kid. She’s not going to tell you no. And when you draw that out and call once, twice, or even a third time asking to extend the time she’s there because you’re having such a good time, it’s tremendously unfair to her. Nobody likes to work overtime when it’s not part of your original deal, so when you expect that of your young tween or teen sitter, it’s putting them in a very unfair situation.

It’s different when you have an older sitter, like an older teen or college-aged sitter, who might be accustomed to the “I’m drinking and having more fun than I imagined” call, and who might not mind saying longer. But I’m going to go out on a limb here and say that I would guess that every single babysitter, no matter what her age, would prefer you to abide by the deal you made when you asked her to babysit.

I will say that a sitter’s flexibility during the daytime or during the summertime is a completely different animal and less restrictive than it is at night, but at all times I do think it’s important to be respectful of what you’ve asked of someone and the time they’ve set aside for you and your kids. Communication is key here, and the better job you can do at communicating with them, the more comfortable they’ll be with and around you. Never forget that you’re an adult and they are kids, and they are naturally not going to feel comfortable being assertive or questioning you in any way.

Make Better Deals

The lifesaving advice in this Parents’ Guide to Hiring Tween and Teen Babysitters is simple. How do you deal with the occasions where you are having a great time and really don’t want to head home when you’ve told your sitter you’ll return? That’s easy. Learn to make better deals.

If it’s summertime or during the daytime on a weekend and you’re not 100 percent sure what your needs are, tell her that in advance. Tell her that you think you’ll need her for a few hours between this time and that, but let her know there’s a variable in there and ask if it’s a problem if you happen to run longer. When she knows going in that there’s a window and that the time frame will be flexible, she can be flexible, too, especially as it relates to plans of her own that she’d like to make. It’s the taking her by surprise that’s something to avoid wherever possible.

It’s the evening engagements, however, that are most important from a deal-making standpoint. This is where you can build in flexibility if you’ll just think about it in advance. If you think you’ll be out from 6pm to 10pm, ask your sitter to work from 6pm to 11pm, building an extra hour in for your evening, just in case. That way, you have a safety net in case you end up having more fun than you originally thought and aren’t yet ready to head home. But if you are ready to come home earlier than the “safety net” time you’ve made a deal for, that’s okay, too. She’ll rarely mind if you come home early and you have that little leeway built in, on the front end, just in case. That’s a better deal, all the way around. Just make make sure that if you do decide to head home earlier than you told her to expect you, that you text or call her to let her know when you’ll be home, Nobody likes to be surprised and this gives her time to straighten up the house, collect her things, and get ready for you, which every sitter appreciates.

Food Matters

When you hire a tween or teen sitter, it’s a given that they like to eat. When you’re planning on however it is you’ll feed your own kids for the evening, factor your sitter into the meal plan, too. Plan to have something for them to eat while taking care of your kids or leave them enough money to order in—and don’t begrudge them using it. In addition to a meal solution, consider also having something special—chips and dip, popcorn, or a treat like brownies or ice cream for all the kids to enjoy as a treat. That helps make their evening more special all the way around and it makes the kids feel like they’re getting their own special night, just as you’re getting yours.

Parent Pickup is Okay

I remember back in the day when I was a teen and babysitting and it seems like yesterday. The very worst part of every single babysitting job was when the dad, who I really didn’t know well, if at ALL, drove me home. AWKWARD (to say the least) and uncomfortable as hell. While you might be compelled to drive your tween or teen babysitter home, know that parent pickup is okay, and when you build it into your “deal” it simplifies things—for the tween or teen babysitter and for their parents.

My girls have a regular babysitting gig for a couple they’ve known all the lives and whom they love to death. That said, they still love it when their dad picks them up after a babysitting job is done, because it’s familiar. There’s no awkwardness, no forced conversation, no anything. For your tween and teen sitters, parent pickup removes all awkwardness for them. It also makes it easier for you! You can go out, drink it up, ride home in an Uber, and not have to drive my kid home when you’ve been drinking. That makes it a win for all of us.

Great Tween and Teen Babysitters Bring Magic Into Your World

I think this about covers the things that I’ve learned over the years from not only watching my tween and teen babysitters, but also from hiring them. The thing about this parenting gig is that there really isn’t a rule book. That means when you hire babysitters, there’s not really a “how to” book that you can go to that will give you the lay of the land and also give you insights into how kids think. That’s why I thought this Parents’ Guide to Hiring Tween and Teen Babysitters relevant and I hope it’s helpful to you in some way.

The benefit that I’ve had is that I’ve gotten to talk with my tween and teen girls, before, during, and after babysitting jobs, and learn the things that are most important to them, along with the things that creep them out. I’ve also had the opportunity to hire tween and teen babysitters (and older girls as well) and experience the magic of the truly amazing young people who have stepped into our lives and into our children’s lives and who we’ll all remember forever as a result of those experiences. Also, I would be remiss not to mention that it absolutely doesn’t hurt to have babysitters that your kids love so much they don’t complain when you go out. In my world, that was an off the charts bonus, because my kids so looked forward to the arrival of an amazing babysitter that they didn’t care at all what I was off to do.

Do you hire tween and teen babysitters? What have I overlooked in this Parents’ Guide to Hiring Tween and Teen Babysitters that you think is important to remember when hiring them? I’d love to learn from your thoughts and experiences because on this front, it most definitely takes a doggone village.

Other resources on this topic:

20 Secrets Your Babysitter Isn’t Telling You

10 Tips from a Teenage Babysitter

Surviving the First Weekend Without Kids