Advice for Parents to Keep them Coming Back
By Susan Flynn
Teen babysitters don’t belong to unions that could represent their rights. They often lack the savvy to negotiate pay and working conditions. Most of the time, at the conclusion of a job, they smile, reply, “The kids were great” – even if they’ve endured less-than-stellar treatment by our little darlings – and head out the door.
Yes, as far as employee-employer relationships go, parents tend to have the upper hand. “It can be difficult for these children to be assertive,” agrees Bette Antonellis, a nurse and veteran instructor for teen babysitter courses. “Part of being a good babysitter is asking the questions you need, but they aren’t used to working for adults.”
Still, when we asked more than a dozen babysitters what parents can do to make their jobs easier, they weren’t afraid to speak up. They shared personal pet peeves, horror stories, and a general sentiment that respect and well-behaved kids are more important than the hourly pay.
While not typically our policy, we allowed the babysitters to speak anonymously to ensure that their comments were candid and that no one risked offending neighbors or relatives. Those interviewed ranged in age from 15 to 22, and all were female. Here, they provide parents with some helpful suggestions that they might otherwise be reluctant to say to your face:
Be upfront about the pay.
It’s hard for people to talk money, and even harder for teens. Several babysitters say they appreciate when parents discuss the hourly rate before they come to the house. “It’s hard to negotiate pay when you’re a 13-year-old talking to an adult,” says one 21-year-old. “One time, I had a horrible baby-sitting experience where the kids were a nightmare and one of them slapped me in the face. When the parents came back, I thought they were paying me $3 an hour per kid, but the mother thought $3 an hour for both, so I walked out with $12 for four hours of terror.”
Don’t prolong payment.
One sitter says it can be awkward hanging around the house waiting for parents to pay her, or having to remind them weeks later. Another teen urges parents to pay more when children invite friends over. Finally, an increase in the hourly rate is much appreciated, says one 18-year-old veteran. “If I’ve been baby-sitting for a while, change the rate a little bit if the kids are enjoying their time and I’ve done a good job.”
Babysitters want parents to believe they are qualified to care for their kids. “I cannot stand it when the parents call or text me a million times to check up on me,” says one 18-year-old sitter. “It’s annoying and makes me feel as though I can’t be trusted.”
Give us authority.
The kids must know that the babysitter is in charge. In front of your children, establish the bedtime, allowed TV shows and snacks. But please don’t be too uptight about the family rules. One 20-year-old sitter worked for a family where the mother would come home and get upset if the kids didn’t have all their toys picked up. “This always made me feel badly, like I wasn’t doing my job,” she says. Yet this same family had a preschooler who once threw eggs at the wall to get attention. If your kids don’t follow all the rules for you, don’t expect them to become the model child for the babysitter.
Keep goodbyes short and sweet.
Leave promptly, parents, and without a big production. And never, ever sneak out the door to avoid upsetting the child. “Making a scene causes the kids to really notice that their parents are leaving, and it freaks them out. Then, when the parents finally actually leave, the kids become upset and hard to calm down,” says one sitter.
Don’t embarrass me.
Don’t come home drunk, or kiss or argue in front of the babysitter. Please be discreet. Don’t leave dirty boxer shorts on the bathroom floor or condoms on the bureau. One teen says she’s always willing to help out around the house, but within reason. “One family asked if I could fold the laundry in the dryer. I said sure. That’s until I realized it was underwear and what-not of hers and her husband’s. And she asked me to put it away, too, in their room! I did not.”
Don’t forget about food.
Teens love when parents ask about their food and drink preferences. There’s nothing worse than a cabinet stocked with Ritz crackers and Zwieback teething biscuits for late-night munching. Also, they say, the kids love special babysitter-night-only treats like microwave popcorn or ice cream; it can be an effective incentive for good behavior. One 18-year-old sitter asks parents to keep meals easy, as in frozen pizza or money for takeout. “It’s nice if I don’t have to cook something that’s involved,” she says. “It’s hard to be upstairs in the kitchen when I hear screaming downstairs.”
Don’t hold back information.
The teens we interviewed overwhelmingly cited this predicament as their biggest frustration. Parents need to remember that babysitters are unfamiliar with the layout and routines of the home. Besides such basics as emergency contact numbers, make sure your sitter knows where the diapers are kept, the bedtime rituals and how to appease the unfriendly dog. One teen says she was hired by a French-Canadian family who never shared that the youngest child didn’t speak English.
Another recalls the first time she baby-sat for one family with two boys, 8 and 10, and a 5-year-old girl. First, they locked the sitter out of the house. “One of the boys climbed out of a second-story window and they covered the kitchen in ketchup and wrote next to a large butcher knife ‘You’re next’ to set up a [mock] murder scene. When I told the parents when they came home, they said this was typical behavior of the children. So, please be honest with us (and yourselves) and tell us if your children are complete maniacs.”
Be on time. Don’t come home late.
If you are running late, call or text to let the babysitter know. One teen had a mother call from a party to ask if she and her husband could stay out two more hours. The teen said yes, even though she had a test the next day and wanted to say no. “I felt put on the spot,” she says. “I sort of think they took advantage of me.”
Get to know me.
For all of their pet peeves and complaints, the teens we spoke with enjoy the responsibility that comes with baby-sitting and, of course, the extra cash. But it’s not all business. They enjoy playing with the kids and getting to know the parents. They say they especially appreciate parents who take an interest in their lives. “I love to baby-sit for people who are involved in my life and genuinely care about me,” says one 18-year-old teen. Most adults would probably say the same sort of thing about their boss.
Susan Flynn an associate editor with Dominion Parenting Media.