When parents permit a teen-age daughter to baby-sit, they have a responsibility to both her and to the baby
by Barbara Leonard Reynolds
Only last week, or last month, it seems, you were hiring a baby-sitter to stay with your children on your occasional evenings out. Today, without warning, your thirteen-year-old daughter, scarcely more than a child herself, announces calmly, “Mrs Smith asked me if I’d baby-sit for her tonight. Okay?”
You gasp, and a dozen objections occur to you. Susan has had little experience with young children; she has never even changed a diaper or warmed a bottle. She’s so young that her judgment couldn’t be sound. She –
But Susan is waiting tensely for your decision. “All the kids do it,” she urges. “It’s simple. You get paid just for sitting and doing homework while the baby sleeps.”
Naturally, she is eager to earn some money, and if Mrs Smith thinks Susan is old enough, you can’t let your daughter down by disagreeing. Certainly she, like most boys and girls in their teens, should be sufficiently capable and intelligent, even without special training and experience, to keep a baby out of danger for a few hours. Furthermore, this may be just what she needs to help her develop a sense of responsibility.
Yet emergencies do arise: a baby who normally sleeps soundly awakes and cries; an apparently well baby runs a sudden temperature; an older child gets hold of a knife and cuts his hand. How is an inexperienced young sitter to cope with these mishaps, much less meet such ever-possible crises as leaking gas, a boiler explosion, or fire? The consequences for Susan, as well as for Mrs Smith’s baby, could be disastrous.
There are thousands of teen-age Susans (and Janets and Marys and Bobs) in this country. Sooner or later their parents may expect a similar request, and on their decision may hang the fate not only of the baby but of the teen-ager hired to take care of him.
Where courses in child care or guidance for prospective sitters are not available, the parents of the babies and of the teen-age sitters should share responsibility and see that the sitters are sufficiently trained, have experience under supervision, and do not accept jobs for which they are not prepared.
In Susan’s case, for instance, you might talk over her first assignment, emphasizing the fact that you, too, will be responsible for her performance. If you will be home that evening, you may decide to let her take the job – after making her promise to telephone you at once should the baby wake up. You will, of course, be sure she understands clearly that a sleeping child is to be in her care and that her prime concern must be for his welfare. You might even go to the Smiths’ house once or twice during the evening, to make sure Susan is wide awake, hasn’t turned the radio too loud, and has checked periodically to see if the baby is covered and sleeping quietly.