It’s a big milestone in a young teen’s life — that first babysitting gig. Most are keen to do it, not only for the pocket money, but also to take on this grown-up challenge. The question for parents is: Is your teen ready to be in charge of younger children?
Samantha Wilson is a Vancouver mom and former police officer, and the founder of Kidproof Canada, which offers babysitting courses in communities and online. “Ultimately, it’s up to the parents to decide whether or not kids are up to the challenge,” she says.
While there’s no legal age for babysitting in Canada, most experts say 12. A young teen’s maturity, confidence and comfort level around younger children, the ability to prepare fun activities and make safe choices, and the capacity to handle emergencies and administer basic first aid should guide the decision.
The best way to prepare kids for that first gig is to enrol them in a babysitting course, says Don Marentette, national manager of the Canadian Red Cross’s first aid and babysitting programs. Courses typically cover child-care skills and safety, how to cope with things like crying, and a babysitter’s rights and responsibilities.
While courses are widely available in Canada, not all kids may be able to enrol in one because of scheduling conflicts or because they live in a remote area. But regardless of whether kids sign on for a course, experts recommend babysitters have a tool kit — and working together on assembling it is a great way for parents to make sure kids are well prepared. A babysitting manual is recommended, along with a first- aid kit, a list of emergency numbers and a reporting form that includes any telephone messages, knocks on the door, or issues that arose. “We also recommend kids bring along a favourite story, colouring books and crayons, playdough — things that are safe and will be a pleasant surprise for the kids,” says Wilson. “It’s a thrill for the kids if the babysitter comes with something new to play with.”
The next step is to help kids decide whether a particular job is right for them. If, for example, there’s a large dog and the babysitter is wary, she should feel empowered to say no. “It’s one of the most important things we teach kids — to ask the right questions before accepting a job,” says Marentette. Kids should ask about:
• ages of the children
• when the job starts and finishes
• how the babysitter will travel to and from the job
• how much they’ll be paid
• what the job will entail (for example, whether they’ll need to prepare a meal for the kids)
• whether they will be able to use the TV or computer
• special considerations (allergies in the household, care of pets, etc.)
• if this is a new situation, whether there will be a chance to spend some time with the family before being on their own with the children
While kids should have this initial conversation with a prospective employer, ultimately the parents of the young babysitter should have the final say. “Parents really have to use their judgment,” says Marentette.
Deciding whether kids are allowed to babysit on weeknights, and how late, depends on the circumstances. But it is important for parents to know the people their children are babysitting for, says Wilson. “Kids shouldn’t be sitting for someone they found on a bulletin board at Starbucks or online.” And parents may want to stay home during that first gig — just in case.