Tuesday, November 10, 2009

On Babysitting

Is there any parent reading here who can state that they have never, ever left their child with a babysitter? Qualifying under the term babysitter is anyone--including family members-- who has ever been left with sole responsibility for your children. We view babysitters as an acceptable part of modern life. Yes, there are occasions when a parent or parents will be absent from the home, and someone must take care of the children. But who? I've heard of babysitters as young as 9 and as old as 90.

Is there a minimum age for someone to qualify as a babysitter? Should there be? The following is what The Children's Legal Centre has to say:

"How old does a babysitter have to be?
There is no minimum federal legal age a person has to be before they can babysit.
Parents should carefully assess a babysitter under the age of 16.
Guidance from the NSPCC suggests a parent should choose a babysitter who is over the age of 16.
Under some circumstances, parents can be prosecuted if any harm comes to their child whilst a babysitter under the age of 16 is supervising.
If a parent decides to leave their child with a babysitter who is under 16, the parent must be prepared to take responsibility for anything that should go wrong in their absence. The parent is still responsible for the care and safety of their child."

Note: Some states/cities have set minimum age requirements--check your own municipality.

Years back a number of places were offering "official" baby sitter training courses for young people. Included in the courses were some basic health and safety instructions. Also stressed was what to do in an emergency. There are any number of full adults who panic when something goes wrong, who don't know what they should be doing first. Imagine being 14 or 16 and in charge of 1-4 little ones, and then imagine something going wrong. Will they know what to do and when?

Being part of a large family does not automatically confer upon a teenager specialized knowledge about handling out of the ordinary situations. My feeling is that those babysitter training courses need to be re-instituted. Shuls could give the courses or schools could as an extra curricular activity. Who gives them is not as important as having them given. At any given moment there are thousands upon thousands of young children being watched over by baby sitters. We owe our children--and yes, ourselves as well--peace of mind that these babysitters are sufficiently trained to take care of what might need taking care of.

Note: While I am focusing on teenaged baby sitters, you might also want to ask yourself if some of your older baby sitters really know what to do in an emergency.


SuperRaizy said...

I absolutely agree with you that parents have to be careful when choosing a babysitter. Young children should not be left in the care of 12 year old "babysitters"- a 12 year old is little more than a baby herself.
I allow my 15 year old to babysit, but only for older children (no infants or toddlers)and he must have the parents cell phone # so he can contact them in case of emergency. My 13 year old is dying to babysit, but she's not ready to handle the responsibility yet, so I don't let her.
Babysitting courses are also a very good idea, but if they are not available in your area, going over a list of dos and dont's is a necessity with teenage babysitters.

NonymousG said...

I'm not a parent so perhaps my opinion is not warranted, but beyond the glaringly obvious directives of who to call when x happens, where things are, how prepared do you want a babysitter to be? Most babysitters I'm familiar with only start the job when the kids are asleep, there's not much to do or prepare for. I'd love all babysitters to be prepared in the unlikely event of something requiring open-heart surgery, but really, where will you draw the line?

Choose someone responsible whom you trust rather than someone who just happens to be available, and whatever else happens that probably won't, happens.

Staying Afloat said...

I would love for the schools to give this class. Middle school would be a great time, when the girls especially are itching for more responsibility. It would be good to have emergency preparedness knowledge in general. Most babysitters are in school- they're used to learning things and remembering them. And we forget so often that there are basic things that kids just don't know.

I also believe that every babysitter should be given the name of a responsible adult who lives nearby who can come help immediately in need be, or who can take children as necessary.

And N, even a sleeping child can wake up with an unexpected asthma attack, or a child can fall and get cut on the way to the bathroom, or there can be a fire. With all these things, you take can take simple steps to help the situation before you even have time to call anyone.

Leahle said...

N, most babysitters don't just arrive when the kids are asleep--they can be watching the kids at any time of the day or night. But even if they arrived after the kids were asleep, there are a whole bunch of things that could happen. Little ones don't always stay asleep all night. They can get up and get into things that can harm them. They can become ill. Something could happen in the house that would require getting them out of the house.

I'd really be in favor of schools/shuls giving a course that trains the babysitters in what to do in case of emergency. Wouldn't mind taking a course like that myself.

Allen said...

Restaurants all over the city have posters up showing how to do the Heimlich manouever and regularly instruct their staff on what to do if someone starts choking. Know many houses that have that same poster up? Know all that many people who know how to perform that manouever on an adult or a child? And choking with little kids is more then a possibility. And that's only one of the things that could routinely happen.

When our kids were younger we paid a little more but got our babysitters from a nursing school not far from our home. We knew they were better prepared to handle emergencies. Might have chosen differently if the high schools had prepared their students with real info on how to deal with emergencies when babysitting.

Anonymous said...

My daughters babysit without a formal class, and I think they're responsible and prepared ... but not everyone is. I always give them advice, and since I'm almost always home I feel I can back them up if they really get into something unexpected.

Additionally -- I think it's a great point that older people are not necessarily any more prepared to babysit than kids. For the longest time, my mother wouldn't babysit unless I left the pediatrician's number. I tried to explain that if there was ch"v a medical emergency, she HAD TO call 911; the pediatrician's number wasn't going to help. But I think she felt she didn't want to bother emergency services. That's a generational thing.

Tova said...

Power failures or blackouts are pretty common in the city. If the electricity goes out then so do all the cordless phones, and the lights and the heat. And sometimes cell phones can also be affected. Whoever is in the house has to know what to do until he/she can actually contact any help.

Also, don't assume you can reach the parents easily just because they give you a cell phone number. Lots of places that tell you to please turn off your cell phones so not to disturb whatever is going on. Lots of people who forget to turn on the phones again. Lots of people who can't hear the ringtone when the phone is buried in a purse and there is noise around. And in a real emergency the parent is probably not the first person who should be called. Babysitters should know who you contact and how in case of emergency.

I think a formal course would be a great idea. So, who's going to write up the course and give it?

NonymousG said...

I acknowledge things can go wrong, but my point was what do you expect a child to be able to do? What would a course teach?

JS said...

Well, more importantly, how many parents know what to do in an emergency (other than call 911)?

When my wife used to babysit, she would always make sure her mother was available in case anything happened and she needed an adult's help. This was very helpful when one child she babysat got violently ill and started throwing up. It's a good example as not everything bad that can happen is a "911 emergency."

alpidarkomama said...

Our community centers offer several different babysitting classes. I think it's great. I can also count on a single hand how many times my children have had a babysitter in the past 6-1/2 years. :)

ProfK said...

The Red Cross offers baby sitter training courses. They also have an online version--check the Red Cross site. Parents of children who are going to be babysitting might want to at least have their children take an online course to get some basics in safety and emergency procedures--wouldn't hurt either if the parents and children took the course together.

This is an area where Hatzoloh might be invaluable. The basic outline of the Red Cross course could be adapted to be be taught by local Hatzoloh groups.

One of the items on the Red Cross site is the type of information that a babysitter should have when parents leave--goes way beyond what the parent's cell phone number is.

Knitter of shiny things said...

Many years ago I took a babysitting course that was being offered at the local hospital. I don't remember much of it (it was 12 or so years ago), but they did teach us what to do if someone was choking, and they also taught us CPR, I think.

sima said...

I'm a 6th grade teacher, and I have been planning a mini-unit on this, to be given in a couple of weeks. i contacted s/o from hatzoloh to come and speak about different situations that can happen, and how to deal with them until hatzoloh can arrive. (ex. the heimlich maneuver, making sure the porch light is on so the address is visible to EMTs, pressure for bleeding, immediate care for s/o with a head injury) Crazy things happen.
I don't know how you read my mind here, b/c this has been something I've been planning since early October, but thanks for bringing it up -- it's important.

ProfK said...

You're very welcome, and I'm so pleased to hear that you are being proactive and teaching your students about this important area, and that Hatzoloh is going to be involved. I wish there were more teachers like you who would take up the banner.

observer said...

As both a former baby-sitter and a parent having lots of experience with babysitters, I doubt that these courses are much use. I'm not saying that they should not be given, but given a choice I will choose the person with common sense and the ability to think straight when things don't go right (and a decent command of english) over someone who took a course.

The reality is that much of what these courses cover are either things that should not need a course, or things that parents are not expected to know. How many parents know the Heimlich maneuver, much less CPR? On the other hand, if you need to tell someone that if a kid is turning blue or gushing blood after a fall you call call 911, then that person should NOT be babysitting, no matter what age she (or he) is.

Mike S said...

I have known alert and responsible 12 year olds I would trust more than some adults I have met. (And I am talking ditzy ones, not evil ones) When my youngest was 8 or 9
a mother we know asked her to help out at a toddler's birthday party. They walked to the park; unlike the mother, my daughter noticed that one of the toddlers was missing as they left the park and went to fetch him. Mom got the others home without noticing that my daughter and one of the toddlers were not with them until my daughter made it back with said toddler. In fact, I am not sure that the mother ever noticed that they were absent for 5 minutes.

Age limits have two deleterious effects. They keep responsible youngsters from babysitting and they give cover to parents who leave their kids with irresponsible older sitters. Fundamentally, there is no substitute for good judgment.

ProfK said...

You are right MikeS that "Fundamentally, there is no substitute for good judgment." Here's where I disagree with you. Nine year olds do not fundamentally have good judgement. That your child did what she did at that young age is the exception rather than the rule. Some of good judgement comes with experience and some with the attainment of knowledge, which takes age to acquire.

Sure, there are some adults whose judgement never matured--don't hire them if they are ditzy. But hiring a child, because that is what a nine or even a 12 year old is, to have the sole care of other children is just asking for trouble.

ProfK said...

"The reality is that much of what these courses cover are either things that should not need a course, or things that parents are not expected to know." I think that parents would also benefit from going through such a course.

Far too many people who have the "rely on others" mentality and assume that one little call to 911 or Hatzoloh will take care of everything. Every parent should know the heimlich manouver, how to do it for both adults and children.
Choking blocks off the air/oxygen supply to the body. A human being can live only 5 minutes without an oxygen supply before either brain damage occurs or death occurs.

So you may hear your child making choking noises or see them grabbing at their throat. You may run over to them and slap them on the back. You may easily waste a minute or more in attempting to see what the problem is before you ever go to the phone to make an emergency call. The call can last 30 seconds. What is the response time of either 911 or Hatzoloh? Depending on where you live and who is available in your area it can be 3-5 minutes. Add up those precious minutes and you have a catastrophe in the making.

Mike S. said...

Prof K:

I would never have permitted my nine year old to have cared for someone else without an adult present. She was supposed to be helping out the mother; not watching anyone on her own. I also would never have let that mother watch my children when they were young enough to need moment by moment supervision.

And although the baby sitter requires good judgment, I was referring to the good judgment needed for the parent to select the sitter. I don't think a fixed rule can substitute. Sorry that wasn't clear.

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