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Preparing Your Teen to Babysit

Before your kid nabs a babysitting job, here's what you both need to know to make the most of the experience.

By Dana Hudepohl

Even in today's strained economic environment, one evergreen starter career is flourishing more than ever: babysitting. Summer child care gigs for teens and tweens are even more plentiful than in the past because parents work outside the home and for longer hours. Unlike traditional teen summer jobs at the local mall or restaurant—which are now harder to snag because many adults are vying for the same spots—babysitting usually offers some flexibility so your teen can still make it to soccer practice, SAT prep or a family trip. And it's the perfect pick for tweens who are too young for office jobs and internships. "Sitting gives young people many more skills than a basic entry-level position," says Suzanne Byron, Ph.D., a Seattle-based instructor for the American Red Cross Babysitter's Training program.

"It's an opportunity to learn about being an entrepreneur, develop people skills and build confidence." Since most parents begin lining up summer help in May, now is the ideal time to encourage your kid to get down to business.

Is She Ready to Babysit?

Any parent knows that dealing with little ones can be challenging at times. "When something goes awry, like a child won't go to bed, has a tantrum or breaks something, a sitter needs to think on her feet and figure out how to handle it," says Melissa Marchwick, executive vice president of Sittercity.com, the largest parent-sitter matchmaking website in the U.S. How do you know if your tween or teen is up for the task? Generally preteens are ready to be babysitters by age 11, but kids mature at different rates, so you have to assess your child honestly. Ask yourself:

Building a Business

The safest route for finding an employer is old-fashioned grassroots marketing. (Hanging up flyers in public places puts too much personal info into the hands of strangers.)

Train. Teens can improve their resumes by getting First Aid and CPR certification. Find babysitting courses through the American Red Cross (redcross.org/training), YMCA, safesitter.org or your local hospital (ranging from $35 to $140). Regular CPR refreshers are easy with the partnersforsafety.com DVD ($24). "Young people need to understand that this is serious business," says Byron. "A family is going to be entrusting them with their most precious things: their children."

Make marketing materials. Resumes should list education, training and activities that demonstrate responsibility, maturity, experience with kids of different ages (siblings count!) and references. Teens can pass out flyers to people they know to advertise that they'll help with housework or tutoring, travel with a family on a summer vacation to watch kids, or buddy up with a friend to provide babysitting for parties.

Connect. Kids should first search for jobs in their own neighborhood. Byron suggests that a sitter personally introduce herself to neighbors, talk about her background, offer her résumé and say, "I hope you'll consider interviewing me." Parents can also pass out their child's business cards to trusted coworkers and friends.

Search. Young sitters shouldn't post personal info online, but they can use the Internet to find contact info for local moms' groups. "When you take the time and effort to make that kind of connection, it helps you stand out," says Byron.

Interview. If you don't know the family, accompany your teen to the interview to make sure it's a safe environment. Do a practice Q&A beforehand (use questions from Sittercity.com. She should also have a list of questions covering things like household rules. "Interviewing is a two-way street," says Byron. "If the young person doesn't feel comfortable, it's fine to say no to a job."

Follow up. Make sure she thanks parents by phone, e-mail or letter, and tell her that they are more inclined to hire a teen who promptly return calls, texts and/or e-mails. It's also okay for your child to send an e-mail to highlight updates, like new CPR training, and to remind parents that she's available to babysit.

Pay Rate

A rate should be determined before a job is accepted, says Byron, and your kid should bring it up first. The key factors in determining the fee are:

Rate Average
The national average is $12 per hour for college sitters, $10 for high school sitters, $8 for grade school sitters and $20-$30 to group babysit for a party (it could be $2 to $4 less depending on the sitter's age). Ask other parents and go to Sittercity.com/rates to enter your kid's years of experience and zip code.

Other Employment Options
Babysitting isn't for everyone. Other good options are pet sitting, house sitting or caregiving for elderly people who don't need medical assistance. Teens should follow the same steps as they would for starting a babysitting business and set themselves apart by checking out websites like Caring.com or Care.com and reading relevant training books like the Dog First Aid and Cat First Aid books and DVDs by the American Red Cross.

Originally published in the May 2012 issue of Family Circle magazine.

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