If you are a teenager, a bit of babysitting is a great way to earn a little cash. If you are a parent in need of a night out, then employing a local teenager for the evening is a an economical childcare solution. It is an obvious win –win.
But without specific laws on babysitting, how can we tell if a teenager is old enough to be left alone with younger children?
Trudy Crawford is CEO of babysitting service Mynder. She says that there isn't particular age where teenagers become capable babysitters and that there are lots of factors to consider.
"Every teen and every family is different and the requirements of the children need to be balanced with the temperament and experience of the teen," she explains.
Crawford notes that one of the key qualities that she looks for in a babysitter is the ability to make the child and the parent feel comfortable the minute they walk in the door.
"They need to be able to engage with the child straight away so parents can see a good relationship developing before they walk out the door (which helps them relax when they're out), and have the confidence and experience to cope with any situations that may arise," she says.
In addition to this, Crawford says that when she is vetting potential babysitters, she looks for people that are confident, capable, caring and fun.
Of course there are many factors that come in to play when deciding if a teenager is old enough to babysit. Crucially, how mature is the teenager, How well do they know the child and how well does the teenager cope in difficult situations?
In most cases the decision comes down to parental instinct. Nicole, who has a one-year-old son, says that she would not be comfortable leaving him with a teenage babysitter. "I babysat as a teenager and now that I'm a mum I don't think I would let a teenager babysit. It's so much responsibility. What if something goes wrong?
"Those first few moments you have to react could make all the difference and I'm not sure a teenager would know what to do," she says.
However, many parents with pre-school or school aged youngsters are very happy to leave a teenager in charge. Louise, who has a five-year-old daughter regularly uses a local teenager as a babysitter.
"Jack is 14, and he is a very mature and capable young man. He is great with my daughter; she loves it when he babysits," she says.
Louise does admit that she has a contingency plan though. "I am friendly with his mother and we arrange that she will be at home in case anything crops up. And we always stay local so that we can be home within five to ten minutes should we be needed," she explains.
While there are no laws that relate specifically to babysitting, there are youth employment laws that vary from state to state. For example, in some areas if you are employing a teen under the age of 15 they need to have parental consent.
There is also a legal obligation for parents to ensure their children are properly looked after and according to the ACT office for children, youth and family support, parents can be charged with an offence if their children are left in a dangerous situation.
If you are considering hiring a teenager as a babysitter, Trudy Crawford has the following tips:
- Do a practice run while you are at home to see how the babysitter interacts with the children. This gives you a chance to assess the teen's abilities and see how the children respond.
- Set up a support option if the teen cannot contact you. For example call their parents or go to the neighbours.
- If it's a daytime booking, plan some activities for the babysitter to do with your children.
- Be very clear with the teen on the children's routine and the dos and don'ts. You don't want to come home to children who are still awake late at night because the babysitter didn't know how to get them to bed.
- Show the teen the location of key items such as first aid kits, fire extinguishers and favourite toys.
From the teen's perspective, manage the coming home time so that the teen get can home safely. Driving them home may not be an option if you've had a big night out, and public transport may not be safe if you get home late.