'What we're getting wrong about the teen babysitter in 2024.'

The practice of hiring teen babysitters is dying out. Parents don't seem able to put their trust in teens while adolescence seems more serious and pressured than ever. 

Qualified nannies or early childhood educators now dominate the babysitting space - but don't call it babysitting. Childcare is formalised to the point that one year olds are getting report cards and toddlers are learning Spanish. 

Babysitters - one of the last vestiges of a parent's 'village' - are quickly disappearing but does it matter? Are we unable or unwilling to resurrect this pillar of support?

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Born in 1990 I was one of the last generations in which having a teen baby sitter was a relatively common experience in Australia. 

By the time I hit high school in 2002 next to none of my classmates were in the babysitting business. We increasingly spent our time on intensive study or higher paying formal work considered more 'impressive' on a resume. 


I would have run a mile if offered a babysitting gig. Interests in the arts, sport or even gaming also became overwhelmingly professionalised and time consuming even at amateur levels. 

It was a complex time to be a teenage girl because apparently we could now 'have it all' as long as 'it all' didn't include too much time raising families or in low paying domestic or care work. 

Babysitting jobs began to feel like a dangerous distraction from higher aspirations - a practice which could perpetuate gender stereotypes that placed women as solely responsible for unpaid care work and labour. 

No, we were destined for more.

Our horizons had been broadened and this was a beautiful thing except that it backfired for both families and teenagers alike. 

The devaluation of care work in favour of other pursuits was subtly discouraging successive generations of teenagers from becoming future childcare workers and entering many other care related professions such as nursing and teaching. 

Eroding informal care sectors also eroded the formal sectors that were then required to fill the void left by disappearing informal care arrangements. 

The disappearance of babysitters was both caused by an already unravelling social fabric but also further accelerated the erosion of 'the village'. 

Once we starting living further away from family and also becoming more unfamiliar with our neighbours, we were less able to develop trusting relationships with nearby teenagers or any potential babysitters. 


The help that was once simply a by-product of a living in big families or tight-knit communities is now sold back to us as 'childcare', 'nanny hire' and 'postpartum doulas'. We can even buy machines for help - automatic baby rockers or jigglers.

Don't get me wrong, these remain essential services and some of the products are clever and life changing, but are we better off on a trajectory of completely replacing informal care with formalised settings and machines? 

A decline in grandparent care is hot on the heels on the heels of the disappearance of babysitters. It's not that grandparents don't want to care for grandchildren, it's more that most of that care is already outsourced to the market. 

Formal care has made informal care options redundant, but we have also become accustomed to the controlled environment of daycare. The reliability and the updates and the end of day incident reports help keep our anxiety at bay to the point that we are now almost suspicious of informal settings. 

I'm unconvinced that sanitised and formal care settings are a silver bullet. They may be a necessity in some cases and part of the new village, but I'm also here for a baby sitter revival and here's why.

Having had no real experience interacting with babies and young children meant that the first baby care I was ever involved in was the care of was my own baby. 


I was so unprepared for motherhood both in a practical skills sense but also with very limited exposure to real life motherhood in private settings. 

This meant I conceptualised motherhood and caregiving ideals based on media, movies and public displays of parenting- all generally not reliable places to inform ourselves about the reality of day-to-day caregiving.

Also, I feel like not having been put in a position of responsibility as a young person meant I didn't really feel comfortable with having responsibility when the time came. I felt deeply incompetent as a caregiver, but I was also deeply uncomfortable with the responsibility. 

I was eventually forced to grow up by actually having a dependent, but it would have been beneficial to have some responsibility for others in a controlled environment. It didn't have to be a baptism of fire.

I was the youngest of two siblings so by the time my memories begin our household had well and truly moved out of baby phase. I barely saw a cot or a rattle. 

With much smaller family units relative to earlier periods throughout history, siblings are getting much less incidental baby care practice. Right up until very recently, older siblings were expected to contribute to baby care and household labour in a meaningful way. 


That's still an expectation in our house. It does not matter what gender they are - the kids help with the babies and younger siblings. 

The experience my eight-year-old son has with caring for young children, even his manner with babies and toddlers, already exceeds my own experience at 25 years old when I had my first baby. 

He 'babysits' on the sideline while I play basketball. I'm available in an emergency but also don't interrupt me when I'm trying to slam dunk.

As a result of situations like these my son is on his way to being a super competent caregiver and he loves the responsibility. It's his first taste of 'being in charge' in a controlled environment. 

In tiny, almost imperceptible increments, his caregiving skills will continue to improve. It is a natural state for him and his three younger siblings. We always make them feel super appreciated if they help out and their chests puff up with pride. 

I have also had teenage neighbours babysit for me but I remain on site and always make sure we have a plan for emergencies. 

My top criteria for anyone who helps with the kids is warmth. Are they engaging with the kids in a way that is warm? Are they measured when they need to firm? Are they able to put their phone away or is the phone checking intrusive? Are they someone who theoretically could be involved in the kids lives on a long term basis? 


A first aid certificate is a bonus and so is any formal childcare qualification, considering that for most of their lives they've been cared for by someone who has approximately no qualifications in these areas. Time and time again research shows that formal qualifications are not a good predictor of the people who have the best manner with children. 

The biggest predictors when it comes to caregivers and childhood outcomes are warmth and continuity. You simply cannot teach this in a lecture theatre. Some people are naturals, but mostly I would argue 'naturals' have been involved in positive and supportive caregiving experiences from an early age. 

I think as long as it's in supportive environments and babysitters are properly valued for their work, the practice should be widely considered as part of rebuilding our village. 

Babysitting can be a formative lesson in the intensity of caregiving and the idea that parents can't do it on their own. If informal care is better valued and appreciated, this could help reverse the devaluation of care that exists in our culture. It could also help cultivate and strengthen future labour forces in vital care industries such as childcare, aged care and hospitals. 

If more boys were given babysitting responsibilities it could also help shift the gender inequality when it comes to unpaid and paid care work. 

Feature Image: Canva.

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