I came across this article entitled “The Rise of the Professional Babysitter.”  It seemed worth noting here. After all, what says more about our culture than who we entrust our children to?

At some point, our idea of a teenager from down the block who would spend a Saturday night babysitting the kids while the parents went out for dinner has morphed into a licensed professional who comes with references and a background check.

The need for a child-care provider to carry proper credentials and good references may stem from the fact that babysitters and nannies have received a bad rap in the past. According to a July 30, 2009 New Yorker interview with Miriam Forman-Brunell, author of Babysitter: An American History, the media previously depicted babysitters as careless in their duties or as a possible threat to a marriage. The image of the goofy teenage kid somehow evolved into a conniving go-getter with an agenda.
. . .
Today parents even have the option to find caregivers on the web. Services such as Sittercity and Care4hire.com, for example, allow you to search for child-care providers locally and read reviews and credentials online.

My first babysitting jobs were for close friends and neighbors – members of a community who knew me well enough to know exactly how trustworthy I was (and who left their children with me anyway).  No background checks necessary.  And I worked hard, eager for some spending money and excluded from other employment by child labor laws.

Apparently a lot has changed in just a decade and a half, and the impact goes deeper than a higher unemployment rate among twelve-year-olds.  For one thing, it reinforces the age-segregation of our schools and activities and prevents us from learning lessons across  age groups (nothing teaches patience or creativity to a teen like an energetic four-year-old).  It also takes away a valuable opportunity for a teen to learn and earn responsibility.

At first, my responsibilities were pretty limited: any real emergency that came up would be handled by my parents, sitting in their home just five acres away, listening for the ring of the phone (or possibly the scream of a small child).  As it happened, their services were not needed.  After a brief stand-off with a squirt-gun-armed two-year-old who didn’t want to end his bath, I managed to get my charges to bed, clean up from dinner and settle in on the sofa with a novel and a new-found sense of accomplishment.

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Ashley Trim, assistant editor of Front Porch Republic, grew up in rural Southern California (yes there is such a place) just outside the town limits of Pearblossom in a home designed and built by her father.  She studied Government at Patrick Henry College.  After receiving her BA, Ashley spent a year working in Washington, DC, before moving back to California to pursue her MPP at Pepperdine University’s School of Public Policy.  There, she had the opportunity to work with Professors Gordon Lloyd and Ted McAllister on a variety of research projects with a strong emphasis on government theory and history. She graduated in April of 2009 and spent a year teaching in the public middle school back in her hometown.   In the few hours a day she spent with students, Ashley attempted to awaken interest in exploring foundational principles the system too often ignores.  Currently she is back at Pepperdine as Research Coordinator for the Davenport Institute for Public Engagement and Civic Leadership which seeks to support local-level governments in developing legitimate civic engagement processes for residents of the local community. Ashley’s childhood was shaped by road trips with her parents and siblings. Her father is a self-employed house painter, and her mother was a full-time home educator.  When Ashley was growing up, the family had several opportunities to pack the minivan with painting supplies and school books for months at a time while Dad worked on old houses in various parts of the country.  Such excursions furnished Ashley with an early sensitivity to and appreciation for the divergent and often eccentric communities that make up these United States.

2 COMMENTS

  1. Ashley, I’m late to the discussion, but I wanted to point out that girls in our day were just beginning to ditch babysitting jobs for more lucrative employment in the wider world. The second I turned 14, I got myself a steady gig 6-8 hours a week at a vet clinic, cleaning cages, grooming/exercising animals, general gofer stuff. I got to watch surgeries, look through microscopes, prep slides…all of which suited my interests far more than watching the neighbor’s kids for an evening, Pay was much better, too.

    Nowadays…(at least prior to the economic downturn) girls are choosing different lines of work just as soon as the laws and their folks will let them. We consistently lost our sitters to florist shops, mall clothing stores, Big Boy restaurants, Baskin and Robbins, etc…

    Might as well hire a professional…given that young women today are choosing steady, part-time minimum wage gigs if they are available.

    Raising the age at which young people can “officially” work is probably the only way to bring back the neighborhood babysitter.

  2. I just saw this article linked at the end of another…glad I read it! It had occurred to me a while ago that I had my first babysitting jobs at twelve and maybe even eleven, helping my younger neighbor with homework every day after school. My parents were across the street if I needed any help, and actually did help me once with an unruly 8 year old when I was 16. From these and other neighbors came enough opportunities to keep me busy and relatively “out of trouble” most days after school and many weekends! How sad that we aren’t getting to know our neighbors this well anymore. Back then it was just word of mouth and the kids saying they had a good time with me…and this past year as a 25 year old applying for a part-time church childcare job I needed 3 references and a background check!

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