How to Babysit a Teenager
(8 Proven Effective Strategies)
Some teenagers are mature enough to stay home alone. However, others may need to have a babysitter themselves for an extra year or two.
How do you babysit a teenager? Babysitting a teen is about finding a balance between being a supportive friend and an authority figure. Find out why parents need a babysitter, so you're aware of behavioral issues or other challenges. Keep open communication with the teen and find age-appropriate activities to enjoy doing together.
In this article, I'll explain some specific considerations to keep in mind when babysitting a 13+-year-old teenager. Learn how to communicate with them, find common ground, and make the experience as smooth as possible for both of you.
How To Babysit A Teenager
It's less common to be asked to babysit a teenager compared to younger age groups. But it's still something that you might be asked to do from time to time.
Taking care of a teenager comes with its own unique set of challenges. However, there are also some things about it that you might really enjoy. Here, I will discuss some of the dos and don'ts when it comes to babysitting a teenager.
1. Ask Parents Why Their Teen Needs A Babysitter
During your babysitting interview, it's helpful to ask parents why they're looking for a babysitter for their teen.
There could be any number of reasons why parents are looking to have someone supervise their teen instead of leaving them home on their own.
They might have behavioral issues or mental or physical limitations that make it unsafe for them to be at home alone.
There might be other younger kids in the family that also need to be watched. The parents may feel more comfortable with an experienced babysitter instead of putting their teen in charge. There could also be issues such as siblings fighting if they're left together unsupervised.
Before accepting to babysit a teen, you should be fully aware of the situation. That way, you can make an informed decision on whether it's a job you'll be able to handle or not. If parents don't trust their 13-year-old to get by when left home alone, there's probably a good reason why. You don't want to be caught off-guard and put in a more challenging situation than you expected.
When can kids start babysitting for themselves? Find out by reading my article Babysitting Age: When Can You Start? (Laws & Maturity Requirements!)
2. Find The Right Balance Between Friend And Babysitter
Parents hire babysitters to keep their kids safe and to prevent their home environment from falling into chaos while they're away. So that should be your top priority as a babysitter.
A teenager that you're babysitting needs to know that you're the one in charge and that you are going to supervise them because their parents hired you to do that.
The problem here is that many teenagers hate being told what to do. So compared to babysitting younger kids, you could end up facing more of a challenge to your natural authority.
Trying to get a teenager to behave through sheer force is usually a bad idea. It can backfire and cause them to rebel against your instructions.
What tends to work best with keeping teenagers that you babysit under control is to approach them a bit more like a caring friend. If they see you more like an older sibling, but one that has taken on a job with responsibility, that will usually work more in your favor than reminding them of other authority figures in their life like a teacher.
You do still need to keep things professional, however. A tactic you should never use is to let them get by with something their parents wouldn’t agree with just to get them to like you. They need to realize that you're in charge and that you will follow their parents’ rules at all times because that’s your job. It can be a tough balance to get right.
3. Get Clear On The Rules
When you first meet with the parent(s) of a teenager you'll be babysitting, make sure that you discuss the rules of the house and get a feel for what type of supervision they are looking for.
There could be a bit more nuance when enforcing rules with teenagers than with younger kids that you babysit. Talk to the parents to find out which rules are strictly enforced and which rules you may be able to bend a little if needed or as a special treat when the teen is really behaving well.
For example, on school nights a teenager may have a strict bedtime. But on Friday or Saturday night, parents might allow them to stay up quite a bit later or as late as they want.
Some of these more flexible rules can be used as a bargaining chip. You can get teenagers to be better behaved and more cooperative with the promise of getting to stay up later or getting a special snack after dinner. Just check with parents in advance to make sure the way you choose to motivate them is okay with them.
Teens tend to be allowed more flexibility and freedom. They will be adults in a few years, and they need the opportunity to make their own choices. Try to focus on holding teens accountable for the big important things, but avoid micromanaging them.
4. Stick With What Already Works
Consistency is often key when it comes to babysitting. Younger kids especially need a set routine and schedule that are consistent with what their parents normally provide. The same is also true of teenagers to some degree.
Teens also expect things to be done a certain way, like eating dinner at specific times, getting to watch their favorite show, and other details of their daily life.
Try to take the same approach as their parents do on most things—particularly when it comes to discipline.
You'll need to check with parents to see what form of discipline they use and what is most likely to work. This might be taking away certain privileges. Other parents will want you to call them if their teen is misbehaving, and they'll deal with it themselves.
Check with parents to see what an average day normally looks like for their teen, and try to provide that for them. Perhaps more importantly, be sure that you know how to handle the situation if it begins to get out of control.
Parents may need a babysitter for their teen on New Year’s Eve and other holidays. Check out my article NYE Babysitting Guide (How Much to Charge, What to Expect) to learn how babysitting on these days is different.
5. Communicate Openly With The Teen
Let the teenager that you're babysitting know that you're going to be straightforward in your communication and that they can come to you with any thoughts or feelings that they have.
Be aware of the can of worms you may be opening, however. Many teens don't like the idea of having a babysitter. And if you give them the opportunity, they'll be sure to tell you all about it! Be understanding of their feelings and concerns, and try to be diplomatic. A big part of babysitting teenagers involves listening well and providing emotional support.
Let them know that you are a caring professional who will give them your best. You will treat them with respect, and you expect the same in return. Get them on board with some reasons why you enjoy babysitting and that having a babysitter might actually be fun.
Younger kids, by comparison, aren't as mentally and emotionally developed yet. When you're watching a toddler, it's mostly a physical task to be constantly watching and chasing after them. You will get tired out by playing and trying to keep them occupied.
Babysitting teenagers doesn't come with that physically tiring aspect as much. Instead, it tends to be a more emotionally exhausting job. You will spend a lot more time potentially dealing with discipline issues and power struggles. Having open communication and gaining the trust of the teenager you're babysitting will definitely help make the process easier.
6. Find Out What They Like To Do
Just because teenagers are more autonomous and mostly able to look after themselves, that doesn't mean that you can check out as a babysitter.
Parents aren't paying you to just let their teens stay alone in their bedroom all evening while you sit on the couch texting your friends.
You can find activities that will keep teenagers that you're babysitting entertained and engaged. You just need to find out what their interests and hobbies are, and then tailor your time together toward that.
Babysitting teenagers isn't like taking care of toddlers, where you can just show up with a bunch of arts and craft ideas already picked out. Trying to force teens into a list of activities you have already picked out won't turn out very well in most cases.
Instead, get a list of activities that they might enjoy. You can ask parents what sort of things their kids are into.
Teens might have their own suggestions for things they'd like to do with you. However, they might have trouble coming up with an answer to such an open-ended question. So it can be helpful to think of a list of age-appropriate activities in advance that you can present them with.
Here are some activities to consider while you're babysitting a teenager:
- Learn to cook their favorite food or bake cookies.
- Learn how to sew or knit.
- Make friendship bracelets.
- Paint with watercolor.
- Play a board game or cards.
- Go rock climbing.
- Go for a bike ride.
- Make a soda bottle rocket.
- Complete a puzzle together.
- Take a trip to the zoo or museum.
- Teach them how to play a musical instrument.
- Build a campfire together and roast marshmallows—safely outdoors, with parent's permission!
- Go to the beach (also with parent’s permission).
- Paint their nails or do makeup (also with parent’s permission).
- Build a website.
- Paint rocks.
- Have a water balloon fight.
- Go geocaching.
- Play video games or watch a movie.
- Write a story or draw a comic book.
- Do yoga or meditation.
Want even more ideas? Check out my article Fun things to do when Babysitting (207 Kids Games, Activities & Entertainment Ideas) There are some for every age group.
As you can tell, teenagers are able to take part in a lot of different activities that younger kids might not be capable of. And this includes a bunch of stuff that you might be interested in yourself!
Imagine getting to do something you'd enjoy anyway, like rock climbing or going to the zoo. Plus, you can have parents cover the cost and pay for your time. Sounds like a winning combination to me.
I recommend getting teens that you babysit out of the house whenever the weather allows for it. Doing outdoor activities can make time go by a lot quicker. Plus, while they're doing physical activities, they're less likely to find things to argue with you about.
Each teen will like different kinds of activities. More introverted teens might not like getting outside, where they'll get all dirty and sweaty. Likewise, more energetic and active teens might find going to an art gallery or museum boring. So you'll need to tailor your activities to the specific needs and wants of the kid that you're babysitting.
Of course, there will be some boring rainy days inside when you're babysitting a teenager. In those cases, you have more limited options for what you can do. So make the most of opportunities when the weather is nice, and don't just sit inside watching a movie on those days. Reserve those indoor activities for times when you don't have other choices available.
7. Talk To Them Like An Adult (or a Peer)
More than anything, teenagers want to be independent and to fit in.
Depending on your age, teens might think their babysitter is a totally lame old person. But if you're a babysitter in your late teens or early twenties, they might actually look up to you more than you think.
A teen who is just starting high school will really look up to a senior or college student. You can drive, you have your own business, and you have goals you are working toward, like your degree or future career. These are all things they might be starting to crave themselves.
There are some things that parents may consider off-topic to discuss with their teen. But generally, you can have more discussions about things with teens that younger kids wouldn’t understand or be interested in.
Do not ask questions on or discuss any of these topics in any way, shape, or form.
- Discussing anything in the romantic realm, sexual attraction or feelings, intimate relationships is completely off-limits.
- Appearance, body image, weight, attractiveness
- Alcohol smoking, or substance use of any kind, whether you participate or have participated—just completely off-limits
- Personal aspects of your history, stories of misbehaving, or things you got away with when you were a teenager
- Personal aspects of your private life. It's best to always keep things professional.
- Political views, conspiracy theories, religion, controversial topics that their parents may have a strong opinion about and not like you discussing with their child when they are not present (their child is forced to be your audience when under your care)
- Negative remarks about their parents. They may bring up negative feelings, and you can be understanding but make no indication that you agree with them or feel the same way. Their parents are your employers who you represent as part of your job. Anything that undermines that relationship compromises the trust involved and your employment.
It is also important to note that babysitters are mandated reporters of any suspected or disclosed abuse.
Talking to teenagers that you babysit in a way that shows you care about them and their thoughts in a wholesome way is good for building trust and connection with them. Being someone they admire and want to learn from is a lot better than just trying to be their superior.
Babysitting for a family for the first time? Look through my article What Should Babysitters Ask Parents? (20 Important Questions) so you're prepared.
8. Give Them Space To Fail
Teens become increasingly autonomous as they grow up. And largely, the way they do this is simply by putting your trust in them and allowing them to figure things out for themselves.
Babysitting teens doesn't have to be as hands-on as when you're watching younger kids. As long as they aren't about to do something disastrous or irreversible, you can give them the opportunity to try stuff—even if that means failing at first. That's how we all learn.
Obviously, I'm not saying to allow the teen you're babysitting to try driving a car or anything else that is not allowed or dangerous. But you can let them try cooking their own dinner or doing other tasks that they want to attempt while you are there to supervise in a laid-back way. If they burn a meal, it's not a big deal. Just have a frozen pizza ready as a backup.
I generally like to err on the side of giving a teenager a little bit more freedom within the guidelines their parents have set rather than less. And only restrict them if they prove themselves to be untrustworthy and needing more supervision and strict guidelines.
Just as toddlers will need to fall down in the process of learning to walk, teenagers are still experimenting and interacting with the world to figure out how things work and where their limitations are. Their search just focuses more on social and interpersonal skills than the motor skills that younger kids deal with, like learning to walk or ride a bike.
Some babysitters find babysitting a teenager easier than watching younger kids. There are more activities that you can do together, and teens can tell you exactly what they want or don't want to do.
Other sitters may dread the idea of babysitting a teen since it's a lot more emotionally demanding, and you may deal with more struggles over rules and control.
I think babysitting a teenager can be a rewarding experience if you approach it from the right perspective. Realize that teenagers are well on their way to adulthood. They need the freedom to explore and learn who they are. Teens need their babysitter to be a friend and model successful adult behavior while balancing your role as an authority figure.
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