Annals of Baby-Sitting: The Newest Growth Industry

Baby-sitting can be one of the more thankless jobs going -- no health care, no contracts, and pay that often dips below minimum wage. Then again, a job that involves playing with kids and watching Disney movies on the VCR could be fun.Good or bad, almost everyone does some baby-sitting at some point in their teenage lives. YO! surveyed teenagers in the San Francisco Bay Area, and heard stories of both ups and downs. The one thing almost everyone agreed on was that baby-sitters need a bill of rights (see sidebar). The parents they work for -- even their own -- can be unscrupulous employers.Almost everyone baby-sits for family, it seems -- watching over brothers, sisters, nephews, cousins. Others regularly include neighbors and friends. A few branch out into client referrals and "baby-sitting lists" at school or at church.Most baby-sitters seem to think $4 to $6 an hour is a reasonable rate, but this depends on the ages and number of children. "Let the baby-sitters say how much they want to get paid," counsels Danielle, 15, "I've been ripped off too often because I haven't spoken up."About half the teenagers thought being asked to wash dishes was OK, but only a quarter thought having to serve a meal was a reasonable request. Picking up toys, answering the phone, changing diapers and giving the kids a bath were generally considered acceptable -- but few would agree to house-cleaning.The experience can stimulate memories. Leslie Kiel wrote of how much she enjoyed weekly baby-sitting with two "feisty, laughing boys.""As the only child of divorced parents, I spent many nights with a baby-sitter myself when my mom worked late. My home was filled with love and caring in its own way, and both of my parents did their best, but in my secret heart of hearts I still longed for the average two parents, a pet, and 1.3 siblings."The kids' parents always make her feel comfortable and show an interest in her. "Often, I will stay an extra half hour, talking with them -- my chance to be a child may have passed, but I can still be part of a strong family unit."Shiva Sadri, however, talks of her first baby-sitting experience as "A night from hell.""The children looked friendly enough. Their mother promised to be back by 10. Both babies had been changed, she said, and were so tired they'd probably fall asleep in half an hour. The father handed me a few Disney movies 'just in case'."Things went well for half an hour, though there was no hint of sleep, when "Sheila started to cry for her mother. Naturally, Colin began to imitate his older sister. I managed to quiet them with Gummy Bears and cranberry juice until those ran out. Finally, they agreed to watch television."In the quiet, she was able to "detect a distinct smell lingering near Colin. After I changed his diapers, Sheila had two more tantrums that combined unyielding screams with repeatedly battering herself against the walls. The two finally fell asleep at 11:45."More than an hour passed. "Their parents skulked in at one a.m., and informed me the pay was half what they had promised, explaining they were low on cash. Since they were friends of the family, there was no way of asking for more. I went home with my tail between my legs and my head hung low, determined never to baby-sit again."Caille Millner found lessons in baby sitting. "Changing diapers, fixing meals, playing soccer, tending bruises -- anyone who thinks baby-sitting is not a 'real job' must not have seen a child for a few decades."She feels that baby-sitters deserve at least minimum wage. "Yet baby-sitters, who are often young girls with no work experience, frequently get stuck with low flat fees. I was logging 30 hours a week as a baby-sitter by the time I realized my worth as a worker and started sticking up for my rights."Working for three families left her worn out, "My mother stepped in -- but even with her coaching it took me two days to work up the nerve to ask for a raise. One mother listened to her three shamelessly rampaging children, muttered about the cost of living"-- and then agreed. The second family also agreed, but the third refused. I swallowed my pride -- but sharply reduced my hours with their kids."Now with a "real job" as an administrative assistant, she says, she looks back on baby-sitting "as a test that prepared me for the real work force."Sidebar - -150 WORDSA BABY-SITTER'S BILL OF RIGHTSCompiled by YO! staff and survey respondents1. You have the right to be listened to by the child--and NO sniveling!2. You should not be responsible if the child hurts himself, or does something bad.3. Children should not go anywhere without telling you...4. ...or go off with, talk to, or open the door to strangers.5. You have the right to be paid in cash.6. You should not be accused of stealing (unless there's major proof!)7. Parents should come home when they say they will.8. Parents should not discuss discipline in front of the child.9. You have the right to charge a small cancellation fee if parents cancel with less than 24 hours notice.10. Parents should always have food around.11. Parents should provide emergency numbers.12. You should not be forced to watch "Barney" with a kid.

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