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Before You Let Your Teenager Baby-Sit, Read This
I have teenage daughters, and it is always a bit of a balancing act figuring out how to prepare them for possible danger, and how not to make them cynical and suspicious about everything.

Yet there is one area where I think parents are far too lenient when it comes to teen girls, and it's in the area of baby-sitting. We grill our kids up and down when it comes to going to someone's house for a party, but we often will let them baby-sit without really knowing anything about the family.

I was sent a blog post by a reader a while back who is trying to share her story with others in the hope that it can help some, and reading it again made me all the more aware that I need to be much more careful about who my children baby-sit for. I've only ever let them baby-sit for friends, but honestly, how do I know these friends really are safe?

When I baby-sat as a teen I was exposed to way more than I should have been. One mom told me all the details of her husband's affairs, down to specific sexual acts she knew that he had committed (sexual acts I knew nothing about at the time). She saw me more as a confidant. Another family had porn everywhere. You would never have known it to look at them; they were a short, chubby couple that was very prim and proper. And it wasn't Playboy magazines, either; it was pretty hard stuff. I ran away from it as fast as I could, but I certainly saw it. It was under every surface in the house, including the baby's change table.

Here's how my blog reader describes what led up to her eventual sexual abuse at the hands of a man she was baby-sitting for:
It was a Friday night in August 1984. I had put the baby down for the night and around 10pm or so, the door opened and in the husband came to the house. I was surprised that he came home from his trip early and he began to share with me that he never had a trip...he had planned this whole event out and had just come home from a bar to spend the night with me. (I wasn't quite sure what he meant by that...I would soon find out) He asked me to make us something to drink so I went to the kitchen to get 2 cups and some ice. He came into the kitchen and told me that I never gave him anything for his birthday...he turned 29. I asked him what he wanted, he said a kiss would do...I am uncomfortable at this point and not knowing what I should do. I kissed him on the cheek and thought that would be wasn't.
Two things stand out at me from her story. First, she talks about how she knew something was wrong before he actually raped her, but she didn't leave. She obeyed what he told her to do.

This is quite normal; she was a young teen, and he was an adult man. We have to teach our girls that when they feel uncomfortable, they should leave. Give them a cell phone so they can immediately call mom. Lie about a sudden headache if they have to. But if they feel uncomfortable, it's for a reason. They do not have to comply with what an adult says--even a female adult--if it seems somehow wrong.

In this situation, if it had happened in the cell phone era, and she had just said to the adult man, "I'm just going to text my mom and tell her you're home and you want to have a drink with me," it's unlikely anything else would have happened. He would have known that he'd be found out. He would have known he couldn't intimidate her. Cell phones can be big safety nets.

And we can't expect our children to handle these things alone, without us. The problem with young teens is that sometimes they feel something's wrong but they can't explain WHY it's wrong. They're too naive and too confused. So if they get into a conversation with the guy about it, they'll lose. So tell them, "don't talk about it. If you feel uncomfortable, phone to leave and we'll pick you up."

The second thing that struck me is that, after it was obviously dangerous, she still didn't run. She felt so ashamed and so scared she didn't get out of there. Our kids need to know that we will NEVER be angry at them if they take steps to protect themselves. And no matter where they are, they should always ask themselves, "where would I go if I had to get out in a hurry?" I do this naturally now whenever I enter a new store, home, or building. I always plan an escape route. It doesn't scare me anymore; it just has become natural, and I always do it. Teach your girls to do it, too. If you feel uncomfortable, or if you're in danger, know how you're going to get out before it becomes an issue.

We can't protect our kids all the time, and baby-sitting is a good job for teenagers on the whole. But let's remember that we never really know what goes on inside a house. Arm your kids with protection, in the form of cell phones, great advice, and warnings. Let them know they're allowed to say no. And then just pray hard! It's a scary world out there, but we can help make it a little safer!

Did you ever get in hot water when you baby-sat?

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At 8:11 AM , Blogger Llama Momma said…

Such a good post, Sheila!

When I first approached one of the babysitters we use (a teen from church), her mom asked me a series of questions. She was so kind about it, and said, really, we're both trying to do the same thing as moms -- keep our kids safe!

She asked about alcohol in our home, pornography, and specifically asked that if her daughter needed a ride home, that I provide it rather than my husband. She didn't want to leave any room for her daughter to be hurt.

Honestly, this girl went to the top of my list for babysitters to call because I knew she had so much support from her parents!!


At 8:12 AM , Blogger Cherish said…

It could have been a bad situation but thankfully wasn't. I was babysitting for a new single mom that I'd never met, so she could go out clubbing. The next door neighbor called and when he found out I was the babysitter, said to just step outside so I could say hi. I thought it was weird but whatever, and I went out on the porch. He and his buddies were drinking and thankfully they saw a skinny 13 year old with glasses and had no interest, but I figured out a few minutes later that they wanted to flirt with a cute girl. I was scared for the rest of the night that they'd come knock on the door.

I was in the same situation - babysitting for someone I didn't know, too naive to understand what they wanted, and certainly never thought of calling my mom.


At 8:40 AM , Blogger The Roberts Family said…

Love this post!! Another "job" that would benefit from this same mentality is "house cleaning". I cleaned a lot of houses in high school (as well as babysitting) and there were definitely issues and exposure.

Through all my years of babysitting I was pretty spared from incident. However, I only babysat for people my family knew well for the most part. One evening I remember a dad taking me home though and he was very sleepy and no doubt had been drinking. I remember feeling VERY uncomfortable and so thankful to be home again.

One family I cleaned for had a stack of porn magazines nearly two feet high in the bathroom that I was required to clean around. Not a good situation at all.

Thanks for bringing light and guidance to these issues, Sheila!


At 8:50 AM , Anonymous Juliet deWal said…

Thanks, Sheila, for shedding light on an area of vulnerability that many can relate to.

What's additionally terrible about it is that the very same people who strive to make sure that their children are surrounded in safety could be the same ones who violate someone else's child without shame.

Add to that the fact that many pornographic clips have the theme of seduction of a babysitter (by both male and females) and you've got a recipe for disaster.

Years ago, I became a nanny for a well-liked couple. I lived in their house for numerous years and helped with their children.

The husband repeatedly raped me over the course of those years and did untold damage to my heart. The fact that I was young and didn't have anywhere else to go kept me stuck in a terrible situation.

And yet those in our church, and community would have taken his word over mine—they were, as you said in your writing, such a nice couple.

Thanks again for both sharing such great wisdom and providing others space to share.



At 8:54 AM , Blogger Sheila said…

Wow, Juliet! That is just so unbelievably awful. My heart hurts for you, and for that wife, too (assuming she didn't know). What a horrible mess. Why do people DO these things? I will never truly understand that.

Llama Momma, you've convicted me that I have to ask more questions! My girls really only baby-sit for people that we know well from church, but you still can never know everything about another family. So I always send a cell phone with them.

Cherish, glad you were kept safe!

And Shelley, what is it with stacks of porn magazines? That really is gross.


At 9:09 AM , Blogger Annette said…

My daughter is only 4 however I know that I am preparing myself as read as much as can about the teenage years. In the meantime I also received great advice in how I should select and treat babysitters.


At 9:10 AM , Blogger Kela said…

We've had babysitters and our daughters have babysat.
We have set clear boundaries in our home. When we've had baby sitters, my husband was NEVER in the house w/our sitters alone (even w/the kids running around).
That is the same expectation that we have when our daughters go to babysit.
Same w/riding in the car with the husband. Absolutely NOT gonna happen.
There was a time that our, then 14 y/o, was practically a full time sitter for a homeschool family. They had a son that she watched during the day.
The husband's work schedule was sporadic. There was one time that he was at home when it was just my daughter there. She and I stayed on the phone with each other until he left.

One thing I'll say is, Don't be afraid to ask questions and set boundaries on both ends.


At 9:55 AM , Anonymous Carletta said…

Thank you so much for this post! My aunt was the first person who ever warned me about being careful about letting my daughter babysit. I babysat as a teen without incident, so it never occurred to me that something could go wrong.

This is a great warning for mothers, and I love your practical advice. Traveling to and from the home where a teen will babysit is also something that needs to be thought out carefully.

I'm sure your friend's story will help many. It's a terrible thing she endured, and it's very brave of her to share her story.


At 10:01 AM , Blogger carandavis said…

I once babysat for a co-worker of my father's. He drove me home drunk. We were hitting cones on the side of the road. I was terrified. Of course I told my parents so I never went there again. Scary to think what might have happened.


At 10:16 AM , Anonymous Anonymous said…

I agree wholeheartedly with your post! I would add, however, that these things can happen to male babysitters as well. With two sons, I preferred hiring young men who got along famously with my boys. Several young men from our church youth group babysat. They can be exposed as well to sexual abuse, pornography, liquor, guns, etc. I hope my sons will babysit when they are older as well. (I think they'll be better fathers someday for having done childcare.) We have to watch out for our children, period. Thanks so much for the reminder!


At 10:59 AM , Anonymous Anonymous said…

Another thing to remember is that it isn't only men you have to worry about leaving your children alone with. My abuser was a female... It isn't as common, but that doesn't mean it won't happen. As Sheila says in her post, you need to prepare your child - have a plan, thoroughly interview the family, give the kids tools (cell phones, code words, etc.), let them know what to watch for and what to do when they see it. You can't see into anyone's heart and know what is there, but you can equip your child with some safeguards in case the worst happens.


At 11:10 AM , Anonymous Anonymous said…

I too was exposed to too much as a young babysitter and am glad you've addressed this. I worry though about your faith in cell phones and think the girls need to be more discrete, say go to the bathroom and text mom, then say they did, not threaten to. I will never forget that story a few years back about the young woman who was kidnapped, raped and killed and it all started while she was talking on a cell phone.


At 11:13 AM , Blogger Sheila said…

To the last anonymous, I know what you're saying, but I think in a baby-sitting situation, where the family knows that the baby-sitter's family knkows who they are, just knowing that the teen has texted mom is often enough to stop anything, because the secrecy is now gone. When it comes to abuse between people who know each other, it's the secrecy that lets the abuser get away with it. If the secrecy isn't there, then the abuser likely won't proceed.

That's why I would say, don't just go to the bathroom and text, text right then and there, or go to the bathroom and text, but then TELL them that you've texted. It's important that they know you're in contact with your mom.

And then to the other Anonymous, absolutely, boys are at risk, too! So be careful anytime you send your teens over to another house, even if you think the family is a good one. The truth is we just never really know.


At 11:29 AM , Anonymous Anonymous said…

I babysat a lot as a teenager and still babysit a lot to this day.There were some fathers that made me feel uncomfortable and were coincidentally the ones who would drive me home so I would always say I was busy and they eventually stopped asking. I have a very good intuition so when I feel uncomfortable or think something isn't right I get myself out of the situations as quickly as possible. Luckily I never had any incidents for anyone I babysat for.It can be scary for a teenage girl though and I totally understand what it feels like to be in a situation where you just freeze and have no idea what to do as that happened to me one day when a man followed me from a store right to my car. I locked the doors and then froze not knowing what to do. It is indeed a very scary world out there for young girls and young women!


At 11:32 AM , Blogger Sheila said…

To the last Anonymous,

I think most of us have good instincts--maybe not all, but most of us know when we feel uncomfortable. The problem is, as you said, that we often freeze instead of doing what we know we should do!

Ironically, people often get scared of the big cities, but I never felt safer than when I was walking in downtown Toronto. If I ever thought someone was following me, I knew to go into a store. It freaks me out a lot more walking in my suburban neighbourhood today, when there's nobody around!


At 11:38 AM , Anonymous Anonymous said…

Yes I know how you feel! I personally live next to a man who makes me feel very very uncomfortable and I live in the country where all the houses are far apart and don't feel comfortable even being outside when my husband isn't home let alone walking down the road


At 11:49 AM , Blogger Bobble said…

I just want to point out that there are times when the babysitter might abuse the children too. Dr. James Dobson advised never hiring a teenage boy to babysit your kids—even boys—because of the hormones and new feelings that are hard for them to control.


At 12:39 PM , Blogger Sheila said…

Bobble, I hear you. I really do. But I hate making blanket statements like that, because I honestly know some teenage boys that I think would be great baby-sitters (my husband baby-sat a lot as a youngster, too). I think too often we assume girls will be good because they are girls, but if they spend the whole time on Facebook, or if they invite boyfriends over, they're just as dangerous.

As a rule I'd prefer a girl baby-sitter over a boy baby-sitter, but if I ran a youth group at church and really knew the kids, and I knew a particular boy well, I think I'd be okay with it. But it all comes from actually KNOWING who is in your house and praying a lot.

It is a good question, though. What do you think? Would you ever hire a male baby-sitter?


At 2:11 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said…

When my eldest was a new teen we allowed her to babysit for my husband's affluent brother. My one request was that they would allow us to pick her up if they had consumed any amount of alcohol that evening.

That one request caused a complete freak-out in my husband's entire family...and her babysitting job did not last. That was sad, as we were always told by others how great, professional, prepared, and sweet she was at her job...and my daughter was hurt to lose the good pay. But it was far too important to buckle to the ugly pressure when my child's safety and well-being was at stake.


At 8:59 PM , Anonymous the domestic fringe said…

This is good advice! I always babysat as a teen and never had any bad experiences, but still. I see how it could've happened and I wouldn't have been prepared. This is smart thinking!


At 10:45 PM , Blogger Kim said…

Thanks Sheila for posting a portion of my story and getting the word out...I think it's so important that girls that are going to babysit are aware of things that can happen.

Unfortunately, even if I had a cell phone - my mom was NOT a hands on/caring mom...though it might have made things easier to just ask her to come and get me or even to have had the ability to text SOMEONE to let them know what was going on.

It's interesting how many of your readers picked up on not letting a man drive the girl next post on my blog will be one of this sort of incident with the next people that I baby sat for. We have a rule in our household and I am ALWAYS in the car on the pick up or drop off of our babysitter. I know her family would trust us but even for my husband's never know when a he said/she said situation may arise and your husband may have to stand up against something he was accused of doing that he didn't do.

I value your friendship and thank you so much for helping me all that you have.


At 11:19 PM , Blogger Tina Hollenbeck said…

Thanks for sharing, Sheila. I was also taken advantage of by the dad of a girl I babysat. It didn't go "very far" - but far enough, and it messed me up for a long time afterward. I'm going to be very, very cautious when I start allowing my girls to babysit.


At 11:09 AM , Anonymous LavaidaVandelia said…

My husband does drive our sitters home, but I always have the girls call their parent from our house to let the parent know that he and the sitter are on the way. Just a safeguard as to time.

However- he absolutely REFUSES to hand them the money for babysitting. He insists that I do it. He says its just "weird" for a man to hand money to a girl without a tangible reason-like paying for an item in a store.


At 11:24 AM , Anonymous Karen said…

Thank you for the post. This is really interesting and I had never thought about it, not having had any incident as a babysitter myself. I am curious, would you take the same precautions when setting up a play date with your kids?


At 12:07 PM , Blogger The Tightwads said…

So good to bring this into light. There are many situations that our children get into that we never think twice about.
Many a time, I'd babysit for a family who would come home after a night out, intoxicated. That alone could've been very problem some.

We need to do everything we can to protect our kids from danger.


At 12:39 PM , Blogger Sheila said…


I would be careful of playdates, though maybe for different reasons. We were always worried about what movies the kids would be watching while at other people's homes, and if they'd be supervised well enough.

Once kids get to be teenagers, we make it a rule that they don't go to a friend's house with just the dad and the friend there. It's not that we don't trust the dad; it's also so that the dad doesn't feel uncomfortable. When I'm not here, my girls don't have friends over, either, just so that my husband isn't put in an uncomfortable situation!


At 5:08 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said…

Great reminder, SHeila.
I never had a problem when I was babysitting, and my teenager hasn't yet either. We have a rule that either the mum drives her home, or I go and pick her up. No dads driving her home. Ever. Even though they are all friends etc, like you said, it is as also about protecting their reputation. We state that up front when she starts with a new babysitting family, and if they aren't happy with it, then she doesn't do the job.
I also like the comment about the dad not handing over the money. It does feel weird! Not sure if that is something I can control, but it is worth keeping in mind.


At 10:15 AM , Anonymous Anonymous said…

I was exposed to romance novels at my babysitting gigs, and at a few homes there were pornographic magazines tucked under the Ladies magazines. I was not strong enough to resist looking, or reading. I never got hooked on porn, it was actually too intimidating in a variety of ways to me. I did become addicted to the fantasy world of romance novels. It was forbidden fruit, because my home had only the encyclopedia and classics!


At 6:32 AM , Blogger Far Above Rubies said…

Sheila, great post. Thank you so much for the reminder.


At 1:48 PM , Blogger SheriYates said…

Wow. Alot of comments.
I think it's got to go beyond just "controls" of who's driving, paying, home alone, etc. Yes, those are great controls.
However, my stepdad was abusive with my mom home or in the other room - on sleep overs with friends, etc. You never knew.
As moms, we need to teach our daughters how to say "NO" boldly and with authority. To believe that they shouldn't be looked down on because they are young. She need to know that no matter what, her parents will listen to her, believe her and protect her if she is EVER in that situation! (without getting angry & anxious)
I have talked with so many young girls and most of them are actually afraid to tell their parents because their parents might "freak out." They say that parents aren't goo listeners. When the girls opens up to them, the parents start the questions which gives the child the perception that they are not trusted.
At a very young age we need to demonstrate that we listen to our girls, respect and believe them. If not, by the time they are 12, they won't open up to mom much anymore.
I taught my children early to put up their hand and say "stop in the name of Jesus!" Then get out of there.
Great post Sheila.


At 9:22 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said…

I babysat for 2 families (the parents were siblings) who practically encouraged me to watch the porn channel on TV. "Our kids aren't allowed to watch channel such-and-such but you can watch whatever you want (wink, wink) after they go to bed. Seriously?! Now that I am a parent I am just horrified!


At 12:13 PM , Blogger Natalie said…

The main issue I was confronted with time after time was needing a ride home at the end of the night and, often, the husband had been drinking. I always wished my own dad could have picked me up instead but I never said anything.


At 10:36 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said…

The only two families I sat for: 1, the dad drove me home while drinking alcohol in his coffee cup; 2, the married lady told me about falling in love with her boss. She suggested to watch my first rated r movie too. Her husband later told someone he "wished I was a few years older." my mom interviewed both ("Christian") families before I worked for them. I was too afraid to speak up nor did I ever tell my mom bc I thought she'd be mad. Thank the Lord for his protection.

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Name: Sheila

Home: Belleville, Ontario, Canada

About Me: I'm a Christian author of a bunch of books, and a frequent speaker to women's groups and marriage conferences. Best of all, I love homeschooling my daughters, Rebecca and Katie. And I love to knit. Preferably simultaneously.

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