I started babysitting when I was in sixth grade. My first regular gig was with a family with four stair-step kids who were six, four, two, and just a few months old when I started taking care of them. I watched them after school, on Saturday mornings, and weekend evenings while their parents went out for dinner. I helped them with their homework, played with them outside, served them meals, and got them ready for bed and off to sleep.
Husband and I need to find a new babysitter. Our current sitter is a student at the college where he works. She is fabulous, but she is a senior and she is busy. Our search and conversations with the friends we've solicited for recommendations have yielded conversations about background checks, lists of references, and required CPR classes. The women whom we've found to interview are just that - women - not 12 year old girls.
So what's changed? Why can't we bring ourselves to leave our boys with the kid down the street?
One obvious difference is that the family that hired me knew my family. Their trust in me undoubtedly rested on the fact that they knew my mom and dad. Meanwhile, Husband and I are relatively new in town and don't have the same type of connections yet.
Another change I've seen is that adolescents seem busier than I ever was, at least in junior high school. My years of teaching exposed me to a mini-generation of athletes, actresses, musicians, and socialites who barely had enough time to be students, let alone babysitters. So even if we wanted the girl next door, she probably wouldn't want us.
But I wonder if the issue is really just one of protection, maybe over-protection. Do we just spend more time these days assuming the worst will happen to our kids? Despite what one might believe from the sensationalist bent of cable and local news, crimes against children have dropped in recent decades, even if child abuse at the hands of non-parent care-givers is still a threat. I'm not even actively worried about our kids being injured by a shady babysitter, but this compulsion to perform due diligence, and then some, must stem from a desire to everything possible to protect them.
Whose instincts were/are right? Those of the family who hired me, a responsible kid; or those of these parents of two little boys, who seek an experienced, certified adult?