A friend was recently crowdsourcing because her son is interested in babysitting, and he even said he wanted to take some classes to make himself more ready to babysit.  He’s an oldest child, very responsible, and he likes kids.  While most of her friends were supportive of his ambitions, a few raised concerns about boys babysitting.  Given the church’s focus on families, I was surprised at the level of taboo some Mormons seem to feel is associated with boys babysitting.

False Allegations

One mother said she would not allow her sons to babysit because she was afraid they would be falsely accused of doing something inappropriate.  She allows them to watch her other children, but wouldn’t want them watching someone else’s children.  In other words, she feels her sons are trustworthy, but other people and their children are not, unfairly persecuting boys.

This struck me as particularly paranoid.  Why would someone who had no qualms about hiring a boy to babysit make a false accusation about impropriety just because it’s a boy?  Clearly such a parent already thinks a boy is a suitable babysitter.  This is the same thinking that goes into certain cultural rules in the church like missionaries having to show up in a posse if a woman is home alone (because that doesn’t look suspicious) or men refusing to give women a ride home in a snowstorm or refusing to work with women.

True Allegations

There’s an underlying belief that only women and girls can take care of children because boys and men are just a single unsupervised opportunity away from sexual assault.  This also assumes that women and girls never do things that are sexually inappropriate, which is unfortunately not true, and it assumes that all boys are barely controlled predators.  According to one mother:

I know of two instances where boys (not my own). Have been “curious” (was the word the parent used) and did inappropriate things. Personally, I believe my boys wouldn’t do anything of the sort but why put them in that situation if you can avoid it?

I am aware of one situation in which children were sexually molested by their babysitter, a female.  Comedian John Mulaney compares babysitting to putting a horse in charge of a dog–both are more or less the same thing; a babysitter is a slightly larger child.  He has a point.

The only real alternative is never using a babysitter, which sounds like a terrific reason to avoid having children altogether.  After all, something bad could happen to them anywhere.  Don’t send them to school because there are cases of teachers sexually preying on children!  Don’t send them to church because it can happen there, too.  I know of a situation in which a child was molested in the church bathroom during sacrament meeting.  That’s pretty doggone brash.

Church Leader Counsel

Somewhat alarmingly, several folks said that their Stake President had counseled them not to hire boys as babysitters because sexually curious boys can’t be trusted to keep their hands off little kids.  Does anyone else find it scary for this belief to be held by male church leaders who also hold private interviews with children behind a closed office door, asking them questions about their sexual activity?  Any church leader who thinks that boys sexually molesting children they babysit is a likely outcome, one requiring counsel to avoid it, sounds like a person I don’t want in a position of authority interviewing youngsters privately behind closed doors.  Why does it seem self-evident to them that this is how boys think?  Is it projection?  If so, physician, heal thyself.

What’s really at heart here?  

  • Sexism.  If we save all the crappy jobs for girls, like domestic chores and child care, then the boys get to do the better ones.
  • Socialization.  In homes where gender roles are not only encouraged but enforced, boys may not learn the nurturing skills to handle child care.  This reinforces the idea that girls are somehow inherently better at it.  It’s a self-fulfilling prophecy.  The fact is, many girls aren’t great at it either.  Assuming they are just by virtue of their sex is poor reasoning.  Oldest children, those with younger siblings, are probably the best equipped with the skills and demeanor to babysit because they develop those skills in the home.
  • Parental Paranoia.  While I think we’ve corrected some of the negligence and laxity of earlier generations [1], we may have gone a little overboard.  Some parents can’t let their kids out of their sight, putting actual leashes on them, installing nanny cams, and not allowing them to play anywhere but the back yard.  But in the day of 24×7 news, parental fears are often fueled by these well-publicized stories that used to be known only locally; it seems that danger lurks around every corner.

So, what’s the best way to hire babysitters while keeping our children safe?  Here’s my advice, take it or leave it:

  • Kids that want to babysit are better than kids that don’t want to babysit, IMO.  I was a pretty indifferent babysitter, and I wasn’t great.  If you have to convince someone to watch your kids, maybe you shouldn’t bother.
  • Hire kids you know, particularly if your kids like them.  Your kids will behave better if they are having fun.
  • Hire kids whose parents you know and trust and who have a support network backing them up (e.g. nearby or supportive parents or family members they can call).
  • Be realistic about the difficulty level of what you are asking babysitters to do.  They are just slightly older kids, after all.
  • Hire responsible kids who respond to texts.  This one can be hard to gauge before you hire them, but you can ask for references.
  • Communicate!  Kids are often too inexperienced to know what to tell you.  Tell them what you expect and ask questions to find out how things went.
  • Oldest kids might have more experience watching younger kids and may have better judgment as a result.  Experience is a great teacher, but the tuition is high.  Oldest kids’ parents have already paid that tuition in their own houses.

And here’s an article with 5 reasons you should hire a boy babysitter.

Have you hired or been a boy babysitter?  Would you encourage your son to babysit?

Discuss.

[1] There’s a horrible but true story of a girl killed and eaten by serial killer Albert Fish in 1928 here (language alert, plus it’s gross).  Apparently, all you had to do was mention an out-of-town birthday party to beleaguered parents in 1928, and they would gladly hand over their 9-year old daughter to a complete stranger.