It’s a rite of passage for teenage girls: working as a babysitter. I did it, my mother did it, my aunts did it, and some day, my daughter will do it, too. When I was a teen, the going rate around town was $5/hour, per kid. So if you had two kids and were going to be gone for three hours, you’d end up paying a sitter $30. It wasn’t a lot, but it was some nice spending money for a 15-year-old girl.

So when I became a parent myself, I started to do some research on how much you should pay a babysitter. I went online to sites like and; I asked friends; I asked friends’ teenage daughters. And some of the dollar amounts I started to hear were astounding:

One teen told me she charged $10/hour, per kid.

One of my online resources suggested increasing that to $15/hour if the sitter will be in charge of an infant or a “problem” child.

I had a friend tell me she paid her sitter $20/hour not because it was the “going rate,” but because she knew it ensured the sitter’s loyalty to never drop her for a higher paying gig on the same night.

Now let’s get one thing straight. These teens are not professionals. Sure, they might have taken a CPR or First Aid class at the local Red Cross; they may have even attended one of those Saturday afternoon “Everything You Need To Know To Be A Reliable Babysitter” courses at the community rec center. But they are not early childhood education specialists; they are not on-call nurses; they don’t even have as much experience as you, as a mother or father, do with your kids. THEY ARE TEENAGERS. They specialize in texting 100 messages an hour to their best friends, sleeping in until 2pm on the weekends, and forgetting about a “big project” until the night before it’s due. Planning, troubleshooting, and problem solving aren’t exactly their strong suits, not should they be: research suggests the human brain is in a constant state of growth and development until roughly age 25 (which, coincidentally, is the age at which I got pregnant with my first child).

My first job in TV news paid roughly $20,000 a year. If you break that down into a 40-hour work week, 52 weeks a year, it means I was earning $9.62/hour for a job that required me to have an undergraduate degree. Oh, and I was required to pay taxes on that $9.62/hour, unlike most teenage sitters who get paid under the table.

Now, if $10, $15, $20 an hour is a rate you want to pay a babysitter who is still years away from understanding true responsibility and whose only true experience handling babies is carrying around a hardboiled egg in a basket for a week for health class, then be my guest; you obviously have cash to burn. But if you’re fed up with paying a sitter more than you made in your first (or second, or third) job as an adult, then stay tuned – because next week, I’m going to crack open my radical new theory on how much your sitter should really be making when she (or he!) watches your children.

Libby Balke

Libby Balke