Male Babysitters: Am I Being Irrational?
August 14, 2008 11:29 AM   Subscribe

We have a 3 1/2-year-old son. Our current babysitter, the daughter of one of my wife's coworkers, is leaving for university shortly, and we're trying to find a replacement for her. The same coworker has a son who's about 16 years old.

Our son is familiar with the coworker's son, as well as the son's girlfriend. We discussed asking the son's girlfriend whether she did babysitting, but then realized that we would be, in effect, telling the son and the coworker that we didn't trust the son.

I am far, far more against the idea of her son babysitting for us than my wife is, and the kicker is that it appears to have nothing to do with the kid himself. He's a good kid, and, as far as we know (my wife and the coworker are pretty close), is about as straight-arrow as you can get.

My issue appears to be more or less exclusively that he's male, and that I just don't like the idea of a male babysitting my son. Am I being irrational?
posted by scrump to Human Relations (76 answers total)

posted by Tomorrowful at 11:35 AM on August 14, 2008

You're being totally irrational.
posted by proj at 11:35 AM on August 14, 2008 [2 favorites]

Yes, I think you are, but you're a parent and you should feel comfortable with whomever is taking care of your child in your stead. It will not do you, your child, nor your coworker's son any good for you to feel suspicious and uncomfortable every time you leave your son with the sitter.

It might be something you want to examine within yourself at some point, but for now, I say find someone else.
posted by eralclare at 11:39 AM on August 14, 2008

Unless you can think of any specific reason for not wanting him to babysit, aside from his gender, then I'd say that you're being totally irrational. What is your problem with a male babysitter?
posted by ISeemToBeAVerb at 11:40 AM on August 14, 2008

Completely irrational. However, it is your son - and you have a right to be irrational about his care.
posted by hworth at 11:40 AM on August 14, 2008 [2 favorites]

Yes, I think you are, but I also agree that it would not serve you to be suspicious every time you left them alone together.
posted by tristeza at 11:42 AM on August 14, 2008

Best answer: Growing up in a family with kids of both sexes and various ages: we primarily had female sitters, but the couple of times we had male ones (sons of family friends) we always had fun. I think that your feelings are fairly normal...however unfounded. Is it a gut instinct about this young man, or is it really just males in general?

Because, seriously, your son might have a better time hanging out with him.
posted by gracious floor at 11:43 AM on August 14, 2008

Best answer: I think that having a good young-male role model is important, even at a young age.
posted by piedmont at 11:44 AM on August 14, 2008 [2 favorites]

Speaking as a male who has done quite a bit of babysitting/nannying, I'd say that you are being a little irrational, but it probably has more to do with the common perception that women are simply better with children than men. Whether there is any truth to that I won't debate here, but you should try to judge by his character and not his gender on this. If any aspects of his character happen to be the result of his maleness or whatever, it doesn't matter, its just part of his character.
posted by cimbrog at 11:44 AM on August 14, 2008

Irrational, possibly, but not entirely unwise IMHO...
posted by jluce50 at 11:45 AM on August 14, 2008

You're being irrational and sexist.

Get over it. Let the kid babysit and judge him on his own merit. Maybe pay him extra too, for being kind and nurturing (unless, of course the kid is an ass.)
posted by filmgeek at 11:46 AM on August 14, 2008 [1 favorite]

I'm male, and was also about as arrow-straight as they came when I was a teenager, and I babysat neighbors' kids all the time. The thing that should matter here isn't gender, but sense of responsibility; if everyone agrees the kid has that, then I don't see why he shouldn't get the job.
posted by xbonesgt at 11:48 AM on August 14, 2008 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I don't think there's anything wrong with asking the girlfriend. A teenage girl is far more likely to be interested in babysitting than a teenage boy or an adult. If someone else is interested in doing it, I'd expect they'd volunteer that information when they hear you're looking for someone.

I don't think there's anything wrong with a male babysitter. Teenage boys are probably less interested in kids, and therefore as a group less capable as babysitters, but I don't think that teenage boys who are interested in babysitting are less likely to be capable than teenage girls who are interested in babysitting.

But, ultimately, what I'm wondering is: Is there a terrible shortage of babysitters where you are? If not, choose someone you feel completely comfortable with (which probably includes not choosing the girlfriend if you're afraid that will offend others). If you fail to find someone that way, then you can come back and agonize on this issue again.
posted by winston at 11:48 AM on August 14, 2008

My issue appears to be more or less exclusively that he's male

If that's the only reason, then yes, you're being irrational.

However, you have some weird feeling about the kid, you're not and I'd say you're very justified.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 11:48 AM on August 14, 2008

I've been scooped by cimbrog, I see. *shakes fist*
posted by xbonesgt at 11:50 AM on August 14, 2008

I've used 16 yr old boys as babysitters successfully. Go for it!

Filmgeek: isn't it sexist to offer to pay him more for being a (nurturing) male?
posted by saucysault at 11:54 AM on August 14, 2008 [2 favorites]

Out of curiosity: does he even want the job?

Is this going to be something that he gets asked to do, does out of a sense of obligation, and then doesn't take as seriously as he should?

If you get over your fear of male babysitters, float the idea to him and ask him to call you if he's interested. If he doesn't call, you're both off the hook.
posted by toomuchpete at 11:57 AM on August 14, 2008

the question is, does he WANT to babysit your son? does he like the idea? have you seen him with your son? what kind of rapport do they have?

its a personal thing more than a gender thing. some girls are terrible with kids, some boys are great with kids and vice versa. find out what he'd be like as a sitter and consider him as a person. maybe he'd be no good, maybe he'd be great.
posted by beccyjoe at 11:57 AM on August 14, 2008

Does the son want to baby-sit? I mean, your opinion may be ultimately irrelevant

Being a good baby sitter has to do with a lot of things, gender not being one of them. My biggest issue as a (male) babysitter was staying awake. After a few baby-sitting gigs where the parents woke me up when they got home I moved onto to different modes of employment. My incompetence at babysitting was not really gender related.

Anyway, yeah, you're being silly. My wife and I hired one girl to babysit and she was AWFUL. I think she had OCD - she rearranged all our bookshelves. Biggest to smallest. I think she also rearranged our shoes. As in moved them around the house. I think she kept them in pairs at least. Good babysitters are hard to find regardless of gender. If he's at all competent, hire him.
posted by GuyZero at 11:57 AM on August 14, 2008

The baby sitter my parents used most often when I was little was the next door neighbor's oldest son. He was awesome. Occasionally, when he was unavailable, his younger sister would babysit. She was a slacker and wasn't very good with the babysitting. It's all about being responsible, not gender. You are being totally irrational.
posted by chiababe at 11:58 AM on August 14, 2008

Best answer: Yup.

We had lots of babysitters when I was a kid, and my favorite, the one who was the nicest to us, was a guy.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 12:03 PM on August 14, 2008

Best answer: Am I being irrational?


What are your reasons? If your reasons are "Um, I don't know, I just don't like the idea of a male person babysitting my son", then, yeah, irrational.

Your son will greatly benefit from having a number of different kinds of men/boys as role models. He will learn new things. He will learn new con-the-babysitter strategies.

If the kid is responsible, and if he wants the job, then at least try him out on a trial basis. What are you afraid of?
posted by rtha at 12:06 PM on August 14, 2008

Best answer: yes.

I also was a babysitter when i was a teenager, and I ran into this all the time. A mother who didn't want me to baby-sit her kids (twin boys) specifically because I was a boy, later placed her kids on the basketball team that i coached. I spent the same amount of time with the boys, about the same number of time a week coaching as I would have babysitting. Never understood why one bothered her but the other didn't.
Also had parents not hire me, a CPR certified 17 year old with years of experience, and then hire a 12 year old girl, to watch their kids. Nearly a decade later I still don’t get it.
Just seemed sexist to me at the time; still does actually. I like kids, always have, other guys do to. Ask yourself would you feel weird with this kid coaching your son?
posted by French Fry at 12:26 PM on August 14, 2008 [7 favorites]

If your reasons are 'women tend to be more nurturing and I'd rather have a girl babysit my kids' then I don't think you're being irrational. Short-sighted maybe, but not totally irrational.

If your reasons are 'zomg, he might be a pedo' then yes. You're being very irrational.
posted by jacquilynne at 12:32 PM on August 14, 2008

It doesn't really matter, it's your child.

For what it's worth, I wouldn't leave someone that young with a 3 1/2 year old, male or female. It's a challenging age and they can be difficult to deal with.

I think finding another adult babysitter would be a good way to go.
posted by sondrialiac at 12:33 PM on August 14, 2008 [1 favorite]

French Fry, I understand where you're coming from, but coaching is in public and there are more people around, whereas babysitting is just you and the kids.
posted by sondrialiac at 12:34 PM on August 14, 2008 [1 favorite]

No, I agree with you 100%

I had some neibhors in Hawaii who let a boy watch their kids and the result was a disaster (like jail time...enough said).
I hate to say it, and yes I am a male too, guys just are'nt going to be as compassionate and "there" for you baby when something happens. Everyone says a million things, your irrational, your chalvinistic..heard it a hundrend times, but if you get a bad feeling about it, DONT ignore it...its YOUR kid not anyone above this post or below.

Stick to your guns, I know where your coming from brother.

Take Care
posted by TeachTheDead at 12:35 PM on August 14, 2008

...forgot to add, my Wife is 100% the same as me...we just dont get a good feeling about it has/is easier for me since my wife also feels the same.
posted by TeachTheDead at 12:37 PM on August 14, 2008

Yes, you are being irrational.

But since you don't know if either person even wants the job, why not have your wife mention to the coworker that you are looking for a new babysitter, and ask if it would be a good idea to consider the son and/or his girlfriend. I'm guessing she'll be pretty straight with you about whether either would be interested and how much experience each has, which are much, much better criteria to go by.
posted by susanvance at 12:43 PM on August 14, 2008

Best answer: My general stance is that yes, it's irrational, but this is one of those times when you really have to go with your gut. If it's a mild distaste for the idea, maybe you could attempt to get over it. But if the idea makes you very uncomfortable, no matter how irrational the reason, well then it's probably not worth the turmoil. I feel like this is one of those irrational fears that you talk to your therapist about rather than face your fear head-on.
posted by lampoil at 12:46 PM on August 14, 2008

Yeah, you're being irrational. My brother and I both baby-sat when we were teenagers. My brother loved little kids, eventually became a camp counselor and then a camp director, and currently teaches middle school. I teach middle school too, but littler kids just kinda...bug me. I like my son, but other little kids just annoy me. Being female doesn't mean you love little ones, and being male doesn't mean you'll blow it.
posted by christinetheslp at 12:52 PM on August 14, 2008

Best answer: I think it is irrational and there are boys who have such big hearts and are great with kids and capable of great responsibility and compassion.

It seems like you might be (yes, irrationally) worried about abuse, possibly sexual?

Did you try talking to his sister? Siblings are often more aware than parents of what goes on in a family, and what one another is really like. Ask her some open ended questions about her brother, what she thinks, whether he would be a good match for your child, etc, and listen carefully. She might not say things outright but if she feels there's anything fishy (from morality issues to abuse issues to basic on-task/responsibility issues) you will probably be able to hear her a hesitation or less than full endorsement. Bonus b/c older siblings can be tough on and have high expectations for their younger siblings, so a strong endorsement, especially at that age, would be saying a lot.

I think it's worth it to try to figure this out, and not just skip over it because you can because there are other available sitters. Your attitudes and expectations about boys/men are harmful. They can limit the development and opportunities for boys to grow in their own individuality, especially as caretakers, they can limit and hurt your relationship with the boys and around you and your openness to accepting them, practically they do curtail your options for sitters, and finally, they *will* filter down to your daughter and any other children you may have, and she will hear, no matter how implicit you are, that men are different/scary, or, just as bad, not fully competent/trustworthy, not fully capable as caretakers and parenting partners.

But it's great that you're even asking, I think a lot of people wouldn't. And I second the people who say that if there's anything about *this* particular boy that gives you a bad feeling, you should trust your gut and not look back.
posted by Salamandrous at 12:56 PM on August 14, 2008 [6 favorites]

You are being irrational and also sexist. I babysat as a young teen (12-16 or so) and I was not a nurturing, kid-friendly person at all- I was neurotic and competitive. But I was a girl, and it was the only job anyone would give me to do, so I took it. There's a really prescriptive element here: young girls are assumed to have an interest in children, and so they are told more about children, invited to babysitting workshops, given responsibility around children, etc. Perhaps the overall effect is that some young girls are more comfortable around children than are young boys, but that isn't intrinsic. (Once I was 16 I got a retail job and I haven't worked with children since.)
posted by alicetiara at 1:01 PM on August 14, 2008

I had lots of female babysitters - some good, some terrible. I think basing a decision on the actual person is much saner than on gender alone. (I'm female and have a younger sister, so male babysitters just weren't in the cards, but I boggle slightly at not wanting a male babysitter for a boy-child.)
posted by restless_nomad at 1:11 PM on August 14, 2008

Jeez. Yes, the irrational jumps from

teenage boy who likes kids -> boy with a feminine characteristic -> teh gay -> MOLESTER

are very bad news. However, maturity and experience questions are valid.
posted by Ambrosia Voyeur at 1:15 PM on August 14, 2008

i'm not sure you're being irrational. are you concerned about the lack of responsibility/maturity/nurturing-ness of a male babysitter or are you concerned about the possibility of sexual abuse/molestation being more likely to happen from a male rather than a female? I feel like you have a right to be concerned about the latter and should make no apologies for it.
posted by nomad73 at 1:22 PM on August 14, 2008

I had a regular babysitting gig (like, one night every other week) for my last year of high school for three boys -- a ten, five, and two year old. I also had a male babysitter as a kid and had no problems at all.

nomad73 and TeachTheDead are providing a valuable service for this thread by demonstrating what an actual irrational thought process on this subject looks like in the wild. Thanks, guys!
posted by LionIndex at 1:30 PM on August 14, 2008

I have only used babysitters whom I knew well and knew the parents well, both male and female for my son and daughter. They both loved having male babysitters.

But not all males or females are into babysitting and not all are responsible, so only you and your wife can judget that.

My son is now approaching babysitting age and I think he will be great at it. He loves kids and they seem to flock to him. You obviously need to be comfortable, so maybe you could have him over to play with the child while you are around, assuming he is interested. I think this goes far in reassuring people about any sitters.
posted by maxg94 at 1:35 PM on August 14, 2008

Response by poster: Okay, first off, enough with the "ZOMG YOU'RE BEING STUPID AND SEXIST", because that's not productive. I asked for your input as to whether I was being irrational, not your input into my character.

Second, my reasons for not liking this center around the indisputable fact that most molestations are committed by males on other males, and are committed by someone the child already knows. It has nothing to do with the strawman "women are more nurturing" thing that some of you have ginned up.

Gender is an issue for me because there's a statistically significant and documented correlation between gender and abuse. My question boils down to the degree of credence I should give this particular input, and whether I'm weighting it way too heavily.
posted by scrump at 1:36 PM on August 14, 2008 [1 favorite]

Why don't you interview the kid and talk to his references before making up your mind?
posted by ottereroticist at 1:53 PM on August 14, 2008 [2 favorites]

My younger brother was way better with kids than I was. (Probably still is -- just in the past tense because I'm thinking of particular times in the past.)
posted by salvia at 2:02 PM on August 14, 2008

Most !reported! molestations. The difference when the girl molests the boy is that he does not report it.
posted by ChabonJabon at 2:03 PM on August 14, 2008

Go with someone you feel comfortable with. It does not make you a bad person to hire only female babysitters. You need to feel comfortable leaving your child with the person. This is more important than giving everyone an equal opportunity shot at taking care of him.
posted by Acer_saccharum at 2:08 PM on August 14, 2008

Best answer: I think you're weighing it way too heavily. There's statistically significant documentation between gender and a lot of things you don't want perpetrated on your kid. (Not to mention that there's an undocumented correlation between being a teenage girl and talking on the phone for hours and hours and hours straight.) Obviously you want to keep your kid safe, but you can't make yourself completely crazy. This is a teenage boy whose family you know, whose girlfriend you've met, and whose own sister is your current babysitter!

Maybe you're the sort of person who wouldn't be offended if one of your friends or relatives distrusted you on the same principle. I don't know this. I know that I would be horrified if this logic were applied to my 15-year-old straight-arrow nephew.
posted by desuetude at 2:12 PM on August 14, 2008 [1 favorite]

You're probably being irrational, but at the same time, you won't enjoy yourself if you're always stressed about what's happening at home. Why not ask your current babysitter? "Now that you're leaving, do you have anyone you recommend?" You can mention her brother and his girlfriend. She will probably have a reasonable enough grasp of her brother's abilities and interests.
posted by jeather at 2:13 PM on August 14, 2008

Best answer: Since your son already knows the current babysitter's son, ask his input. Asking your son if he would like to have him babysit him will give you a pretty good idea if there is any cause for concern. A child that young can't lie effectively and if the babysitter's son had tried anything you would be able to figure it out. There are a lot of risks out there for children, you have to decide what risks you are comfortable with, balancing them against teaching your son that men can't be trusted around children and that you don't trust him to tell you if something happens to make him uncomfortable. Honestly, I think the risk of abuse is so low you are better off using a babysitter you and your child are familiar with (the son) rather than building new relationships from scratch with someone else.
posted by saucysault at 2:20 PM on August 14, 2008

It's interesting to me that you didn't mention anything about being worried about molestation in the original question, yet assumed we would infer that was your main reason for worry. Even more interesting (and perhaps worrisome) is that so many answers did in fact make that leap. Perhaps suspecting a 16 yr old "straight as an arrow" young man of evil intentions merely because he is a "he" is irrational. Why is the girlfriend more trustworthy? Do you know her at all except through the boy (and his sister, the original babysitter)?
Obviously it's your kid, and you should do what you're comfortable with. If you don't want a boy babysitter, please find a girl he's not dating to ask. The last thing you want is to tell him you can't have him around your son because he's a boy and thus is not trustworthy.
Maybe also consider the value of teaching your young son to trust men as well as women caregivers.
posted by purpletangerine at 2:24 PM on August 14, 2008 [1 favorite]

My reasons for not liking this center around the indisputable fact that most molestations are committed by males on other males, and are committed by someone the child already knows.

Regardless of whether this is actually "indisuptable," it doesn't account for the vast number of abuse cases that take place *in* the home, and are perpetrated by male (and female) family members. Would you be equally uncomfortable leaving him with an uncle? An older brother?

More to the point - fast forward a couple years. Would you want your kid's friends to be prohibited from being alone in the house with you and your son, just because you are "indisputably" more prone to child abuse than your wife?

If not, get over yourself.
posted by puckish at 2:32 PM on August 14, 2008

Response by poster:
Maybe you're the sort of person who wouldn't be offended if one of your friends or relatives distrusted you on the same principle. I don't know this. I know that I would be horrified if this logic were applied to my 15-year-old straight-arrow nephew.
One of the reasons I'm wrestling so hard with this is that I'm actually used to being mistrusted: I work part-time as a paramedic, and all of us, but particularly male paramedics, have it hammered into us that we should never, ever put ourselves in a situation where we're alone with a female patient or a minor of any gender. My baseline standard, as a result, is that I take it for granted that as a male, I won't be trusted.

It actually startles me when, every so often, our friends will be fine with me watching both of their boys and my own, because I'm so used to the absolutist THOU SHALT NOT prohibitions in healthcare.

So I'm coming from a place where this kind of preemptive suspicion is considered normal and routine.
posted by scrump at 2:44 PM on August 14, 2008

Scrump; I also think you're being irrational and sexist (I'm not yelling at you, just stating a fact!) but I'm not sure what you're looking for beyond our opinions? Is there some sort of data you're looking for or is it just about what we think? I'm not sure what anybody can say beyond "you're being irrational" without more knowledge about what exactly you're looking for.

Like others, this is only true if you are getting the heebies based only the fact that the kid is male, not on an intuition specific to him or his actual behavior.
posted by Justinian at 2:49 PM on August 14, 2008

Response by poster:
I'm not sure what you're looking for beyond our opinions? Is there some sort of data you're looking for or is it just about what we think?
That's exactly what I'm after, because, as I pointed out right before your comment, I don't have what could be considered a "normal" reference point, and I'm having a really hard time figuring out whether my basic reaction is way outside normal, or whether it falls into some sort of normal range.
posted by scrump at 2:54 PM on August 14, 2008

Depends on your definition of "irrational".

The desire to minimize any chance of harm to your kids is not irrational, even if the chances of harm are infitessimally greater with a 16-yo boy vs. girl doing the 'sitting.

It's not "sexist" to acknowledge facts about how the sexes are different.

Having said that, given the circumstances I might try it once and see how it went.
posted by yort at 3:14 PM on August 14, 2008

Best answer: I know this sort of comment isn't particularly helpful, but I was babysat a lot as a little kid and the one babysitter who tried to 1) put his hand in my pants and 2) watch me undress and sort of hassled me about it saying that he always watched his sister undress (and I was maybe... seven? eight?) was a boy. THAT SAID, he didn't molest me or get his hand in my pants because I thought what he was doing made me uncomfortable and I said so and I got myself out of the situation. On the other hand, I never told anyone. I sometimes wonder if he tried to pull the same shit with my sister though she went to bed before I did.

So, my advice is that you get whatever babysitter you're going to get and you make sure that your son is clear on what is appropriate and not approrpriate with a babysitter and that you love him and that it's okay to tell you if the babysitter makes him uncomfortable, etc. I felt totally okay with telling my babysitter to get his hands off me because my Mom was totally clear with me that that wasn't an okay thing for someone to do. The babysitter was 16 and unlikely to push it, he wasn't a rapist (I still think) just a weird horny teenager who lived in the country.

I'd be more likely to look for someone who is actually gung-ho about babysitting more than just someone who is available but that may not be possible in your situation.
posted by jessamyn at 3:15 PM on August 14, 2008 [1 favorite]

Nigel Latta, who is a New Zealand clinical psychologist and author (specialising in sex offenders and seriously troubled young people) ran into a fair bit of controversy when he said in his book "Into the Darklands" that parents should never have a teenage boy to babysit. This was after his experiences of counseling multiple teenage boys, who were lovely kids but simply made a terrible, one-off mistake and abused the situation and the kid they were looking after. He reiterated the point in his next book (actually a whole chapter)
posted by slightlybewildered at 3:21 PM on August 14, 2008

My baseline standard, as a result, is that I take it for granted that as a male, I won't be trusted.

Sorry if I'm veering off-topic a little, but this makes me sad. As a paramedic, you're got relatively anonymous intimate contact with particularly vulnerable people. The THOU SHALT NOTs make a little more sense there; those inclined to cross a line in your profession, have a bigger window in which to do so (mixing metaphors terribly there, sorry.) But regardless, while the absolutist rules are fair to the patients, they're not actually particularly fair to you as an individual person. The greater good of protecting patients totally wins, but I don't think you should buy into the suspicion as a legitimate value judgment.

Transferring this suspicion to men in general may be a natural inclination for you (certainly my job has affected my worldview too!) but I think you might want to think about a more sensible place to draw some lines, lest your son learn from you that his own knowledge and feelings about who to trust should be superseded by strict rules of gender-based preemptive suspicion. We all learn this stuff subconsciously and consciously from our folks before we're old enough to back it up or dispute it with experience.

The fact that your reaction to a male babysitter isn't necessarily uncommon is a good reason for calling it out as an example of sexism, above. (Note: It, not you. I'm not calling you a sexist pig.) Sexism, as demonstrated by Ambrosia Voyeur's concise explanation above keeps irrational conclusions like this alive and legitimizes them, and that's not cool.
posted by desuetude at 3:22 PM on August 14, 2008 [3 favorites]

Response by poster:
teenage boy who likes kids -> boy with a feminine characteristic -> teh gay -> MOLESTER
I'm a little baffled by the "feminine characteristic" and "teh gay" comments here. Unless you were thrown off by my use of "straight-arrow", which had nothing to do with his gender identity.

I was using "straight-arrow" as shorthand for "doesn't smoke, drink, swear, and probably helps old ladies across the street", not as some sort of indicator of gayness or lack thereof. He's got a girlfriend, but his orientation is more or less beside the point for me (with the obvious caveats).
posted by scrump at 3:34 PM on August 14, 2008

Best answer: You know, my cousin and I were molested, in what I feel weird qualifying as such, but, well, a minor way, by a pair of teenage babysitters, one male and one female, when I was 5. I don't think they were deeply perved, just vastly irresponsible.

I knew what was up and I told on them as soon as my folks got home. Strong kids can be empowered right through violations. Prepare your son for the worst, tell him right and wrong, equip him with confidence, make him savvy as he can be at 3 1/2!! But why withhold the world from him, and why treat your household with the same careful but cold liability protections you have to cope with at work?
posted by Ambrosia Voyeur at 3:53 PM on August 14, 2008 [1 favorite]

teenage boy who likes kids -> boy with a feminine characteristic -> teh gay -> MOLESTER

I'm a little baffled by the "feminine characteristic" and "teh gay" comments here. Unless you were thrown off by my use of "straight-arrow", which had nothing to do with his gender identity.

Oh, I think you're translating this not the way Ambrosia Voyeur meant it. AV, correct me if I'm wrong:

Boys don't play with dolls or go coo over children, girls do.
Boys that like children are exhibiting a girl-like tendency.
Boys who are girl-like are gay.
Gay men are less inhibited sexually.
Inhibitions are all screwed up in molesters.

I'm not saying that this is literally where your mind goes at all, just providing examples of how "girls are like this, boys are like this" can lead people down a path that goes to a darker place than intended by well-meaning concern, and can unwittingly serve to validate much uglier stereotypes.

(Meanwhile, I'm pretty sure that girls are targeted for molestation significantly more frequently than boys. Anyone got some stats?)
posted by desuetude at 4:24 PM on August 14, 2008

Well, I agree, but I think it's true that the homophobic overprotection of boys from men is a subset of the broader overprotection of all children (and women) from men. So, you can take "teh gay" out of my little flowchart and just substitute "gender nonconformity -> freak + male -> SEX CRIMINAL"

It's an biased eyebrow-raiser when young men babysit, whether they're babysitting girls (pedo!!) or boys (queer pedo!!)

Hey, it may be true that 16 year old males are about the worst people ever (next to 14 year old females), impulsive, lustful, aggressive, weird, but you still musn't treat them as such until proven at the individual level, imo, even when your kids are involved. Unless it's my baby brother, then go right ahead. I can't believe he gets to drive a car. I'm never leaving the house.
posted by Ambrosia Voyeur at 4:45 PM on August 14, 2008

My baseline standard, as a result, is that I take it for granted that as a male, I won't be trusted.

Maybe it is because you're male. But in my experience, that's not a gender-specific rule. When I was a Girl Scout camp counselor, they taught us -- all women -- to never be alone one-on-one with a camper. We were to make sure the camper's "buddy" (remember the buddy system?) always came with us. If it was something where the camper needed to be alone (eg, one of the young ones soiled her pants and needed help getting cleaned up), we were to bring along another counselor. They said it was for our protection, to prevent false accusations, but it probably also helped make sure a counselor wouldn't do something that she didn't want everyone to know she had done.
posted by salvia at 4:52 PM on August 14, 2008

Best answer: Believe me, you're not alone in getting worried about creepy molesty shit, but that doesn't mean it'll happen; in fact, foremost in my thoughts whenever I babysat was always, "Okay, you're a guy, so remember, don't do anything that could even possibly be conceived as even the tiniest bit inappropriate."

I babysat as a teenager and this was exactly how I behaved, too. For what it's worth, I had as much babysitting business as I wanted — for every parent who (unbeknownst to me) refused to hire me because of my sex, there were three parents calling and hoping I was free to come over on Thursday evening.

When I was a small child, I had babysitters of both genders behave in borderline inappropriate ways. Not abuse, but not great, either — it was like they were fishing to see how I would respond; my lack of interest in playing that particular game meant that they didn't push the issue.

The point being, the vast majority of teenaged babysitters will behave exactly as they should (monopolizing your phone, drinking your beer, and making out with their boy/girlfriend in the basement late at night — but not abusing the kids). However, bad behavior does happen, and hiring female babysitters is no guarantee, either. (If nothing else, my experience was that the girls would have their boyfriends drop by at least half the time — so then you have an unvetted and oversexed guy in the house, which seems a lot worse than just a guy you know and trust.)

The most important piece, I think, is your kid — he should feel totally comfortable telling you things, and you should definitely listen for when he says "oh, I just don't like Sitter X." Kids often don't tell about bad behavior, especially if it doesn't fully cross the line into BADBADBAD, but they will say things that hint at discomfort. He needs to trust you, and you need to trust him.

But at the same time, the fear-of-strangers and fear-of-all-men isn't healthy, either; I think kids are happiest when their world is full of adults whom they trust and can talk to and can go to for a hug when they bang their knee. So vet this potential babysitter backwards and forwards, but don't refuse to hire him just because he is a guy.
posted by Forktine at 5:11 PM on August 14, 2008

Best answer: I don't think it's irrational to follow your instincts... There's a wide range of rational choices here.

That being said, I think that (in my world at least), there's a paucity of really great male role models for little boys. If this teenage boy is fun and nurturing, it could be a great experience for your son to have a special male friend he gets to see every once in a while. I know that my 3.5 yo nephew vastly prefers being swung around by my husband than being reading and doing coloring projects with me. I actually got uninvited to a playground trip ("Uncles only!" he said) because he wanted exclusive playtime with a fun guy. Maybe your son has a lot of great guys around him already, but it may be something to consider.

Good luck! Remember that if the male babysitter does a bad job even once, you certainly don't have to have him back. If your son is fairly expressive, you'll figure it out quick.
posted by tk at 6:51 PM on August 14, 2008

salvia's experience mirrors my own. Those were certainly the rules when I taught pre-school, and they were the rules I put in place for summer day camp programs. Regardless of gender, no teacher or counsellor was ever alone with a kid. The rules were the same for both male and female adults.
posted by DarlingBri at 6:55 PM on August 14, 2008

most molestations are committed by males on other males

Huh? Where do you get that information? Seriously. Most reported cases are molestations of girls, and the stats from anti-child abuse organizations routinely estimate that abuse of girls is more common. I'm at a loss to understand how you've come to such certainty that "most molestations" are of boys when all the reported data indicates otherwise.

Care to clarify? Oh, and the above is one reason it seems obvious you're not being rational here.
posted by mediareport at 7:34 PM on August 14, 2008

routinely estimate that abuse of girls is more common

CDC cite for the above.
posted by mediareport at 7:38 PM on August 14, 2008 [2 favorites]

Best answer: Jessamyn, watching and attempting (and making suggestive comments) count as molestation; I'm inferring from your post that you were touched without your consent even if this guy didn't manage to reach your privates.
My mother's stepfather did similar things to me and other female relatives when they were girls, but these actions were blown off as being those of a "harmless dirty old man" who was emasculated by my grandmother. That my mother knew exactly what he was and still left me around him is a major reason why I want nothing more to do with her.

Scrump, I had both sexes as babysitters when I was a kid; it really depends on the worst ones were female: one tied up the phone for an entire New Year's Eve (long before call waiting) talking to her friend, another who was there for a week invited someone over, got wasted and passed out. I was five and too young to fix dinner for myself. I don't remember if I told my parents what happened, but I doubt they would have listened to me. Ten years later she stayed with us again ( because I was too young to drive), acted like she was better "because she was an adult",refused to smoke outside even though it was a house rule, and had three different guys come over at various times.

Trust your gut feelings about the person other than gender.
posted by brujita at 9:59 PM on August 14, 2008

routinely estimate that abuse of girls is more common

You're right, of course. Perhaps the OP was jumping off (incorrectly) from the (correct) fact that most of the people who molest (whether targeting boys or girls) are males. And of those male molesters, a sizable-but-less-than-50-percent percentage engage in male-male conduct (though molestation of boys is still less common than girls). Blech. Most people are good. Most people are not child molesters.
posted by ClaudiaCenter at 10:13 PM on August 14, 2008

Response by poster:
Care to clarify? Oh, and the above is one reason it seems obvious you're not being rational here.
Being wrong and being irrational are not the same thing.

I was wrong when I wrote earlier that most molestations are male-on-male, and I withdraw the assertion.
posted by scrump at 10:13 PM on August 14, 2008

scrump, I'd really like to commend you for the way you wrote your question and your responses within this thread. This is a rare bird -- a question regarding a prejudice without a whiff of AMIRITE, and a discussion of irrational feelings without a trainwreck and with (by my count) only a tiny bit of moderator clean-up.

I hope that the correction that girls are more likely to be targeted makes you feel a little better about trusting an individual over a demographic? (Is it good news that boys are less targeted? Of course not -- there's no good news there. But I'm okay with this being a little bit of relief. A small consolation.)
posted by desuetude at 11:23 PM on August 14, 2008

When I lived in NYC for a few years, I really had to struggle to make ends meet. I did everything, I was a personal assistant, worked in an office, and yes, I babysat too. I responded to an ad in a paper and met the family, a very wealthy and busy couple. They were surprised, and told me so, because of my gender - but I explained that I had two younger sibilings, that this would job would be a breeze. In the end, it worked out very well. The six year-old and I got along great. I think we're all grateful that the family wasn't judgmental or biased towards me.
posted by mateuslee at 12:30 AM on August 15, 2008

Best answer: Have you thought about talking to the potential babysitter and explaining your fears? Perhaps a mature and understanding reaction might make you see him in a different light. How he deals with that kind of conversation would be a good indicator of how suitable he is.
posted by fullerine at 12:53 AM on August 15, 2008

(Blech for molestation, not scrump's dilemma/question.)
posted by ClaudiaCenter at 1:01 AM on August 15, 2008

My first reaction to this post was to call you a pathetic homophobe with views on molestation with a questionable basis in fact. But then... it's your kid, and you're looking out for him. I think fullerine's advice is good, if you choose to do anything other than hire the kid.

I think your fear is irrational. Out of the general population, almost nobody is a child molester. Based on that indisputable fact alone, your fear is irrational. But then let's add this: your son knows this potential babysitter. You know this potential babysitter. You know his sister. You know his family. You describe him as "a good kid." You don't need to ask us if this is irrational; you clearly know it is.

Let him babysit. And on review, my prior advice (talking to him as fullerine advised) shouldn't be taken. Either hire him or don't. You know he's a good kid. You know him and his family, as does your son, as does your wife. If you do hire him, do it straight up. No conversations: what are you going to say, "don't touch my kid's dick?" Those boundaries should be obvious, and even if you conduct that sort of conversation in the most professional manner possible, any male babysitter with half a brain would back away immediately under the presumption that you're the sort of overprotective parent who will call the cops if he comes within twenty feet of the kid he's supposed to be babysitting.

If you don't hire him, go outside your co-worker's family as well as his son's girlfriend. To be passed over would be a slap in the face to your co-worker's son, as it would show clearly that you do not trust him, despite your experience with his sister and willingness to hire his girlfriend.

From personal experience, I am a former male teenage babysitter. If I was passed over for a job because of my gender, especially if the potential client knew and trusted my parents, sister, and girlfriend, I would consider it an incredible slap in the face, as would my parents.

Either choose him, without any awkward discussions, or choose someone entirely outside this situation. These are your only choices, and I encourage you to go with the former. You admit that he's a good kid. Ask yourself this: Why don't you want a good kid taking care of your son? If it's gender alone, you have no reason not to hire him.
posted by punishinglemur at 2:47 AM on August 15, 2008

Being wrong and being irrational are not the same thing.

I, too, commend your openness in this thread, but the above is something of a fudge. The process by which you came to believe your certain-but-incorrect assertion was not rational.
posted by mediareport at 4:57 AM on August 15, 2008

I think the best answer is to ask the older sister. Ask her is there is any reason why you shouldn't let the kid babysit. And heck, interview the kid.

My gut says "no" too. But it's mostly irrational too.
posted by gjc at 7:23 AM on August 15, 2008

When I was 5 I had a (female, teenage) babysitter who would invite her boyfriend over after my parents left and they would have sex while I was supposed to be sleeping. I caught them a couple of times and finally told on them. I'm sure my (overprotective) parents had no inkling before they hired her.

(As an aside: Your healthcare training definitely does not reflect my experience. I recently was hospitalized after a trip in an ambulance and men (paramedics, nurses, doctors, techs) were often alone in the room with me.)
posted by desjardins at 2:00 PM on August 15, 2008

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