John Engel: Babysitter training: Where are the boys?

I recently attended a babysitter training class. The day-long course, offered by the American Red Cross – on a Saturday – met in an unassuming building located in an industrial park. Truthfully, my daughter Zoe, soon to be 12, attended the class. I sat in the lobby, at the unoccupied reception desk, working on my laptop to finish a couple of pressing work projects.

When I was 12 there was never mention of babysitting as an income earning activity, for me – or for any of the boys I knew. Rather, I mowed lawns and did other manual labor to make a few bucks and learn something about the world of work.

So, I was curious to see what might be offered in a babysitter training course aimed at 11 to 16 year-old youth. Throughout the day I chatted with the class instructors, peeked through the window of the classroom door a couple of times and checked in with Zoe during breaks and lunch. I also paged through the Babysitter’s Training handbook Zoe received.

I was especially surprised and delighted by two elements of the training. First, the topics covered in the class not only included basic care for infants and children, age appropriate activities, first aid and safety protocols, but professionalism, starting your own business, and leadership, too. In fact, the first section of the handbook is titled, A Guide to Leadership. The section includes information about how to be a leader and highlights key leadership skills, such as respecting diversity, communication, motivation and decision making. This section ends with an overview of child abuse and neglect, including definitions, examples and steps to follow when abuse is suspected.

Second, I was impressed by the inclusive approach reflected in the curriculum and its delivery. The main instructional video featured two teenagers, an African American girl and a Caucasian boy. The two teens were equally involved in communicating important training messages. For example, the boy demonstrated how to spoon feed a baby and the girl demonstrated bottle feeding.

Two instructor led the class, one female, a highly regarded trainer according to office staff, and the other male, an early childhood educator with a master’s degree in child development.

And yet, all 19 participants in the class were girls. Not a single boy!

While I was not surprised, I was disappointed. I asked the instructors if boys ever took the class and they assured me they did. Though when I pressed for more details I learned that for approximately every 100 class participants only one or two are boys.

I left thinking that the American Red Cross has done a fabulous job creating a class that promotes a form of leadership that values caretaking, nurturing, safety, and diversity- a form of leadership in short supply in many sectors, and at many levels, of American society. That very few boys take the class — or work as babysitters — is such a missed opportunity.

To me, encouraging boys to receive training in childcare and to work as babysitters, when young, could promote a host of positive outcomes, including more men working in caregiving fields, such as early education, nursing, and elder care, to name a few. In turn, more children would observe and experience the inherent caregiving and nurturing capacities of men – qualities that are generally dismissed, devalued or displaced by conventional and outdated ideas that men can only be strong, tough and assertive.

Such a shift might also result in more men feeling comfortable and competent as nurturing and engaged fathers, something I struggled with when I became a father at age 40, having had very little experience with child care and caregiver roles.

And when more fathers equally share caretaking roles and responsibilities with women, tasks that are traditionally more heavily shouldered by women, children might come to experience a new normal — boys having equal interest in babysitting.

I am delighted that Zoe is developing her leadership and caregiving capacities, and I’m excited that she is motivated to seek out opportunities to serve families and their children as a child care provider, earning a few dollars in the process.

And, I am equally committed to promoting the idea that my son, Adam, and other boys, take a babysitting class and work as babysitters. It’s not that I am interested in boys displacing girls from babysitting jobs. Rather, I believe the benefits of having all children develop caring and nurturing leadership capacities is what we need more of - in our families, communities and beyond.

John Engel of Florence can be reached through his website fatherhoodjourney.com.

August 28, 2018

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