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The teenage baby-sitter, replaced by older pros

December 8, 2011 |  9:23 am

Despite the cost, some parents are turning to career nannies, who come with references and experience, rather than teenage baby-sitters
Meet Maile Yoshida, the baby-sitter of the modern parent's dreams. She's a cute and chirpy 28-year-old with a degree in communication from USC and more than a decade of child-care experience, including baby-sitting infants as well as children with special needs and behavior issues. She has 18 five-star reviews on SitterCity.com, and when meeting prospective families she comes armed with a packet of references, proof of her recent flu and Tdap shots, and her driver's license number.

Of course, you'll have to pay: Yoshida charges $20 to $30 an hour based on the number of kids, their ages and how much driving is involved, among other factors. She said her price is non-negotiable.

Yoshida calls herself a "career nanny" and explains that baby-sitting isn't just a way to make money on the side while she figures out what to do with her life. Baby-sitting is what she is doing with her life.

"This is my means of income," she said. "This is what I do for my career."

Despite the cost, some parents are turning to career nannies, who come with references and experience, rather than teenage baby-sitters. Despite the cost, some parents are turning to career nannies such as Yoshida, who come with references and experience, rather than the 15-year-old down the street, even if the need is for just a few hours on a weekend night.

The reasons for this shift away from teenage baby-sitters are varied. Some parents worry that high school students are too focused on their mobile phones -- texting and checking Facebook -- to be responsible for watching a child. Other parents said the supply of teenage baby-sitters has dwindled as college admission has become more competitive and students have gotten busier with extracurricular activities. Still others said teenagers get money from their parents, don't need a job and would rather attend to the demands of their social lives.

At the same time, the poor economy has flooded the baby-sitting market with well-educated people who might be employed elsewhere in better times. Add to that the swirl of anxiety permeating parenting these days, and moms and dads of a certain means facing the question: If something bad were to happen, would you rather have a teenager in your home or a responsible, driving adult?

"I think people just sort of have a tighter handle on their kids nowadays," said Stephanie Kirchen, the mother of a 3-year-old boy. She said almost none of her friends uses teenage baby-sitters. "When I was young ,it was like, the girl across the street who was 12 baby-sat us. Now people are CPR-trained. That was never even an option when we were younger."

Online baby-sitting matching services such as SitterCity.com, Care.com and Rent a Grandma are also making it easier for parents to survey options and comparison shop. On SitterCity.com, parents can type in a job description -- what type of sitter they are looking for, how many hours a week, what they would like to pay. When baby-sitters respond, parents can choose their top three candidates and contact them for interviews.

About 2 million baby-sitters and nannies nationwide are in the SitterCity.com database, and according to company executive vice president Melissa Marchwick, they are getting older. When the site launched in 2001, she said, the average age of the sitters was 18. Now it is 21.

Rent a Grandma specializes in helping parents find mature baby-sitters.

"I heard all these horror stories about moms who hired a local college kid or someone in their early 20s and they weren't responsible or they were busy with electronics," company founder Todd Pliss said. "Our grandmas don't text or tweet. Older people aren't going to sit on the computer all day. That's not their focus."

Pliss said that as soon as he started advertising for grandmas to work, he was flooded with applicants. "A lot of them were teachers or administrators who had been laid off their jobs," he said. "I know people in their 40s who can't find a job, but people in their 50s, 60s, 70s? Forget about it, no way."

Pliss said that because many of the company's grandmas are college-educated and have experience as teachers, they tend to charge more than the typical baby-sitter. "People buy Mercedes and BMWs when they could buy Fords and Hyundais," he said. "You pay for what you get in life, and our grandmas are in a different place than a 16-year-old or even a 24-year-old."

At least one of Pliss' clients says she thinks grandmas are worth the premium.

"You are going to pay a little more for Rent a Grandma, but I think what you are paying for is the background check and the experience," said Anna Caldwell, the mother of three girls in Valencia who has used the service several times. "There's a little bit of an up cost to it, but for certain times, it's worth it to me."

Are the days of the teenage baby-sitters totally over? Many parents who have fond memories of baby-sitting as kids lament that they don't know a responsible teenager nearby.

"I would love to hire a baby-sitter but don't know of any and don't know how to find any," said Allison Fleming, a mother of two who remembers baby-sitting for $1 an hour in her teens. "You can imagine my horror when I birthed a baby here in L.A. and discovered how high the going rates are for 30-year-old actress baby-sitters -- the only baby-sitters I can find.”

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-- Deborah Netburn

Parentology, our column on what and how parents spend on their kids, appears monthly. Comments: deborah.netburn@latimes.com.

Photos: Maile Yoshida with one of her charges, Sabrina Wong, 3. Credit: Christina House / For The Times