Erika Stone is a two-year veteran in the baby-sitting business, and she's serious about her job.
The eighth-grader at Columbia Middle School usually baby-sits two nights a weekend and once during the work week. Her clients are families from her neighborhood and from her church. She charges $3 an hour.
"It's pretty much the only way people our age can make money," said Erika, 14.
It's also a job that demands responsibility and caution.
Hazards range from being accused of abusing a child in your care to having to deal with a parent making a sexual advance.
And there's the chance of the child choking or falling.
That happened once with Erika when she was baby-sitting her neighbor's child, Steven Pulliam. He took a really bad fall and bruised himself, said his mom, Debbie.
"I felt bad for her," said Mrs. Pulliam, who added that if she had been the baby sitter she would have been really worried.
Erika and the Pulliams have a good relationship because the parents see how she likes to spend time with Steven. Enjoying being with children is essential, Mrs. Pulliam said.
Other traits she and other parents want in a sitter are compassion, common sense and the ability to handle emergencies.
In Richmond County last year, at least five teens were charged with sexual assault while baby sitting. Such cases are becoming more common, especially with cousins and other relatives taking case of young children, according to probation officers in the Richmond County juvenile court office.
With parents concerned about the safety of their children, teens should meet with the family and child a couple of days before they're alone with the kid, according to Renee McCabe, a registered nurse at Walton Rehabilitation Hospital and a site instructor for Safe-sitters, a two-day training class for baby sitters ages 11 to 13.
At the meeting, get a tour of the house and take notes on house rules, emergency numbers and medication the child takes.
Giving medication is the hardest part of the job for Kim Hutto, a senior at Butler High School. Kim takes care of a child who has to have breathing treatments for asthma.
Kim gets to know the children and families she works for ahead of time, and she baby-sits because she likes being around kids.
"I myself don't like working for people I don't know. They can be picky. They might not want you messing with some of their stuff," she said.
For Sandra Jeffcoat, one of the toughest things is learning to be compassionate. The 17-year-old baby-sits children from 3 months old to 10 years old.
"You can't just boss them around; you have to listen to them," said Sandra, a senior at Davidson Fine Arts Magnet High School. "You have to get down to their level."
Ms. Pulliam, who has three regular baby sitters for her son, said she loves it when the girls clean the dirty dishes, clean up the kitchen and spend time with him instead of sitting around and watching television.
When Erika takes care of 2«-year-old Steven, she reads him stories, puts puzzles together and races stuffed animals on the floor. She loves kids but also knows what not to do as a baby sitter.
"I never talk on the phone. I think if I'm going to be paid to play with the children, I'm going to play with the children," she said.
And while she's working, she gets to have fun.
Being a good baby sitter takes more than hanging out with kids. Sitters can get into tough situations. Here are some suggestions on how to survive as a sitter:
Source: Renee McCabe, a registered nurse at Walton Rehabilitation Hospital and a site instructor for Safe-sitters, a two-day training class for baby sitters ages 11 to 13. Call 823-8560 for information on Safe-sitters.