DEAR HARRIETTE: I have a 5-year-old who is a good kid. He gets along with most people. This includes a teenage girl who lives in my building. Her mother came to us to say she would be available for babysitting if we ever need help. Occasionally my husband and I do go out, and we could use a part-time sitter. I worry, though, that this young lady may not be attentive enough. My child has a good temperament, but he's still 5. He has to be watched at all times. Would you allow a teenager to watch a 5-year-old? -- BABYSITTING DILEMMA
DEAR BABYSITTING DILEMMA: I recommend that you invite the teenager to have a trial run at watching your child while you are at home. Create a "play date" for the two of them, for which the teenager agrees to spend four or five hours, whatever amount of time you would normally be out of the house, with your son.
Make a written list of things to do, what he likes and doesn't like, what he eats, etc. so that she has a guide to follow. Explain your expectations, especially about never leaving him alone, TV usage, personal phone calls and anything else that you want to regulate. Then make yourself scarce. Look in only occasionally. She has to establish a rhythm with your son independent of you. When you observe them, look for signs that he feels safe and comfortable. Trust your instincts. If she seems competent, hire her for a short outing. The length of time can extend along with your comfort level.