But now teenage child watchers will be able to get a nationally recognised qualification to certify that they have acquired a host of skills from changing a nappy to dealing with intruders and fires.
What was once a matter of asking the teenager next door to pop over is becoming a serious business. Youngsters who take part in the Millennium Volunteers month-long course receive a certificate from the Red Cross. Open to over-14s, the sessions are run at Linwood Youth Centre in Deal, Kent, by youth worker Sue Andrews.
They include talks from Kent fire brigade, social services and halth experts.
Sessions cover first aid, child development with pointers to which toys and books are appropriate for each age group, warnings about not answering the door to strangers, what to do if you think someone is trying to get into the house and getting telephone numbers to contact parents in an emergency. There is even a session on dealing with shy children.
Ms Andrews said that the course would mean parents could tell they were getting a responsible and sensible person to look after their child.
She added: "Many young people want to do babysitting and this is very beneficial for them. A lot of the children on the course want to be nurses or teachers and this is a good starting point for them."