Tips for Connected Caregivers

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Sooner or later, parents leave their kids with other people. And those other people — teenagers, family members, daycare providers and nannies — often have smartphones. 

It’s no secret that smartphones are distracting — and irresistible. One survey by researchers at the University of Washington found that, among caregivers surveyed on a playground, 28 percent felt it was perfectly OK to engage in smartphone activities like checking email or reading while supervising children. Another 24 percent chose to curtail phone use when they were responsible for kids. The largest group — 44 percent — thought they should restrict phone use but found that they often couldn’t resist the temptations of the tiny screen.

All of this means parents need to think carefully about what they expect from caregivers, then have a frank conversation about how and when it’s OK to use a smartphone. Rules may vary depending upon the experience and maturity of the caregiver, but here are some things to consider: 

Expectations. The first responsibility of a caregiver is to keep kids safe, and it’s all too easy to lose track of what kids are doing if they’re focused on a phone. Using a smartphone should be totally off-limits during any kind of risky activity — driving, swimming, bathing, bicycling, walking on the street or, for that matter, climbing on playground equipment. If you expect your child’s caregiver to interact with your child, it makes sense to adopt the policy of most employers: No personal smartphone use during business hours.

Phone fun. Depending on the age of your child and the good judgment of his or her caregiver, it may be perfectly acceptable for the two of them to bond over an amusing game or a funny video. Just be sure your caregiver knows what you consider acceptable. If you have any doubts about your caregiver’s judgment, point him or her toward a site like commonsense.org that identifies apps, games and other media that are fun and age-appropriate.

Sharing. A smartphone makes it way too easy to take and share adorable photos and videos of your child. Decide in advance about what is permitted. Even if you allow your child’s caregiver to snap a picture or record something fun, make it clear that nothing gets posted without your permission. Also, ask your child’s caregiver not to post status updates while working for you. There’s no reason for others to know you’re not at home.

Emergencies. A smartphone can be a lifesaver in an emergency, so encourage your child’s caregiver to keep one close and functional, with 911 and other emergency numbers programmed into the phone. Also, discuss how your child’s caregiver should handle an injury or illness, a storm or power failure, or an intruder. Remember a smartphone camera can be invaluable if the caregiver has a question about the seriousness of an insect bite or scraped knee. 

Contact information. Ask your caregiver to add your contact information to his or her smartphone and be specific about the circumstances under which he or she should contact you. Let your sitter know whether you prefer a call or text message, and be clear about times when you will be unavailable. Provide a back-up number for a spouse, neighbor or close friend.

Kiddy calls. Talk with your caregiver about whether and when it’s OK for your child to call you. Some children settle down for bed more easily if they get a quick good night from Mom or Dad. If your child is old enough to have his or her own smartphone, explain that the caregiver is in charge so you won’t be fielding questions about routine problems or complaints about siblings.

Social media screening. Finally, don’t be afraid to use social media to do a little screening. A quick search for your sitter’s name may alert you to situations you’ll want to anticipate or rules you’ll want to institute. Just be sure your smartphone policies are crystal clear before you walk out the door.

Carolyn Jabs is the author of “Cooperative Wisdom: Bringing People Together When Things Fall Apart.” Visit cooperativewisdom.org for more information.

Categories: Kids + Media, Solutions, Technology

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