Bethany Sanders: My kids are attending a summer program this week at their school -- a program wherein they're supervised mostly by eighth graders, with one adult in every room. My preschooler wouldn't stay on her own yesterday, so I sat in. So glad I did, because the team leader spent about 70 percent of the session with her eyes locked on her cell phone, frantically texting her friends!
My kid was never in any danger; there were plenty of other people supervising. But it made me realize that the next time I hire a teen or tween sitter, I'll need to ask her to put down her cell phone while she's watching my kid.
Statistics on texting show that four out of five teens carry a wireless device, and that over half say their cell is key to maintaining their social life. Forty-two percent of teens can text with their eyes closed. Bottom line? Texting teens aren't going away anytime soon, so parents need to lay down the ground rules when employing teens and tweens to babysit.
"Texting can be the best way for working parents to keep up with what is going on in the daily lives of their children," says Candi Wingate, president of Nannies4Hire, who actually doesn't recommend banning babysitters' cell phones from your home. "Most families will allow babysitters to text if texting does not interfere with childcare and other job responsibilities. For example, if the children are taking their naps and all the peripheral job tasks -- such as laundry or light housekeeping -- are done, then the babysitter may text her friends and family."
But Wingate does recommend setting firm rules about texting while driving or at other times when your babysitter needs to be fully aware of her surroundings. "Studies have shown that people who text while driving have lower response times than people who drive drunk," says Wingate.
Before talking to Wingate, I thought that I would probably ban a babysitter's cell altogether. Adults aren't allowed to spend 50 percent of their working hours sending texts to friends, so it's a good lesson for a working teen. And I want her eyes on my kids, not on her BlackBerry screen. I've seen my nieces text their friends in the middle of Christmas dinner, so I know that it takes a strong teen to resist the pull of a chirping cell phone.
But Wingate makes a good point that communicating with teens in their language -- that is, via texting -- is a good way to keep tabs on your kids throughout the day. In the end, says Wingate, every parent has to determine his or her own level of comfort with texting.
"Because what is appropriate is, to some degree, dependent on each family's preference, each family should discuss the rules on texting with their babysitter during their interviews -- and again at the time of hire," Wingate says. "Then, if the babysitter is found to have violated the rule, the parents can refer back to their original agreement, remind or retrain the babysitter [about] the boundaries and expectations or take any progressive discipline necessary, given the severity of the circumstance."
How do you feel about your teen or tween babysitter texting while she's supposed to be watching your kids?