An employee assists a customer inspecting a boxed baby stroller inside a children’s goods store. (Photographer: Andrey Rudakov/Bloomberg)

Why You Need to Rein In Your Babysitter’s Social Media

(Bloomberg Opinion) -- Silicon Valley parents are now asking nannies to sign contracts banning them from using their phones for private purposes on the job, according to the New York Times. The report says that other moms will sometimes “out” caregivers by posting pictures of them using their devices. That may seem a little too controlling, but every parent would do well to require a nanny to agree to restrictions on social media use as a condition of employment.

The first reason to have an agreement is that parents need assurances that caregivers won’t be on their phones when they should be watching the children. Distractions from phones don’t just deprive kids of attention. They can also be dangerous. According to the Centers for Disease Control, accidents causing injuries to children under age 5 went up by 10 percent between 2006-2007 and 2011-2012. A study by the Yale University researcher Craig Palsson found that, as the iPhone 3G network expanded into new cities during that timeframe, emergency room visits among children under age 5 increased in those areas. This wasn’t a coincidence, according to Palsson, who argued that “the expansion of smartphones can explain almost the entire increase in child injuries.”

Parents also need to give nannies instructions for policing social media use by the kids in their charge. Many moms and dads are setting strict limits on the amount of time kids can spend with screens — or banning devices altogether. Many studies over the past year found that screen time can be extraordinarily damaging to kids. For example, a study published in The Lancet in September found that 8- to 11-year-olds who spend more than two hours per day with screens have lower cognitive function. And a November 2017 report published in Clinical Psychological Science found that teens who spend more time on social media are more likely to have outcomes related to suicide, such as depression or actual suicide attempts.

The American Academy of Pediatrics has issued guidelines on how much time children of different ages should be allowed to spend on devices. They recommend allowing no time at all (except video chats) for children under 18 months and a maximum of 1 hour per day of quality programming for children aged 2-5. Parents need to be clear with caregivers about whether children may use screens, for how much time, and for what purposes.

Finally, moms and dads need to indicate whether they're okay with caregivers posting pictures of or stories about their kids. Some parents don't want images of their kids online at all out of privacy concerns, such as fears about could happen with improvements in facial-recognition technology. Others just might not want embarrassing pictures or anecdotes of their kids memorialized for posterity. And others might not want particular aspects of their lives — like their routines or pictures of the interiors of their homes — shared with strangers out of security concerns. So, parents need to be specific about whether and what caregivers can share.

The Silicon Valley parents who the Times says are “narcing out nannies” for covert phone use seem to have taken things a step too far, but they’re right about one thing: Every parent needs a social media contract — or at least agreement — with the people they leave responsible for their kids.

This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of the editorial board or Bloomberg LP and its owners.

Kara Alaimo is an assistant professor of public relations at Hofstra University and author of “Pitch, Tweet, or Engage on the Street: How to Practice Global Public Relations and Strategic Communication.” She previously served in the Obama administration.

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