Atlanta, Georgia, mom Lorrie Thomas Ross never thought much about how her child’s babysitter used social media until a former employee of hers mentioned that she'd seen photos of Ross's daughter on a babysitter’s Instagram account. "While the photos were adorable, I was very shaken," Ross said. "A sitter's job is to be watching my child, not playing on social media." Furthermore, the sitter never asked her permission before sharing the photos, and Ross worried her daughter’s safety could have been compromised if the sitter was on the phone too much. But the worst part of the situation was that, like many parents, she'd simply never thought to address social media boundaries with her daughter's care giver.
According to a Care.com 2015 Babysitter Survey, approximately one in five parents say they caught their sitter playing on social media without their permission while watching their kids. Distracted childcare is enough of a problem on its own, of course, but there’s an additional element to consider with social media as well: What might your sitter be sharing online about your kids, without your knowledge? And how that could potentially harm them?
To be honest, something bad happening to your kids because a sitter is oversharing on social media "is highly unlikely," says Chris Rothey, Executive Chairman of Net Nanny. "But that's where parents' minds go immediately."
The more likely result of a sitter's social media share is that it's removing focus from engaging with your kids. Further, a post can serve as a real-time advertisement to your sitter's friends, and anyone else she's connected to online, that you, the parents, aren't home. And in the case of photos of your child being posted online, Rothey says, "you lose control."
A sitter’s social sharing can also feel like a huge invasion of your privacy, if you find out a trusted care giver is posting unflattering details about your family. East Grand Forks, Minnesota, mom of three Kathryn (last name withheld for privacy) found out her former nanny was venting her frustrations about her kids online, complaining that her kids were terrible listeners and that she despised working for the family.
Stories like that are why Katie Bugbee, senior managing editor of Care.com, says setting social media boundaries with a caregiver should ideally happen at the outset. "Have the discussion in the beginning—but it's never too late."
Discussing social media boundaries can feel awkward, especially since sitters in high school and college may be used to sharing every aspect of their lives online. Frankly, they may not even realize that many parents feel uncomfortable about having their kids' pictures on social media.
"Developmentally, teenage and young adults place a high value on their social world," says Andrea Vazzana, Ph.D., Clinical Assistant Professor, Department of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry at NYU Langone's Child Study Center. When something worth capturing sharing happens, a younger sitter is simply more likely to act on impulse, she explains, and to have lapses in judgment.
With that in mind, Rothey advises thinking about the social media boundaries conversation as just another item to go over when your kids are in a sitter's care. You wouldn’t think twice about telling the sitter when you expect your kids to go to bed, your screen-time rules, or what they should be fed—and this is no different. "There's nothing wrong, offensive, or inappropriate about sharing your rules about social media," he says.
You might consider telling your child’s sitter that you expect her to restrict her social media usage to nap times, or after bedtime; saying photos of your kids are okay as long as they’re only shared with you; asking that she doesn’t check in at locations on Facebook and turns off her location settings; and requesting that social media posts not be about your family.
Establishing your social media boundaries with your caregiver will ensure that your kids are kept safe, that your privacy is respected, and that your children's online social footprint is protected.
"Whatever limits you decide to set around this, just be sure you are clear and consistent in conveying them to the caregiver,” Vazanna adds. “It's smart to offer occasional reminders to your babysitter about your policies by bringing them up again, both directly and in casual conversations."
As for Ross, she says, “I own completely that I assumed that sitters knew posting pictures of children was a no-no without permission. But now, my husband and I always communicate our social media policies with sitters.”