With many schools and daycares closed because of the coronavirus pandemic, childcare has become very online. Virtual babysitting is a thing now, but is it all it's cracked up to be?

Once upon a time, parents and children woke up in the morning, had breakfast, and left home, heading out to work or school. It's just the way things were and we all settled into our routines and life went on, pretty much the same, day in and day out. It wasn't perfect, sure, but it was recognizable. However, since the coronavirus pandemic changed the rules, people are left scrambling–working from home or not at all, educating their children, and social distancing.

As fall approaches, some school districts have opened up again, while others continue to operate virtually. Many daycares remain closed as well. Because of this, parents are left to care for and educate their kids at home while juggling work and conference calls and trying to maintain any semblance of normality they can. The lack of childcare has left many parents reeling and overwhelmed. Like many other industries, though, the childcare industry has pivoted to meet the changing needs of people in pandemic-times.

Creative babysitters and national platforms like Care.com and SitterCity are offering their services but with a social distancing twist. Virtual babysitting is here for the age of COVID-19–and maybe can even give parents a now-rare bit of peace and quiet.

older woman and child video chatting on laptop
Credit: Westend61/Getty Images

What Is Virtual Babysitting?

Unlike traditional babysitting, where someone is physically present with your child, virtual babysitting is a little more hands-off. A babysitter logs into a video platform and entertains your child for a predetermined amount of time. Some virtual babysitters, depending on your child's age, will sing songs or facilitate craft projects or lessons, do puppet shows or just chat.

Many of these babysitters are out-of-work performers and artists themselves who have pivoted their own careers in the wake of the pandemic. While it may seem odd to pay a stranger to spend time online with your children, for many stressed-out parents, it provides a moment of respite during otherwise hectic days–just long enough to complete a video conference uninterrupted or concentrate on those emails they've been trying to write for days.

National babysitter websites, such as Care.com and SitterCity, offer virtual babysitting services nowadays. Parents can also use a website like Caribu, an activity-based video calling app that entertains children through activities and books. Caribu also offers "virtual playdates" that can keep kids entertained and socializing throughout the day.

Drawbacks of Virtual Babysitting

Obviously, the differences between virtual and traditional babysitting are stark. There's no one to stop your 4-year-old from wandering away from the screen and causing typical 4-year-old trouble while you're occupied with work calls. And you're still the one doing the set-up and clean-up from these virtual babysitting sessions. Unlike daycare or a babysitter you hire to watch your children on a date night, you're still making the meals and providing the snacks for your always-ravenous kids.

Basically what you're paying for is the possibility of a bit of quiet time and the chance that your child gets some sort of enrichment from someone other than yourself–which are both very legitimate concerns right now. However, adult supervision is still necessary, especially for younger children with shorter attention spans.

Is Virtual Babysitting Worth It?

The fact that something is available doesn't always mean it's a good fit for every family. If your family's income is even more limited than time, paying someone to video chat with your child may not be a viable solution to your childcare woes. Or if your child is likely to just disconnect, leaving you with a bill for an hour-long session that only lasted 10 minutes, it might not be for you. But if your child is a people-person–if they're the kind of kid who will talk to anyone and loves the chance to interact with anyone who comes their way–it might be worth checking out. Otherwise, it might be a better idea just to get the grandparents on the line. After all, they'll probably do it for free.