Saturday, May 16, 2009

Nannies and cell phones

By The San Francisco Chronicle

Visit any San Francisco park on a weekday afternoon and you'll likely see babies snoozing in strollers and toddlers pushing trucks through the sand, snacking on goldfish, and zipping down slides. You'll also likely find a gaggle of nannies (and a handful of parents): some attentively watching their kids; others yakking away on their cell phones. Marina resident Kathy Hallinan regularly observes this scene at Moscone Park on Chestnut street.

"I walk by the park nearly every day with my dogs and see these babysitters ignoring the children while they talk on their cell phones," Hallinan says. "It's really sad and dreadful that no one is playing with or talking to these children. I saw a young boy last fall in a facing-forward stroller, with his 'minder' pushing from behind and talking on the cell phone. The kid literally had his fingers in his ears keeping out the conversation. Lord knows what the effect will be when the future unfolds and we have hundreds and thousands of children in their earliest developmental stages being watched by minders who don't communicate with them. Neglect, loneliness, confusion, and frustration come to mind."

Caregivers commonly carry cell phones. Many families require it for emergency situations. If a child comes down with a fever, the nanny can easily call the parent at work. Also, parents like to check in throughout the day; they might want to find out if their child went down for a nap or let the caregiver know they're running late. But some nannies use their phones to talk to their friends and families and it's debatable whether this is acceptable.

There are parents who feel strongly that their nannies shouldn't be making personal calls while on the job. They believe it's best for a child's development to be fully engaged with an adult throughout the day. It's not uncommon for parents to post want ads on Craigslist that include statements such as "We want a nanny who won't talk on the phone at the park."

Other parents such as San Franciso mom Bao-Tran Truong aren't as adamantly against cell phones. "Our nanny had major family life issues," Truong says. "Her husband was going to be deported and she was trying to get her first child to immigrate to the U.S. from El Salvador, so I understood she did a lot of her 'business' when the kids were napping. She once made a call to El Salvador on our home phone that cost more than $600 but she paid it all back. I felt bad for her 'unique' situation and didn't press her on how she was spending her time with the kids. Also, the kids seemed to be happy and I understood that she was trying to work while balancing her private life as we all do when we are at work. We check our personal email, make a personal call here and there."

Veronique Lauriault, another San Francisco mom, feels similarly. "I know our nanny spoke to her friends during the day," Lauriault says. "But I speak on the cell phone myself when my daughter is around. In fact because of work today, I was on the phone every hour. Sometimes you just have to do it! No choice--I have a client with a major crisis on their hands. My daughter understood but it bugs her clearly. On days when I'm with her normally--picking her up from school--I am 100 percent there for her, but a day like today, there's no choice."

Nannies often work long days: eight- or nine-hour shifts, five or six days a week. They're typically on the job the entire time. Even when a child goes down for a nap, they might do household chores such as loading the dishwasher, picking up toys, and folding laundry. Andrea Lee, codirector of Mujeres Unidas Y Activas, thinks it's reasonable that a nanny might make a personal call or two throughout the day. "Many families don't realize that they're failing to give their children's caregivers basic labor rights such as rest breaks and lunch breaks," says Lee, whose organization trains Latina immigrant women to be caregivers. "These workers often don't have time in their workspace to take care of their own families. Maybe their child is sick and they need to get her to the doctor or call a family member to pick her up at school. We train women to be professional and sing to and talk to the children but it's reasonable that they might have to make a call once in awhile."

Shalini Azariah, owner of Bay Area 2nd Mom, Inc., says her referral agency has a policy that nannies can't use cell phones except to call the children's parents. She expects her caregivers to be fully attentive to the little ones because that's what they're paid to do. "We eliminate the problem by saying the phone can't be used for personal reasons," says Azariah, whose service has locations in San Francisco, Palo Alto, Milpitas, and Emeryville. "We require that the family provide the caregiver with a 'nanny phone' that she can use to communicate with the parents. The caregiver's personal phone needs to be turned off or left in the car as soon as she arrives at the child's house." Azariah also requires that her caregivers watch no television.

Jens Hillen, who owns the nanny referral service Town & Country Resources in San Francisco, says families haven't complained about caregivers talking on their cell phones but texting is an issue. "The nannies perceive this somehow as being more acceptable because it seems as if you're more alert and able to focus on the child," Hillen says. "We advise caregivers to not use their cell phones for personal reasons even if they're only texting. When this comes up, we talk to the caregiver to resolve the issue."

What do the nannies think? Eve Fisher says she's not one of the nannies who gabs on the phone at the park. After caring for 3-year-old twins and now a set of 9-month-old twins she knows that she can't multitask--i.e., talk on a phone while pushing two kids in swings. She sees nannies on their phones at the park all the time--but she thinks parents are just as guilty. "I think parents sometimes hold caregivers to a standard they rarely adhere to themselves."

What do you think? Is it okay for a caregiver to chat with friends and family while also watching a child at the park? Or should the cell phone be used only in emergency situations?

Posted By: Amy Graff (Email)


tobagonanny said...

Parents give us nannies cell phones also to track us with GPS systems!! We work overtime, have no true lunch break, live-ins are paid under-the-table and now we cannot speak on the phone? If we are also watching the kids how is that a problem when parents do it all the time.

Parents aren't speaking on cell phones at the playground? They are! When I sit quietly watching kids at activities the parents are loudly arguing with their spouse on the cell phone? Parents are more neglectful than nannies typically!!

Neglect, no. Not watching the kids while on the phone, no. Driving with cell phone, no. But making playdates, speaking with parents and other nannies, friends, family, absolutely yes!

Obviously you cannot call Trinidad Tobago on your EMPLOYER'S cell phone. But certainly you can on your own cell phone!!! Give me a break!

NannyMichelleDE said...

OMG are you kidding me? There are time cell phones are inappropriate for sure: while driving, you are doing homework with the children, when you are sitting down to dinner, etc. But while a baby is napping we aren't allowed a little adult conversation? When sitting on a park bench while toddlers play happily beside you in the sandbox? Is anyone holding the parents to this high of standard? ABSOLUTELY NOT! Don't forget the parents get to talk to adults all day at work. Parents get to go out for lunch with adults. Nannies are in child company all day (55 hours a day for me) and I cannot call a few family members or friends during the day?

Let's complain about the parents next time.
Nanny Michelle, Delaware

Anonymous said...

I guess anyone can abuse anay privelege. But as long as we don't abuse the privelege why not use a cell phone to chat for a few minutes with a friend?

I use the cell phone especially when out of the house waiting for the children. Boring. No one has ever had to say don't use it becuase I use my personal phone.

I have heard stories of very controlling parents who won't allow nannies to use their (the parent's) cell phone. And I wouldn't want to work for such a controlling parent. What nonsense. If you can't trust the nanny to speak on the phone then you have a problem -- seriously.

I am allowed to use the laptop and cell phone because that's how the school and activities communicate with me as well. If the parents took the Internet, email, and cell phone away from me I'd be communication-less. Of course I would never download porn or do anything illegal so I suppose if a nanny would do something stupid like that there would be a problem from the parents.

There really is no other way to communicate these days without a cell phone or email. And being on the move from library, activities, sports, park, and so on we really need a cell phone.

I think this article sparked quite a reaction on the artcile web site because it is so ridiculous to say a child care provider cannot use a cell phone. Just make some guidelines like with anything else. Nannies should keep in mind that they are working so safety and care of the children always comes first.

Steffi, Newark NJ

englishnannyny said...

The parents allow the children to watch tv, play video games and computer games that I am not allowed to do with the children. I am not writing negative articles or blogs about them.

A neglectful nanny is a neglectful nanny and the cell phone is not the deciding factor.

Anonymous said...

I ACCIDENTALLY charged up a high bill on my employer's cell phone because I did not know they would be charged when other people called me. But it was an innocent mistake and I offered to pay. It was obvious that I couldn't use the home phone to call long distance, I just didn't know how cell phone plans are charged. I did not lose my job.

Anonymous said...

I think the key factor is that a nanny is "on the job" and being paid for her time. I don't think employers are out of order when they expect that when the child is awake or asleep they assume that 100% of the nanny's attention is on the child.

I don't think it is appropriate to compare a paid, professional nanny to the parents. If a person worked behind a counter or in an office they would not be allowed to chat on the phone with friends or send text messages while at work. If you want to be considered professional, shouldn't you be held to the same standards as any other professional?

An emergency, keeping in contact with the parent, calls relating to the job, etc. is why a parent would supply the phone. It is for work related use.

I have had parents say that they are letting their nanny go or do not want a temporary nanny back because they are on the phone all the time talking or texting.

As a parent, a nanny agency owner, and a child advocate, it saddens me to see children being ignored while their parent or caregiver is chatting on the phone. I have overheard some of these conversations and the conversation is about things that could have waited to a time when the person is off the job or a child is not present.

Anonymous said...

Other professionals get lunch breaks where they can go and get their nails done if they want.....

I guess it really depends on each individual job and what the parents expect. I just don't see how a five minute call is a problem and I will never see it as a problem and I wouldn't want to work for a family that saw that as a problem.

An hour long phone conversation is ridiculous and unnecessary though.

So each job is different and it is best that the parents and nanny determine the rules before ever starting to work together.

I am at my sixth long term full time nanny job and only one was strict about email and phone use and now that I know that 5/6ths of my employers are not so nit-picky I will always look for that in the future.

Anonymous said...

Written on the Be the Best Nanny Newsletter link on facebook:
I only use my cell when the children are napping or if the younger one is napping & the other older one is otherwise engaged in play.Also NEVER in the car! It's not worth the risk of someones loved ones for something that CAN wait.PULL OVER if you feel the need to chat nannies!NEVER drive & text unless your name is STUPID! Sorry if this sounds harsh but ...think about it.
Jodi Florida

AuPairDebbie said...

All I can say for nannies and au pairs just don't do anything illegal or immoral and using the cell phone and internet and you should not have a problem. I prefer email anyway since my family lives in another country. But is it any better to be standing with mothers in a circle talking with our backs to the children? While at the pool I was the only au pair with mothers talking and a toddler ran into the street. I was the one that noticed, the mothers were drinking margaritas and talking. More accidents may happen with parents talking than a nanny who keeps her eyes on the children while speaking on the mobile phone.

Anonymous said...

But don't all nannies and aupairs (all employees)have to follow the rules the parents (their employers) want? Does not matter if it is fair or reasonalbe. If the parents say don't talk on the phone except for emergencies than you can't talk on the phone except for emergencies.

Don't get me wrong. Any parent that says that is one no one would want to work for, but they make the rules and we have to play by those rules if we want the job.

During job interview ask about rules. Any parent that is that picky would be intolerable I think. But at the same time nannies and aupairs have to use common sense. ANY EMPLOYER doesn't want their employee goofing off all day. But calling a friend for ten minutes does not equal abuse.

Maria, Brooklyn

Tine said...

the only time I used a cell phone at the park was when the parents of the kids I was taking care of would call me, and even then I felt a bit uneasy being on the phone. First, it's hard enough to keep track of small children at a busy park, but another big factor was that with so many other parents and nannies there... of course you don't want to look bad by appearing on the phone a lot. It's always sad to me to see parents or nannies on the cell phone instead of interacting with kids. I watched a nanny push a kid in a stroller through a zoo while talking to a boyfriend, and completely ignoring her child. It broke my heart.

Anonymous said...

Cellphones are a must in society today, no mater what profession you are in! Sure all people have a cellphone Iphone etc. I would for one would like to see a positive story in why a nanny who cares for children should have a tax benefit for owning one. we must always have contcat with the parents, child doctor for emergencies, keeping a schedule if the parents need to adjust our schedule, they evn text us during the day or sens us a grocery list before come in if formula is needed.If an agency were to feel like they needed to be"Big Brother" on nannies, that is an agency i would not use, i am a professional of 23 years and I will not use an agency who feels the need to tell me what i can and cannot do! that is between me and my employer. Maybe the new and up coming nannies need a suggestion but an agency has no just in what i do and who i can call and when i do it. also i do not let an agency negotiate my salary. I use my cellphone/Blackberry for many uses of my job, coordinates the schedule of multiple children, contact with my employer, emails with the teachers, an agency, taking and sending pictures to the grandparents , parents of of days events!Our job as a nanny is about multi tasking, and having a cellphone is just a one of many tools we need to do our job right! please stop policing nannies and let us do out jobs.

Marni Kent

Cindy Wilkinson said...

I am not sure of the logic of totally restricting a nanny's use of her cellphone while she is on duty. Most nannies work a 10 hr day or such with no break for personal tasks. The alternative to making a call or two when the nanny has downtime is for the employer to set up the schedule so that the nanny has an hour break each day as in a traditional job. I have never worked for employers who could do this. Perhaps the placement agency who made the comment only places nannies with stay at home moms and fully staffed households where there is someone to cover while the nanny takes a break each day. All of the families who I have worked for totally depended on me through the entire work day and sometimes 24/7 as during times they are traveling and I am home with the children. To expect a nanny to take time off from her job anytime she may need to talk with her physician, accountant, set up an appointment, deal with bank issues, the list goes on and on.. This would be impossible for the average family to accomodate. I would love to have a set break each day to deal with these kinds of day to day correspondence that can only be done during business hours. To expect all families to be that flexible is unrealistic. Families whom I have worked for have felt confident that I use good judgement with my time management and will deal with those concerns only during times that I am not actively involved with the children (naptime, schooltime, etc).

Anonymous said...

I was totally in favor of using cell phones during work. Then this past Friday the housekeepers came and I heard one speaking on the cell phone. And, what I was thinking was, "How can she be working while on the cell phone?"

So now I see the flip side of the cell phone debate.

My thinking is that the cleaning lady cannot be cleaning with a phone in her hand. But, if she has an ear piece (like a bluetooth is it called?) then I guess it's not a problem.

Just wanted to share with nannies that I know understand why parents might get annoyed.

Basically kids come first and job first. But I work almost 58 hours per week and I do need to make some personal calls during that time. For example making doctor appointments and calling customer service and other calls during the work day if I hope to talk to the business during business hours. I think parents should allow nannies to make few calls each day. How could a parent say making a call to the pharmacy or doctor's office is not appropriate if done while kids are safe???

Anonymous said...

I have never found any nannies ignoring the children while speaking on the cell phone.

I do find it rude when we are on playdates if the nannies are talking on the cell phone for extended periods of time though. When we are on a playdate I don't mind if they answer a call but I do mind if they talk and talk. Very rude.

Anonymous said...

Cell phones are necessary for nannies traveling out of the house. Parents should provide their caregivers with cell phones.

Anonymous said...

Nannies just have to be smart. Obviously don't be on the phone while bathing a child or crossing a street with a charge. I don't see why if school aged kids are playing on the playground nannies can't make a phone call, keeping their eyes on the tot! Cell phones are invaluable. I think the nanny job can be very lonely and using a cell phone helps nannies in emergencies, making playdates, and keeping in touch with parents.

Recently brought to my attention is that mothers and nannies text me for playdates and I don't have text messaging in my plan and I am charge almost $0.50 cents per text message.

Shouldn't my employers be reimbursing me for those costs? Shouldn't employers provide their nannies cell phones for work use? I think the discussion of expense of cell phones should be reimbursed by parents when nannies use them for work purposes (rather than they are dangerous -- unless while driving of course).

Nanny Heather, Boston Mass.