Published on 08/09/17

Meal times, bed times and ... screen times? A new checklist for modern baby sitters

By Erica Cooke

Babysitters are no strangers to learning nap time, homework time and meal time quirks. As children gain more access to technology, parents should also share their screen time expectations with babysitters.

Children may try to maximize their access to technology when parents aren’t around, and many babysitters show up to watch children armed with smart phones and tablets that are filled with kid-amusing apps. This works, as long as parents and babysitters discuss and agree on rules relating to technology before mom and dad leave the house, according to Diane Bales, a University of Georgia associate professor and UGA Cooperative Extension human development specialist.

“The most important thing is for the babysitter to talk to the parents about what’s allowed,” Bales said. “There are some good uses of technology that kids can do, but there are also a lot of things that aren’t developmentally helpful.”

Bales suggests that every babysitter check with parents to see what devices the children can use and how long they can use them. She also states that it’s important to enforce the rules, even if the children are unhappy about it.

When it comes to time restraints, children may be permitted to be on the device longer for projects or educational purpose than they would be if they were simply watching a television show. Timers are a great way to let children know that their screen time is up.

“It all depends on what they’re using it for,” Bales said. “It could be as short as 10 minutes and as long as 30 minutes. If they’re doing research for homework or working on a project, that’s different than if the child is playing a game.”

There are some psychological benefits to using technology at a young age, but that depends on what children are doing online. Technology can be used to connect people and expose children to new experiences. Children can see different parts of the world or discover animals that existed hundreds of years ago. Technology can be used for educational activities or simply to use FaceTime to speak with a relative who lives in a different state.

Technology can also help the babysitter stay organized, share notes with parents and store emergency contacts. Before leaving a child with a babysitter, be sure to tell the babysitter about technology restrictions in addition to the typical instructions on caring for the child and what to do in an emergency.

Erica Cooke is a student intern working with the UGA College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences and UGA Extension.

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