It’s our new reality. Children are out of school and underfoot as parents log into Zoom meetings and respond to work emails. In order to adhere to social distancing guidelines, parents are turning to virtual babysitters to help them get a few uninterrupted minutes to concentrate on work.
Elizabeth Harz is CEO of Sittercity, an online resource that connects parents with sitters. Harz says that as a result of the stay-at-home directions, demand for virtual babysitters has increased 700% in the last month and is continuing to grow.
What is virtual babysitting?
Virtual sitting is clearly not the same as in-person sitting. Instead of showing up at your house, a virtual sitter engages with a child through Skype, Zoom, FaceTime or other video platforms. It’s an alternative to regular babysitting that allows parents, children and sitters to adhere to the social distancing guidelines currently in place. Harz explains, “If both parents have Zoom meetings at the same time that they can’t get out of, a virtual sitting is a wonderful option. The sessions can be used to assist kids with schoolwork, facilitate interactive games or simply keep them occupied for a shorter spell than a face to face sitting.”
But, virtual sitting doesn’t work for everyone. Harz says this option is best for kids who are old enough to engage and maintain a conversation on a device without getting too distracted. “My personal experience with that was probably around age 5. A 3-year-old just doesn’t understand the mechanics of talking to a person on a screen,” she says.
Also, a virtual sitter can’t keep your kid entertained all day long like a babysitter that’s there in your home, but Harz says that they can keep kids occupied for about an hour at a time. Parents could even schedule several one-hour sessions per day.
So, what do kids do with virtual babysitters? It depends on the child’s age. While older kids may need help with homework or school projects, Harz suggests games like Simon Says, I Spy or 20 Questions for the younger ones. She also suggests more creative play like choreographing dances or reading books.
Maura Jones, who works in hospital administration in Alaska has been utilizing her parents in Maryland as virtual babysitters for her five-year-old daughter. Jones says, “After I connect with them on FaceTime, my daughter disappears into her room to play Batman vs. Harry Potter (a game they created), giving me time to hop on my laptop and answer work emails. She’s happy and will stay engaged for as long as my dad is willing to play Voldemort, usually about an hour.”
Those not lucky enough to have parents willing to fill in as virtual sitters must find their own. Harz stresses the importance of involving the kids in the process of screening potential sitters. “If the sitter and the kids don’t jive well together, that sitter might not be the best fit for your family,” she says. She also warns, “It’s important for parents to remember that even though the sitter isn’t physically in your house, they’re still spending time with your child. We encourage parents to take advantage of screening tools like virtual interviews and background checks to ensure their sitters are a safe fit.”
Parents should also be sure that any potential virtual sitters have access to a strong internet connection. As for payment, Harz says the average national hourly rate for babysitters in 2020 is $16.50 per hour.
Volunteer sitters help essential workforce
Of course, not everyone is working from home during the current crisis. Essential workers are still reporting for duty, even though many have children home from school. To ease the burden, Sittercity has partnered with the City of Chicago to launch Chicago Responds, a program that helps the first responders to the COVID-19 crisis by connecting them to volunteers to help care for their families. The first responders can also complete background checks on potential sitters for free.
On average, the first responders are receiving four applications for each request they make on Sittercity. While this particular program is only serving the Chicago area, volunteers in other areas could use the Sittercity platform or other local social networking to seek out and apply for jobs supporting first responders. With all the support these workers provide to others, it’s heartening to hear volunteers are able to provide some support to them in return.