Silicon Valley Parents Spy On Nannies to Make Sure They Aren’t Using Screens Around Their Kids and Make Them Sign “No Screens” Contracts

By B.N. Frank

It sounds like the opening line for a joke. “Did you hear the one about the Silicon Valley parents…” but this is really happening:  The New York Times: “Silicon Valley Nannies Are Phone Police for Kids.”

Brace yourself because these Silicon Valley parents are panicking big-time.   Excerpts describing the increasing intensifying freaking-out include:

Silicon Valley parents are increasingly obsessed with keeping their children away from screens. Even a little screen time can be so deeply addictive, some parents believe, that it’s best if a child neither touches nor sees any of these glittering rectangles. These particular parents, after all, deeply understand their allure.

“Almost every parent I work for is very strong about the child not having any technical experience at all,” Ms. Altmann said. “In the last two years, it’s become a very big deal.”

From Cupertino to San Francisco, a growing consensus has emerged that screen time is bad for kids. It follows that these parents are now asking nannies to keep phones, tablets, computers and TVs off and hidden at all times. Some are even producing no-phone contracts, which guarantee zero unauthorized screen exposure, for their nannies to sign.

The fear of screens has reached the level of panic in Silicon Valley. Vigilantes now post photos to parenting message boards of possible nannies using cellphones near children. Which is to say, the very people building these glowing hyper-stimulating portals have become increasingly terrified of them. And it has put their nannies in a strange position.

“In the last year everything has changed,” said Shannon Zimmerman, a nanny in San Jose who works for families that ban screen time. “Parents are now much more aware of the tech they’re giving their kids. Now it’s like, ‘Oh no, reel it back, reel it back.’ Now the parents will say ‘No screen time at all.’”

“The people who are closest to tech are the most strict about it at home,” said Lynn Perkins, the C.E.O. of UrbanSitter, which she says has 500,000 sitters in the network throughout the United States. “We see that trend with our nannies very clearly.”

The phone contracts basically stipulate that a nanny must agree not to use any screen, for any purpose, in front of the child. Often there is a caveat that the nanny may take calls from the parent. “We do a lot of these phone contracts now,” Ms. Perkins said.

“We’re writing work agreements up in a different way to cover screen and tech use,” said Julie Swales, who runs the Elizabeth Rose Agency, a high-end firm that staffs nannies and house managers for families in the region.

This can be tricky. These same parents often want updates through the day. “If the mom does call and the nanny picks up, it’s, ‘Well what are you doing that you can be on your phone?’” Ms. Swales said. “Damned if you do, damned if you don’t.”

She said that at least wealthy tech executives know what they want — no phones at all. The harder families to staff are those that are still unsure how to handle tech.

“It’s almost safer to some degree in those houses because they know what they’re dealing with,” she said, “as opposed to other families who are still trying to muddle their way in tech.”

Some parents in Silicon Valley are embracing a more aggressive approach. While their offices are churning out gadgets and apps, the nearby parks are full of phone spies. These hobbyists take it upon themselves to monitor and alert the flock. There are nannies who may be pushing a swing with one hand and texting with the other, or inadvertently exposing a toddler to a TV through a shop window.

“The nanny spotters, the nanny spies,” said Ms. Perkins, the UrbanSitter C.E.O. “They’re self-appointed, but at least every day there’s a post in one of the forums.”

The posts follow a pattern: A parent will take a photo of a child accompanied by an adult who is perceived to be not paying enough attention, upload it to one of the private social networks like San Francisco’s Main Street Mamas, home to thousands of members, and ask: “Is this your nanny?”

She calls the practice “nanny-outing.”

“What I’ll see is, ‘Did anyone have a daughter with a red bow in Dolores Park? Your nanny was on her phone not paying attention,’” Ms. Perkins said.

The forums, where parents post questions and buy and sell baby gear, are now reckoning with public shaming and privacy issues. Main Street Mamas has recently banned photos from being included in these ‘nanny spotted’ posts, Ms. Perkins said.

Anita Castro, 51, has been a nanny in Silicon Valley for 12 years. She says she knows she works in homes that have cameras set up to film her. She thinks the nanny outing posts cross a line and feel like “an invasion.”

A few weeks ago at the Los Altos library, another nanny told Ms. Castro about quitting after one mom followed her around parks to snoop.

“She’d pop up and say, ‘Hey, you’re not on your phone, are you? You’re not letting him do that, are you?” Ms. Castro recalled. “So she finally just said, ‘You know, I don’t think you need a nanny.’”

Activist Post has recently published 2 articles about recent reports from The New York Times and Fox News about this.  Silicon Valley parents’ concerns about their kids’ own use and exposure and tech aren’t new.  Still, these parents DESIGNED the products that many parents and schools are providing for children.  So what’s good for the goose isn’t good for the gander.

Obviously some pro-industry folks will still pooh-pooh this so their profits don’t decline. You may find all of this worth considering when deciding how much you want your own kids using this technology.

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