3 Ways to Help Your Au Pair Break A Texting Addition

by cv harquail on July 28, 2015

… at least while s/he is On Duty caring for your kids.

harry-styles3-460x407-300x265SmartPhone addiction isn’t a metaphor– people actually get hooked on the physical rush of receiving a text. Like Pavlov’s dogs, a simple ‘ping’ starts them salivating for a connection with another person.

Another person on the other side of the smart phone, though.

Not that other person sitting in the high chair right in front of them, or on the swings across the playground, or patiently waiting– picture book in hand– for just one more story.

Not that other little person whose safety, comfort and growth they are in charge of.

Too much text-straction erodes the connection between a child and a caregiver.

We know this, and so we parents do our best to be good role models and look at our phones only when necessary if we’re otherwise supposed to be face-to-face engaged with our kids or other adults.

(Right? We all start there, with being a good role model? Okay then, moving on…)

Here are Three Ways to Help Your Au Pair Break a Texting-While-On-Duty- Addiction:

1.  Clarify your rules regarding Texting While On Duty

It’s probably not the case that your au pair is texting away because s/he’s unaware of the rules. Still, this is a place to start so that s/he has no excuses if her or his texting habits don’t change immediately.

Make sure that your rules are sensible and concrete–

e.g., “Check your texts “on the hour”, not endlessly through the day.  Tell your au pair friends to telephone you in an emergency, but to expect a text exchange only on the hour if you’re on duty.”

“We will always telephone your cell and the house phone if there is an emergency or we need to reach you right away. Expecting a text from us should never be the reason that you look at your phone any other time than at X o’clock.”

2. Change Your Actual Physical Systems

Sometimes we focus on changing a person’s behavior when instead we should be changing the systems that support or encourage their behavior.

It’s much easier to change a cell phones settings than it is for your au pair to consciously modify his or her behavior.

Why not help your Au Pair to avoid texting by changing your Au Pair’s cell phone setting so that s/he no longer gets audible notifications of messages, texting apps (or Facebook)?

You can make this a ‘coming on duty’ routine. Just like at the movie theatre, you can make a funny joke:


“Harry Stiles says says “It’s time to turn off text notifications:  I promise I will not text you, until X o’clock today” … Time to Turn off Text Notifications”

Once text notifications are turned off, they can be turned back on when your au pair goes off duty.

“Time to turn on text notifications! Harry Styles is getting ready to text YOU!”

(Note: in my family, mentions of Harry get everyone’s attention. YMMV.)

3.  Ask Your Au Pair to Track Her/His Time Spent Texting

Apps like Checky  and Moment  will help you and your au pair quantify how much time is being spent on texting.

One or two minutes an hour won’t be too awful, but imagine when your au pair realizes that s/he’s texting over 30 minutes an hour!

These apps also let the user set daily limits — this may be one way your au pair can choose to modify his/her texting behavior.    

And, the whole family can use apps like these so that everyone is working towards the same goals– full on attention when on duty or in each other’s company, and aimless time-wasting texting when you’re ‘relaxing’ on your own.

4. What other tips do you have for limiting an Au Pair’s texting -while-on-duty?

It’s upsetting when an Au Pair doesn’t pay attention to your child(ren).  When the very tools we use to keep connected lead us to disconnect from what matters most, it’s time to take action.

It can be a drag to take on this texting addition challenge.

I know, having done it with my own au pairs, my tweens, and even my spouse. Don’t even get me started on college students who text in my classroom.

On the plus side, everything you do to help your Au Pair limit her/his texting will help her/him be a more effective person later in life.

Sure, s/he might be the anomaly among her/ his peers, given the masses who are training themselves to go through life with bent necks and twitchy thumbs.

But that’s what good host parenting is– helping an au pair grow into a person who approaches life as an adventure, not as a few moments in between pings.


Harry-harry-styles-34402949-245-368See also: Texting: Taming the Au Pair Distraction
How To Establish Family Norms Around Texting


Here’s the email that prompted this post. What ideas do you have for this Host Dad? 

I have provided an iPhone to my Au Pair with unlimited calls, text (within the U.S.) and data, so that she can communicate with me in case of emergency, have a maps app and get directions, as well as use apps for her personal use.

The problem is that she cannot go 5 minutes without texting.

I have a toddler who still puts things in his mouth and have asked my Au Pair to put the phone away when she is out with him, because even a 10-second text is enough for a toddler to grab something off the floor and put it in his mouth, or stick his fingers where he is not supposed to.

I think she is doing that when they are out. She seems responsible. However, at home, there are some child proofed areas and – like many tech savvy homes these days – we have cams (in full view, our Au Pair knows we can check remotely). We often see her texting away while our child is walking around looking bored or trying to get her attention.

When feeding him, the Au Pair checks her phone every 3 to 4 minutes. I don’t think she can go 5 minutes without checking her phone. And sometimes she starts texting and gets so absorbed by it, she seems to lose track of time and text away for 20 minutes or so.

While we’re not opposed to her texting, and surfing the web, good judgement should be exerted and she should put the child first all the time. If we wanted our child to roam around and spend a lot of his time doing stuff on his own, we would have put him in daycare where they have less interactions with adults.

Quality interactions with adults is what contribute the most to a baby and toddler’s development, hence why we prefer one on one integration until 3 years of age.

Our Au Pair is doing a good job otherwise, so how do we tell her to focus more on the child when he is awake (we’re OK if she wants to text away when he is sleeping), and point out that phone use is a bit excessive when she is caring for our child?

We don’t want to sound critical but this excessive phone use is a bad example for our child (we make it a point to put ours away), and is impacting the quality of interaction with our child.





HRHM July 28, 2015 at 3:12 pm

You are paying her to work at a job. As her employer, you have the right to expect her full attention to her job whilst on duty. If she was a secretary, working at Victoria’s Secret, a school teacher or a policewoman, she’d be fired by now.

You don’t say if you’ve addressed this with her yet, but it sounds as if you haven’t. That really is the first place to start. After all, it’s unfair to assume she knows you want her to text less and tend to your child more (she’s new to this too). As I’ve matured as a HM I have migrated to addressing things the second I see them. I don’t wait anymore for a once a week sitdown, or let them fester while I watch for improvement. If my AP picks up her phone while on duty, the second time I see it happen (in one day), I quickly say “AP, maybe you missed the page in the handbook, but you aren’t permitted to text/talk with your friends/surf the internet while on duty. Please put your cell phone down until your shift is over.” The second time I have to make that statement, we would be having a sit down after her shift as well, to uncover why she is having a hard time understanding and/or complying. The end of that conversation would be followed up with an email to her revisiting the points discussed and cc’d to the LCC. The third time we would be talking about rematch.

I will say that one of my strategies to avoid this in the first place is to give my AP a tracfone with 1200 minutes at the start of her year. This provides her with 100 minutes or 300 texts per month. I always get a dumb phone, so no data at all. Then, if she goes over, she has to buy her own top up. Most of my APs have been less spendy with the minutes when they know they’ll have to buy more. They all use their home country phone for internet on our wifi and if I find them overusing, I can just block their wifi during work hours. I’ve threatened 3 times, but only had to follow through for one AP.

TexasHM July 28, 2015 at 3:48 pm

This is tough and I can relate. Historically I guess we were just lucky that we never had an issue with this until recently. Yes, it is in our handbook but we have always leaned toward the side of not asking our APs to do anything we wouldn’t do ourselves and treating them as adults so we have taken the path of spelling out that they shouldn’t be on their phone while working but we aren’t the phone police either so if they have to answer a call or text make it quick and be responsible (meaning make sure they have the kids in sight, keep it quick and tell whomever they aren’t available until their off time).

This round our kids are getting older and AP adjusted super quickly to living in our home so I think the comfort factor led her to assuming that some usage was ok that was not so we had to discuss. Like she is on ipad in downstairs living room while kids play upstairs for a few minutes before leaving for an activity. Yes, I have done that on occasion but I am their mom and have ESP and eyes in the back of my head and if they get hurt, it’s on me and I pay for it so a perfect example of do as I say, not as I do. She seemed to understand and didn’t do it again.

Next day it was her skypeing a family member on her ipad while the kids were eating lunch. Iffy because it was quick and kids were occupied but then my middle spilled something and then the AP got frustrated with her when in actuality, had the AP been at the table paying attention it would have been easily prevented (I saw it coming the second I walked into the room but I was too late). Had to have a conversation with AP about her getting frustrated with daughter (she is 6 and 6 year olds spill things) and about inappropriate device usage again and just had to flat out say no skypeing period during working hours (something I have never had to point out to any AP). Hasn’t happened since.

I don’t know if any of this helps I guess my only point is that we have had to be a lot more explicit than we have before or ever expected this round. I don’t know if it’s cultural, if it’s that age or something else but as hard as it is I would go the route of assuming they have no idea what to do or that what they are doing is wrong and spell it out. I had to tell AP if kids were upstairs playing and poked an eye out and she couldn’t tell me what happened because she was downstairs on her iPad that could be a rematch conversation. I said yes, sometimes I might let them play unattended briefly but I am also their mom and the one that has to suffer the consequences of my decisions (vs if she decides not to have eyes on them and they get hurt then the kids and I suffer due to her poor decision making).

She also talked with the phone in her hand while driving (she was following behind me just her in the car) and when I confronted her she said she hadn’t even thought about it and of course would never do it with the kids in the car but just spaced because she was alone in her free time. There are very few things listed in our handbook as rematch offenses and phone usage while driving is one of them and clearly stated so I was shocked. She apologized profusely and I don’t think it has happened since or will again but I think she was being honest that it didn’t dawn on her as being a problem so I think you have to be explicit.

I am looking forward to the advice because I HATE managing (which is why our handbook and prep is so extensive) and in this case I have had to address it several times in different ways. She is a wonderful AP in so many ways and no one is perfect so we have coached through all this but I was really surprised. We too say in our handbook that if its urgent we will call and if you are driving pull over or wait until you get to your destination to check. :) I think next round we will be more explicit (giving these examples as not ok) but on the flipside I tend to hate those conversations because sometimes it feels very patronizing and like I said, all our other APs totally got it and we never had an issue so I don’t want to pass the sins of one AP onto another….

One other wrinkle is we are very close to our APs and screen for engaged member of the family and our APs often spend their free time with us so the line between work and family is very blurred in our household. We follow all the rules, I am just saying we have never had a punch the clock AP or employer relationship so that makes it even more difficult to remind them it’s a job and that they would be fired for that behavior anywhere else. Sigh…

American Host Mom in Europe July 28, 2015 at 6:42 pm

When my kids were younger (toddlers – and they all 3 were toddlers at the same time!), I made it clear to APs that their phones were to stay in their rooms while they were working. So when the children were napping, and they were in their rooms, they could use them – but I didn’t expect to see them around the house. Now that smartphones are more prevalent for everything, I see it is becoming more difficult — and sometimes the kids ask the AP to get her phone or tablet so they can look at something with her. As the others, I think it is just important to be explicit, remind, and serve as a role model where possible. I HATE phones at the dining table, so never bring mine into the dining room (I hardly carry it around with me anyway, and am not much of a texter)…but my husband sometimes uses his, which makes me crazy and sets a bad example. Oh, well.

Washingtomom July 28, 2015 at 7:31 pm

This topic gets blurred because my AP mostly communicates with me during the day via text. She dropped, and crashed the screen of the smart phone we gave once, she said the one of the kids swung her arms and made her drop it, all the while she was texting me to let me know they were on the way.
She did keep her phone handy during working hours, I must acknowledge I did not see her texting excessively during on-duty times but she would bring it to the table of keep close if we were out. Nothing to cry over as she is departing soon, but wondering if we should change our approach with our next AP. Call, instead of text. or just like HRHM provide a dumb phone with limited texting.

HRHM July 28, 2015 at 9:31 pm

I will say, that I don’t limit how much “I” use my APs limited phone. In my mind, those 100 minutes or 300 texts per month are MINE. She is under instructions to let the kids use it to call me at work in the morning or afternoon if they want to talk to me (we dont’ have a land line) and I liberally text or call her as needed. I don’t TRY to abuse it, but I paid for that phone and that airtime for her work use. I know I’ve never gotten close to her limit but we had one AP who tried to not let my kids use it and I had to nip that in the bud immediately. It’s up to her to preserve minutes for me, not the other way around.

Seattle Mom July 31, 2015 at 3:24 pm

I do the same thing- give my APs a dumb phone with 1000 pre-paid minutes. I had one AP who burned through them in her first month. She bought more minutes but it was a constant issue with her- she would often have a non-working cell phone because she wasn’t on top of buying more minutes when she needed them, so I had no way to contact her for periods of time, except for email (on her ipad when she had wifi) and our landline which she didn’t answer. It was a problem. I didn’t want to buy her more minutes because she would just burn through them again and still not buy more. Luckily our other APs have not had that issue.

momo4 July 29, 2015 at 12:39 am

Ah. Yet another incredibly timely topic as I am reviewing the past (pretty awful) year, making my New-AuPair Resolutions, and updating our family handbook.

My mind has been truly boggled by the amount of time my current AP spends texting. It is incessant. All. Day. Long. Every. Day. This is the first year that is has been an issue, it simply didn’t come up with my 7 prior APs, and I have been both appalled and at the same time uncertain as to how to proceed since we never explicitly said she could not text while working since excessive texting (and talking and skyping and general internet usage for that matter) was never a problem with the other APs.

Interestingly, this is also the first AP who has brought a smart phone with her, so she uses our home wifi to text friends at home using various (yes, more than one!) apps, and then uses the phone we provided to text and call friends here in the US. She is sometimes texting on 2 phones simultaneously when she is supposed to be working! I have come to realize that it not only irritates the heck out of me, but it definitely also affects her ability to do her job and negatively impacts my children in multiple ways.

I am not opposed to texting as a form of communication, I like it and find it convenient, and it is the main way I communicate with the AP while I am at work, so I both need and expect her to be reachable by text during the day. I also don’t mind my AP sending or receiving the occasional text from a friend during day regarding plans for the evening/weekend. But when she is watching my kids, her attention needs to be completely on them, not on her phone. It only takes seconds for my soon-to-be-walking infant to topple and hit her head, and my 3 and 5 year-old boys get into levels of mischief that beggar belief.

So what to do? My plan for the next AP started with asking pointed interview questions about internet and phone usage, and she seemed to immediately grasp the concept that such activities were not to be done during working hours. I’m crossing my fingers that she wasn’t just saying what she knew I wanted to hear.

I am also updating my handbook explicitly and will review it all with her when she arrives.
If she brings a smartphone from home I plan to ask her to leave it in her room while she is working. Turning off the wifi seems maybe a little extreme (we are pretty lenient host parents), but after the year we’ve just had I will do whatever seems necessary.

The past 2 years we have given our AP’s our old iPhones to use, connected with our family plan (that means unlimited talk and text). I really like HRHM’s approach of using a non-smart tracfone with limited text and minutes though, and we may well switch to doing that this year. Although APs really like having a smart phone, I’m not convinced that it is in any way necessary. Also, since we limit our kids media exposure I do not want my AP to be tempted to let my kids watch videos on her phone when I’m not home rather than playing with them (I’d probably figure it our pretty quickly since little kids have big mouths, but I still don’t want the temptation to be there). I will also happily buy a GPS device for my AP to use in the car since that is one of the main arguments for why they need a smart phone.

In any case, I have seen how bad it can get this past year (on several accounts actually) so I am determined that this year I will do a better job setting expectations and making sure that they are met.

WarmStateMomma July 29, 2015 at 7:38 am

I know you didn’t expressly tell your current AP she couldn’t text on the job but that doesn’t mean you can’t tell her after it becomes a problem. If she were doing anything else personal instead of doing her job – napping, working on her tan, etc. – you would call her out on it.

To me, texting is like going to the bathroom. It’s practically a necessity to do it during a 10-hour span but there is a difference between efficiently taking care of business and lingering to touch up your make-up, file your nails, etc.

momo4 July 29, 2015 at 1:23 pm

Truth be told, the texting is only one of the issues I’ve had with this particular AP, including her doing all sorts of personal things when she should be working. It has been challenging in part because there have been so many changes and complications this year including the fact that I am now home a lot more than I was in previous years, and I am just figuring out how to navigate that new situation. You bring up a good point: that it is never too late to address issues that become a problem. Like TexasHM though, I hate “managing” and really struggle with that role, so I always prefer to make everything crystal clear at the beginning, something that for several reasons I just didn’t do a good job of this time around. The AP I had previous to this one was fabulous, as close to a “perfect” AP as I’ve ever had, immediately grasped her role and responsibilities, never required any managing and just did her job well, bonded with the kids, etc. In the foggy post-partum state I was in when my current AP arrived I think I sort of forgot how much coaching can be required.

eastcoastmom July 29, 2015 at 9:06 am

We provide a tracfone and a separate GPS device for our APs. I haven’t had major issues with texting so far. My last few APs have brought their smartphones from home as well, but have been good about not using them much during working hours. My handbook states very clearly that they shouldn’t text during working hours other than to briefly make plans (either for my kids or themselves) and they should use the internet on their own time. I note that the reason for this is that it’s not fair to the kids to see someone always on her phone. They deserve her undivided attention. I also state that texting and driving is illegal, as is talking on a phone without a handsfree device, and that if they must text or make a call they need to pull into a parking lot first.

I primarily communicate with my APs via texting, so I do want that tracfone with them all the time. But they need to be mature and responsible, and tell their friends they can’t chat during working hours. I think if they weren’t mature enough to do that then it would come out in other ways as well, and that would be a problem for me. I’m not exactly sure at what point it would get to rematch status, but if the behavior didn’t change after a couple of conversations then I’d definitely bring in the LCC and have a “last chance or rematch” conversation. For me personally, I can lay down the law in these kinds of areas because I don’t see it as me being controlling as much as I see it as me protecting my children.

Host Mom in the City July 29, 2015 at 9:41 am

Ugh, texting. Three of our five au pairs have texted way way more than I thought was appropriate on a job. Two of them were completely and totally obsessed – I should have rematched with one of those and the other I actually did, partially because of the texting addiction (which was indicative of her overall not getting it). That one actually stopped to answer a text literally in the middle of meeting my kids for the first time. Obviously she didn’t last very long.

My LCC says this the number one issue she hears about with au pairs these days. I’m a young mom myself, I text a lot. I get it. I even text my au pair sometimes a few times during the day. I send a few texts at work most days myself. All that I am totally fine with. But I would never send a text during a client meeting, or a team meeting, or when I’m supposed to be focused on doing something. When a friend texts me, I send a quick text back if it’s appropriate, but I would never have texting conversations more than one or two back and forth. Because that’s what you do on a job. Three of my au pairs just don’t seem to get this and it drives me insane.

My texting expectations are in my host family letter, they’re in my handbook, I talk about them during interviewing, I talk about it during training. I expect that to be enough. Unfortunately, it hasn’t been and I really haven’t figured out a way to manage it. I’m not the type of host parent whose going to cut off the WIFI or harp on the issue or monitor phone usage (they all use whatsapp and other apps anyway, so you can’t tell how much texting is actually happening). With our current au pair, the kids absolutely adore her and I’ve never seen her straight up ignore them for a text, so I’ve let it go. But she always has her phone with her – always – and will look at it a few times whenever I’m around, so I can only imagine how much she’s on it when she’s working.

My fourth au pair was my favorite, and one of the main reasons was because she understood that I wanted her to act like it was a job when she was on duty. I literally never saw her with her cell phone out, though she was very social and used it a lot off duty. That really meant a lot to me – she was showing me through her actions that she was focused on the job and knew that meant that personal phone use wasn’t appropriate.

It’s led me to believe that you can talk about it all you want, if you get someone who’s phone addicted, you’re not going to be able to do anything about it short of taking the phone away. They don’t get how much they use it or how it affects their performance or your perception of them, they think you’re being ridiculous, they will switch to different apps you can’t monitor if you tell them you can see how many times they’re texting. I really haven’t been able to figure out a way to manage this, even after I harp on it constantly in matching and training. Would love to hear if anyone has had a texter that they were able to get through to.

PhillyMom July 29, 2015 at 11:59 am

We do not have texting option on our AU Pair phone. Sorry:))) She can call me anytime on the phone if there is an emergency or just to talk to me, but I specifically eliminated this feature after reading this blog and see what my friends where going through with their Au Pairs and non-stop texting problems….

Host Mom in the City July 29, 2015 at 12:11 pm

I should be clear though that all my au pairs rarely actually “texted.” If you look on my usage bills, it will only show the texts from me. They all use apps to communicate. So if you have a smartphone or even one that can use basic apps, they can “text” that way and not have to use the official texting function of the phone at all.

momo4 July 29, 2015 at 1:57 pm

Without controlling wifi access, there is no way to really control how much texting your AP is able to do when you are not around since there are so many apps available that allow them to text. Even if you don’t give them a smart phone, they can always go out and purchase a cheap one to use, or just use one from home.

HMitC – I agree with you 100%. I find that certain behavioral traits – texting definitely being one of them – simply are what they are, and there doesn’t seem to be much hope of changing them. They also tend to go along with a certain degree of immaturity and all its attendant problems.

The texting problem also intersects with the employee vs. family member paradox. When you look at the AP as being an employee, it immediately seems obvious that personal texting during work is inappropriate. AP’s who see APing as a job also seem to understand this implicitly. In my experience though, APs who are particularly anxious to be treated “like a family member” tend to behave however they would at home. If texting constantly is their norm, they really don’t see why they shouldn’t be able to do it the same way they did before they became APs, and they cast you in the role of unreasonable nagging mom when you tell them it is not allowed.

Repeated emphasis on wanting to be treated like a family member has become a huge red flag for me when I am looking for my next AP. Over the years it is these APs who have ended up behaving like an extra teenage kid rather than someone who actually helps out and makes life easier. Whether it’s emotional neediness, whining all the time about how hard things are, or laziness and slacking during their year, these never end up being great APs. We really do treat our APs like family members, are extrememly accomodating and supportive, but I want them to take their work seriously as a job, and not treat me like I am their actual mother who will clean up after them and constantly see to their comfort while they make plans for hanging out with their friends and tolerate looking after the other kids when they have to.

HRHM July 29, 2015 at 2:17 pm

Ah the “family member” dilemma!

I make it very clear to our APs during screening, interviewing, matching and training that :

We are looking for someone who wants to be a member of OUR family. That means you integrate with us, learn to do things our way and get treated the same as we treat other members of the family. It DOESN’T mean that WE have to act like your home family did/does. We won’t coddle you like your Dad, clean up your messes like your Mom. In our family the AP is an adult with adult responsibilities, adult behavior expected and adult privileges. In OUR family we don’t text at dinner or while having a conversation with another family member.

momo4 July 29, 2015 at 2:59 pm

Well said!

Returning HM July 29, 2015 at 3:14 pm

We are exactly the same: The AP is a member of our family, holding the role of adult in a three-adult, two child family (well, occasionally my husband acts like a child, but that is another story). No adult OR child in our family may have a phone at the table. No one may look at a phone when others are around, and no one may text when talking to someone else. All phones get left on the side table when you walk in our house, with exception of my phone during the day, which is near me in case a school or AP calls or texts. Once everyone is home, my phone goes with everyone else’s. Children do not have phones in their rooms at all, though the AP may (just not while on duty).

It does mean that the AP sometimes misses a text from me, but I don’t care – it means he was too focused on being with the children to look. If it’s an emergency, I’ll call again to prompt him to pick up.

We have never had a problem with texting or internet usage with any of our APs over the years. I wonder if it’s that we are such a low-media household (no TV and limited computer time for kids, no TV for me, and just sports for DH — AP can of course watch whatever he wants in his room but also never watches anything) that we don’t attract big media users? Or that our rules on phone use are so clear for our 13 year old daughter that no AP wants to go against them himself? Not sure. Constant texting of the sort described in this thread would drive me batty, THAT I know!

Host Mom in the City July 29, 2015 at 4:11 pm

We’re a low media family, but we’ve had texting issues, so I don’t think it’s that. It might be the “phones go on the front table” rule and doing a good job modeling that yourself. We don’t have a TV and DH and I never watch it. Kids watch on our tablet Friday evenings, but don’t get any screen time any other time during the week. Kids don’t beg and whine about this because it is what it is and always has been in our house. So we’re pretty strict on screen time, but have still had texting issues with au pairs!

AlwaysHopeful HM July 29, 2015 at 6:09 pm

We are a tech-addicted family, but I haven’t really had a problem with most of our au pairs. We have strict rules against tech at the table, texting or phoning while driving, and skyping while working. I’m okay with a little texting, etc. during the workday, as long as it’s clear that my son is the priority, but my son is old enough to not need constant focus.

We had one au pair who preferred his phone or computer to my son, and I had to speak with him about that. We ended up in rematch, but tech use was only a small part of the problem. Incidentally, we are heavy on the “part of the family” structure. The tech-heavy au pair was the one who treated the experience most like “just a job.” I really like what HRHM said about being a part of OUR family. I hadn’t articulated that to our au pairs in the past, but I definitely will going forward.

For the OP, I agree with what others have said here. You have to have a conversation with your au pair and make very clear what you expect and require. If it requires more than 2 conversations, I’m of the view that the issue is less one of tech addiction, and more a lack of maturity or lack of respect for your authority.

old au pair mom August 2, 2015 at 12:18 am

Please comment more on “treat like a family member”, I find this term so difficult. Years ago, I read an application in which a young woman stated “so if you want another daughter…” and I thought “yikes, I want someone even more mature than me!, not another child to care for.” This short phrase can cause much distress.
I happily share my darling kiddos, a wonderfully stocked frig, a designated AP car, hard earned advice, and bonuses, but I have been stymied by those who have not felt “part of the family” Truly, if we were such an amazing family, would we really need an aupair? Does an aupair really want to eat with the kids she just cared for the whole day? Wouldn’t she rather eat a quick bite or go out with friends? How much does she really want to be part of our family? Enough to put out the trash, stay up with a puking child, or the juggernaut here, clean the refigerator (honestly, it is very clean already, but sometimes those veggies need to go to the bin!)

Sorry this is a hijack email, but I really would like to know how people work with this term and this idea(l). many thanks

DCMomof3 August 2, 2015 at 5:56 pm

Old Au Pair Mom – I like your post and after 8 years of hosting, I tend to agree with it. Sure, APs say that want to be part of the family and do the “fun” family things – but I suspect in most families, things aren’t always fun! For the most part, I just encourage my APs to have their own social life and do their own things during their off time. Everybody is happier that way.

I’ve had APs ask to come with us on the 4th of July or on a day at the beach, but I’ve never had one step up when I am spending my entire Saturday cleaning the garage, or running to Home Depot, or cooking a big lunch for my husband’s relatives. It just never, ever happened. Sure, I am friends with all of my APs, they all get to go on a few trips with us throughout their year, they all get to participate in a few holidays, a family superbowl party, a night of trick-o-treating, etc. But are they around on the weekends when I am cleaning out the refrigerator? No way! Do I expect them to be? No, I do not.

But then, let’s be clear that the “part of the family” aspect of the program is more about getting to do some fun things with the fam throughout the course of the year and not about the day-in, day-out rigor of a busy household with working parents and kids in a country with less than stellar childcare and a tendency for professionals to live far from family.

As an aside, I just read some of the submissions on the Go AU Pair “host family of the year” blog. One girl said “my host parents meet my every need and desire, just like my parents at home would.” Well, that is great for her, but I suspect that any long-term host family just would not have the interest, nor the stamina, in meeting an au pair’s every need and desire. Anybody who expects that would not last in my house. Fortunately, nobody has and all have had great experiences nonetheless.

TexasHM August 2, 2015 at 9:04 pm

We trend heavy on the member of the family aspect, if we didn’t have the right mojo in this area the program just honestly wouldn’t be worth it for us (we could get a nanny for similar costs or even less once they all are in school in a few weeks).

I read somewhere when we were first considering the AP program that you could think of the AP as niece that came to live with you and care for the kids for a year. We really took that to heart and actually leaned a little too much on the side of taking care of the first AP and being too accommodating so by the time the next AP came along we were absolutely ready to even it back out. And that’s the point I wanted to get across – if you use the niece reference point it actually helps you (HPs) as well because it will help you determine what is a reasonable ask or expectation too. For example, if our niece wanted to take the car I would expect her to ask and tell me approx when she would be back. If our niece needed help getting enrolled in college classes, I would help her. If our niece wanted to tag along on a vacation, we would cover what we could and ask her to pick up her larger incidentals (plane ticket, Disney pass). If a niece saw a family emergency or issue I would expect her to rally to help regardless of whether it was during her on duty time. If our niece didn’t feel comfortable with her DD I would expect her to call me at 3am and I would pick her up without complaint and thank her for being smart. It goes both ways.

To that note – our APs don’t spend all their free time with us. It varies. I also am very honest with them about our plans (if I were you I wouldn’t go because I don’t want to go myself ;) or this is going to be a long drive to west Texas small town and just hanging with family and long drive back so no hard feelings if you want to stay home and do other things, etc). I have had APs help clean things out largely because they wanted to talk to me about something and I was cleaning so as it is in our household, everyone chips in.

It does take effort. It does take patience. It does take commitment, but in return we have really reaped amazing relationships and memories. I was in the delivery room a month ago when AP1 had her first baby, AP2 called me crying to thank me when she got her dream job (she says because of us but we all know better) and AP3 made us swear before she left to bring the whole family to France for her wedding in a few years and asked my husband if he would consider walking her down the aisle (this would be his second round of that).

NewAPMom July 29, 2015 at 2:35 pm

My last AP was addicted to texting to. It was in our handbook not to be using the phone at all on duty, but she either didn’t care or didn’t understand it. I had to say something to her at least 3 times to stop texting and play with my son (who was getting under my feet as I was trying to cook dinner). I talked to our LCC numerous times about this. It did become better, but she clearly didn’t care b/c one day at the park she was texting while pushing the baby on the swing, and I was playing with my 3 y/o son (and saw this out of the corner of my eye). In retrospect we should have rematched because the incessant texting was just one of many small issues. To me in the end it showed disrespect because I told her numerous times and she didn’t listen. She even brought the phone to Easter dinner and sat with it on her lap looking at it when no one else brought theirs, not even my sister’s au pair! Our next AP arrives soon and I am going to go through the texting issues in great detail. I am also adding to the hand book a list of things that would put the au pair into rematch, which will include texting on duty.

NJ Mama July 29, 2015 at 4:17 pm

I’ve had similar issues in the last two years. And as I think about it, in both cases – with two separate and very different APs – things were fine for many months, until they weren’t.

Like many of you we didn’t start out with a smartphone but upgraded a few year ago when the companies all started giving away free smartphones (the older models). My AP has to drive a lot, and it seemed easier to let her use the GPS on the phone. In addition, my husband and I are both away from the kids for long periods of the day. So I also really like getting texts from the AP throughout the day. I like it when she can send me pics of the kids. and I like being able to text her to let her know I’m coming home, etc. We have one shared data plan and unlimited texts.

So we’ve had the smartphone mainly with the last two au pairs, and it was not a problem at all in either case until the last few months of the AP’s time with us. For the first AP – my Bridezilla – she started texting excessively right after she got engaged and lasted until she ditched us. She texted ALL THE TIME – and all during work hours (b/c her fiance was a teacher’s aide, so her work hours and his nonwork hours perfectly coincided).

with the last AP, she just became a data hog toward the end. Most of it social media and also some video. I would get these data alerts and look up her usage and it was just awful. I explained over and over that she just needed to stop. She would for awhile and then it would start again. The bigger thing for me is that this au apair was soooo sooo awesome for the first 9-10 months, and then it was like that whole sense of entitlement thing hit on so many levels. Burning through the data was just one of many things that became a problem at the end.

Another odd similarity – in both cases, the texting/data usage got out of control right after we lined up our next AP – and in both cases we were switching agencies, so I felt I either had to make it work, because if I cut them loose I’d be patching childcare together. My H hates the patching. I do too. So we limped along while I grew more and more upset over it.

So our next AP arrives in about a week. I think what I am going to do is just reiterate the rules — a phone call or text here and there while on duty is ok, excessive is not. and please monitor and limit your data usage. Like several of you above, I hate hate hate managing this. I’m OK with bringing up uncomfortable topics and talking them through. But I hate when they continue. If it’s early on then yes I’ll bring the LC in, and if it’s a huge problem then yes I’d consider rematch. But when it starts later in the year? At that point it becomes a choice between putting up with the nonsense or scrambling for interim care. Not fun.

Mimi July 29, 2015 at 5:16 pm

“And sometimes she starts texting and gets so absorbed by it, she seems to lose track of time and text away for 20 minutes or so.” I think this is the crux of the problem. If you can demonstrate to her visually through the video you have, you might find she really doesn’t realize how excessive and obtrusive the texting really is. Reiterate whatever your policy is and let her know that texting will be limited if she cannot get it under control. If you don’t have one then you need to introduce it by saying that it has become a problem and you’re putting some safeguards in place to protect both her and the baby from the danger of inattentiveness.

Our AP gets a flip phone with unlimited texts and calls (we have GPS for the car) and our handbook clearly talk about using computers, phones, and other distractions during work hours. We are a low media use family and we have never had a problem with texting or internet usage with any of our APs over the years until AP#6 who we sent into rematch for various reasons. She brought her phone to the table often and was told repeatedly no electronics at the table (sometimes by the kids who were trying to talk to her). Her problem was her mother constantly texting her with preexisting personal and family problems we were unaware of until things broke down.

While we have been between APs, I’ve had my teenage niece helping out this summer until AP 7 arrived and I ended up turning off the Wi-Fi during the day after a call home where one of the 6 y/o’s told me she was ignoring them and they were bored. It’s stayed that way and I don’t think the AP has even noticed at almost a month in since she is not using her personal smart phone until she’s off duty. That may change as the boys go to school and she has more down time with the baby in which case I can easily turn it back on so she can Skype or chat with her family while the baby naps. At that point she will have also earned the privilege.

IntellectualMom July 29, 2015 at 9:28 pm

Thanks for this very timely post – I now have something to add to the handbook for our next au pair who arrives in a few weeks. Our current au pair has been PERFECT on this front – she has always taken the job seriously and focused on the children when working. Her phone stays at home most of the time, with the drawback that there aren’t always photos of her fun times with the kids. And she’s a big socialite, so she somehow makes it work. I agree with what has been said above, that an au pair should plan to focus on the children when she is on duty and not take cues from the host parents regarding what they may or not do with their own phones. It’s a job, as others have said!

TexasHM July 30, 2015 at 9:33 am

Kind of related to this topic – I just came across distraction.gov which is the government’s anti-distracted driving site that has stories, information and a pledge you can print out and sign to agree to zero phone usage in the car. I realize this should be obvious since it’s in our handbook but just thinking to be extra explicit I might ask incoming APs to visit the site, watch the PSAs and then sign the pledge when they get here in the hopes of making this crystal clear. Just thought I would share in case anyone else wants to do the same!

TexasHM July 30, 2015 at 9:38 am

Ooh! I also went to the states and you can click on each one and see the current laws about phone usage in the car and in Texas it is illegal for a novice driver (anyone with a drivers license less than 12 months) to use a phone in the car (hands free or hand held) and illegal for them to text so for those of us that hate the employer hat this is a great way to get the point across as an educator not enforcer. :)

WarmStateMomma July 30, 2015 at 10:00 am


SKNY July 30, 2015 at 10:48 am

In NY you can not use anything electronic unless it is completely hands free. I got a ticket for adjusting my GPS while driving. ugh

Should be working July 30, 2015 at 11:42 am

I don’t allow APs to use hands-free either, even though it is legal. It is still distraction. AP can pull over to the side, or ask one of my older children, if they are in the car, to text or call instead.

Returning HM July 30, 2015 at 3:30 pm

The GPS in our new (leased) car doesn’t work if you aren’t stopped. I love it! Wish all of them worked this way.

Dorsi July 30, 2015 at 3:46 pm

Totally agreed. There is no evidence that handsfree is safer for anyone – we have all been sold a line. Talking is a distraction – I am allowed to do it because my car, my consequences, and I have 20 years of experience.

Midwest Au pair July 30, 2015 at 3:43 pm

I would get her a dumb phone. I didn’t get an I phone and I was just fine. I would not pay her phone bill. (You can contribute something since you need her to have it for work) but honestly, you’re not required to pay her bill. She needs to put that phone down while on duty, it’s that easy! Dumb phone, no data, problem solved. Of course she could get her own, but she also had to pay. You could also tell her, that every time you catch her on her phone when u check in, and you could also check the data, she will have to work longer once you get home. If I were her, I would stop immediately.

Dorsi July 30, 2015 at 3:48 pm

My last 6 (!) APs have all had their own smart phones from home, or acquired one on arrival. I have had a smart phone for the last 4, but if I hadn’t, a dumb phone wouldn’t have solved the problem. You can’t track someone’s text use when they are not using cellular data.

Midwest Au pair July 30, 2015 at 3:50 pm

I don’t know what provide you have, but with AT&T you can monitor everything no matter if she uses wifi or cellular data. And you could technically also check the wifi usage

ILHostMom July 30, 2015 at 4:46 pm

We have an Au Pair who also came to us with a terrible texting addiction. I told her several times that it really bothered me. I stressed to her that she cannot be two places at once and that I expect her to be focused on the kids. I have her on WhatsApp, and I could see that she was on there every 2 minutes. So essentially she was texting at all times, and we also have a toddler. So when I brought up how much she was on the phone, she said she understood and would be better about it. However, then she changed her WhatsApp setting to where I couldn’t see when she was online, which made her look SO GUILTY!! I didn’t say anything for a few weeks, but then I could see she was getting totally wrapped up in some Au Pair drama with her friends. I told her the only way I would feel comfortable was for her to change her settings again so I could see when she was online. I know it seems intrusive, but she is watching my children and this was a requirement. She agreed and its been much better.

old au pair mom August 2, 2015 at 11:26 pm

thanks DCmom and Texas HM for your thoughtful replies. Though I have been in the program for over 14 years (we added a 1 year old girl after all the boys hit double digits) I see my role as assisting the AP with assimilating and getting the right classes. Then it is a matter of sharing a delicious bottle of wine (sometimes the AP’s first!) and sharing really special parts of our American food culture, bison, filet mignon, lobster, our amazing fun holidays, gifts, and so on.

I happily share the really good stuff, it is the regular, mediocre, day to day, that is our own to experience with our gang. When you have a bunch of littles, dinner is a madhouse no matter who is there, but as they grow, it is good to allow the kids and their parents private time. Like DC mom, none of our APS have wanted to be part of the real nitty gritty, the groundings, the grueling study for AP or SAT tests. How do you weed out for the AP that wants that kind of family?

As for texting, declare the last 5 minutes of every hour “look at your texts time”.

If the text is from a host parent, answer it. If a friend seeking a yes or no or what time to meet, answer it. All other texts require too much time and therefore are after work material. The Victoria Secret answer above was spot on. The problem that remains is if you ask for rematch because of texting, LCCs may think this is a small problem.

As the mom of many, when they are really little, distractions really can be dangerous. And all adults supervising little ones need to be cautious. Especially if they had the good fortune to be gifted with wild hellions like mine darlings were.

Taking a Computer Lunch August 3, 2015 at 7:17 am

When my kids were infants and toddlers, neither we nor the APs had cell phones at all. I’d say in 2010 they were common enough for everyone that my European APs started bringing their (usually better) smartphones or i-Phones from home and using them with our wifi. Now, I have two teenagers – and one needs only gently reminders from an AP to retrieve his lunchbox, put away his dishes, or clean up his mess. She’s not responsible for doing those things. The other requires, constant, hands-on care. She is medically fragile, and while most of the time can sit in her room and play with toys, she does get bored and look for attention. We’re okay with brief texting during regular shifts (2 hours in the morning, 3 hours in the afternoon), but we make it clear to the AP that while she may not have come to the U.S. with childcare as her priority, it’s why we’re paying her to be here. We’re not paying her to stay in touch with her friends, or set up her free time. (Our AP works 30-35 hours a week most of the year, so she has plenty of free time to Skype, text, and use the Internet.) On the other hand, when she’s home all day with the Camel, we do expect her to be engaged most of the time – but quite frankly, the Camel needs her down time, too, and is quite content to play with her toys. As long as she gets diapered and fed on time, and gets a fair amount of human contact, we’re okay with a bit of computer use or texting.

But understand, if the AP were home all day with a typically developing infant, toddler, or young child – I would not find it acceptable at all to use electronics while any child was awake!

A/B HostMom August 3, 2015 at 8:01 am

I do agree absolutely that the Au Pair should not be using the phone, Internet, etc. while on duty. We had to tell our previous AP this many times because it was such a huge problem. We told her she could use it while the kids were napping, but I think I have to rethink this because there was an incident where my son woke up in vomit and she couldn’t tell us what happened because she was in her room on her computer while he slept on the sofa. Our new AP arrives soon, and I really hope to make it crystal clear to her that she may not use the phone while on duty. And I hope we don’t have the problems we had last time! The last AP was so bad that at breakfast when she was on duty she would be so entrenched in her phone, there was no conversation with her. Granted the children were sometimes still asleep, but she could’ve been doing some of her other chores at this time instead of using her phone.

so new at this October 9, 2015 at 5:50 pm

I’m reviving this topic because I think our new aupair texting habits are excessive. Or am I just too sensitive?
She is serving breakfast and every time she goes into the kitchen she is checking or responding to someone. I know that some mornings she has plans to go to the gym with friends and that is perhaps the topic but does it have to be so often? Earlier today my girls where doing crafts and she was with them also making something with them, but everyone so often she would look down to type. I asked her to stop on the spot, she was at work and that would be the perfect time for her to engage my girls in conversation instead of communicating with whom ever it was she was communicating. She didn’t cope an attitude just looked at me, nodded and put her phone on the side trying very hard to ignore the buzzing that came from the phone afterwards.
I don’t know how to take her response, her silence makes me suspect that she doesn’t see the problem. She is fairly new and while we have not had an Indepth conversation on the topic I address it in the family book and I probably have asked her early on once or twice to put the phone down .

NewAPMom October 9, 2015 at 6:24 pm

This was a BIG problem with out last AP. Where is your current one from? I’m just curious if it’s the same country. I had to tell her 3 times, my husband told her, the LCC told them all. She never got it and if she was on duty when I was around would just try and be discrete even though I could see. In retrospect we should have been more aggressive early on and threatened rematch and then rematched if it didn’t resolve. It drove me crazy– she was often too busy texting and not paying attention to the kids. I would tell her her phone needs to be in her room when she’s on duty. Our new AP is much more respectful, understands that it’s a job and she shouldn’t be texting on duty. It’s so refreshing! My advice–nip it now in the bud, tell her you have zero tolerance and get the LCC involved if you have to.

Dorsi October 9, 2015 at 7:34 pm

We have gone into rematch once – and this was the central issue. So, I would address it early and often. My current AP (who came on after our terrible texter) was told that there would be absolutely no texting during work hours. I was still pretty angry at the predecessor. After 17 months, I look the other way when she discretly texts during work – I know she engages my children, so I don’t really mind. That is a privlege of having earned trust.

With a new AP (which we are one month away from) I will, again, demand no text or internet use while working. If one texts a lot (and I am definitely guilty of this at time), one begins to feel like every communication is urgent. One is definitely not engaged with the people (your children!!) in the room. There is no reason she can’t find out what everyone’s plans are after kids are off to school.

I would put forth a very, very firm position on this. You can relax it when all is going well.

so new at this October 9, 2015 at 10:55 pm

The interesting thing is that the few times that I have texted her while she has been on duty she has taken a while to reply sometimes not even a response. Is that to make me think that she is not checking as often? Anyway I guess I need a conversation with her.as I really don’t think she sees what the big deal is. I know is the age and how everyone communicates but I would expect some common courtesy. I guess I will see how it goes after the conversation, if it doesn’t get better I would have to request to leave the phone in her room during working hours. Fwiw she is from Spain, my previous one was from Mexico she wasn’t as excessive in my presence but my kids would tell me that she spent a lot of time looking at the phone or sending\receiving voice messages. I really don’t think is cultural though, but Newapmom, I would be curious to know where is your aupair from

NewAPMom October 10, 2015 at 4:30 am

Our previous AP with the phone problem was from Germany. I think some of it is generational and I also think though that it’s a reflection on what kind of worker she is. My previous AP was self declared lazy (wish I had known that) and clearly didn’t take pride in doing a good job. My new AP is also European but is a much harder worker and recognizes that this is a job too. She takes pride in doing a good job. She has friends texting her all day but she doesn’t look at her phone until she’s off duty. Is it your phone or hers she’s using? Another solution is if it’s your phone you can replace it with a “dumb phone” and if it’s her phone it stays in the room.

so new at this October 10, 2015 at 7:01 am

I Originally gave her an old iPhone (4 gen) guess it wasn’t smart enough for her and soon after she bought her own phone a Moto x and put the chip card in the new phone. All this without telling me, I happened to spot the phone and asked her about it. I still haven’t received my old phone back. I did think of removing the data plan but she can always use the home wifii. It is so crazy she has now 2 working phones one that came with her which she also carries around the house as an extension of her body.

NewAPMom October 10, 2015 at 1:24 pm

I would be pissed! I would tell her that her personal phone stays in her room when she’s on duty, and demand back the iphone. After my experience with our previous AP, I laid down the law early on with the new AP. It’s never been an issue with her, again different attitude entirely, but she is sure to keep her personal phone in her room when she’s on duty. You could always shut off the wi-fi when you aren’t home, others have mentioned that I believe. I think though if it is coming to that you need to sit down with her, maybe with the LCC too to let her know how big a problem this is. How long has she been with you? In retrospect with our previous AP we should have rematched. While the texting wasn’t the only issue we had, the fact that she continued to disrespect our wishes reflected her general attitude and work ethic (or lack thereof). If you don’t fix it now, it will continue to annoy you throughout the year and every little thing she does that you don’t like will only be magnified.

so new at this October 11, 2015 at 11:12 am

Quick update: I had a conversation with her and explained what we saw wrong with the situation. We went over the rules and reminded her what the priorities are. She seemed a lot more understanding and for the rest of the day she did not looked at any of her phones while she was on duty. In fact I didn’t see any of the phones around. This upcoming week will be an observation week, if I see any troubling behavior will proceed to ask to leave the personal phone in her room and will disconnect wifi during working ours, will also involve LLC (I plan to let her know about this incident though) if we go to next level we will also talk about rematch.

HRHM October 12, 2015 at 1:33 pm

Did you ever get your old phone back? I was wondering if she was ballsy enough to have traded it in when she bought the new one! :)

Washingtomom October 12, 2015 at 9:20 pm

Ha! I suspected the same, but no. She still has it, I see it active thru find my iphone in my house.
I may need to have another conversation with her, as I told LLC today all this, and she said that since it was her choice to swap the phone I have to make it clear that if something happens to it while she is working I won’t be responsible for it.
And… today…. She took my two kids to the park earlier today. They came back without any “incident reports”. However while my 8 year old was getting ready for bed, he told me that while they were at the park, he missed the bench when attempting to sit down and fell backwards hitting his head “really hard” he wanted to cry but he didn’t because his friends were around. I asked him, what did AP do? he said that she didn’t see the incident, she was looking at her phone! argh…
It was already late and my other child was sleep so I coulnd’t ask and AP had already retired to her room, so now I am here waiting for tomorrow to come and find the best way to address this.

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