Texting: Taming the Au Pair Distraction

by cv harquail on February 10, 2012

Who’s got an au pair who texts a lot? 

Sometimes at inappropriate times, and often without any understanding of how this behavior distracts them? Raise your hands.

Okay, you can all put down your hands.

It annoys me hugely that people have bad manners when it comes to texting. In our family, we have rules about when you can text if you are physically with other people. (The rules have to do with identifying whether the situation is supposed to be “social time” (e.g., at the dinner table) or whether it is “personal time” (e.g., long car ride, or when Mom needs to check blog comments and has giving tween the go-ahead).


The part that really drives me crazy, though? When people text when they are supposed to be doing other things. Like driving. Like cooking supper. Like watching the kids.

We’ve got the principles in our host family handbooks, and they usually include things like:

  • “When you are on duty and the children are awake, limit your texting to simple responses, like “I’ll text you back after work hours are over.”
  • “Do not carry on extensive text conversations when you are in charge of the children, especially when you are waiting with them before ballet class.”

But many people in the “digitally entitled” generations just can’t grok that their texting should be limited. After all, they’re awake. Why can’t they communicate?

So our guidelines are ignored.

As Host Mom Sarah told me, “I’m not interested in becoming the texting police. I don’t want to have to look at the phone bill and wonder “Were the kids taking a nap while she was texting?” etc.”

Let’s hear your great ideas!

  • How do you keep texing to an appropriate minimum during your au pair’s work hours?
  • What guidelines do you have for texting when your au pair — or anyone else– is with family or friends and having “social time”?
  • Has anyone used blocking features to limit texting? How has that worked?
  • What are you doing that’s working well?
See also:

Image: Kara, ??? Some rights reserved by john curley on FLickr


Should be working February 10, 2012 at 6:34 pm

Texting while driving is in a different category. I state in my handbook, and would stick in actual life with the principle, that it would be grounds for rematch.

Texting while taking care of kids is also listed in the rulebook as discouraged except for brief “text you later” exchanges. Haven’t had problems yet, knock on wood.

Seattle Mom February 10, 2012 at 8:18 pm

I think having a 3 year old who would probably talk her way into playing with, and then possibly breaking, the AP’s cell phone helps us. It’s just best not to use electronic devices you don’t want to share around my daughter! That and said cell phone is the AP’s from home- I didn’t buy her one.

I don’t think our AP texts while driving, but this is a good reminder to bring it up in conversation. This is my first AP, she has only been with us a couple of months so I’m still figuring it all out.

TiredMama February 10, 2012 at 8:29 pm

I do not text at work. I don’t think it is too much not to expect au pair not to as well.

Taking a Computer Lunch February 10, 2012 at 9:42 pm

My handbook states that APs have plenty of free time (I have school aged children, so my AP works a split shift with 6 hours in the middle of the day and most evenings after 6 off), and that cell phone communication should take no longer than 10 minutes. I only had one AP abuse this policy by talking in 10-minute increments (of course that stopped when she realized that the extra minutes came out of her salary).

Phone habits at the table vary. I don’t answer the telephone, because I’m having a meal with my family, while DH is the habit of jumping up. Most of the APs quickly “get it” and leave their mobiles behind when they come to the table.

My cell phone stays in my bag, hidden away at work. I rarely work at my desk and don’t carry it around with me. I’m getting paid to work, not to chat or text with the world. I try to limit my contact with the outside world when my kids are up. I want them to understand that they have my attention (except when I’m reading the newspaper) and are important to me. I can’t do that if my nose is glued to a phone.

AFHostMom February 10, 2012 at 10:58 pm

I don’t think it counts as something that works, but I make it clear to my APs that I will take a look at the phone bill and if I see a string of 20, 30, 50 text messages in the middle of a Wednesday, I’ll wonder what the heck was going on. I don’t mind a little back and forth (think 2 or 3 messages, what I as a 30-something woman would see as normal communication that wouldn’t merit picking up the phone and calling….later. But I know my standards are o-l-d);as with most things, though,we ask for moderation. Except when driving–I agree that one is simply not ok.
But to be honest I haven’t checked the phone bill in months because I haven’t had to. Our one AP who needed constant over-the-shoulder watching just wasn’t a good fit, and the girls who are trustworthy do much better with us. It was interesting when I tried to explain to a former AP that I could see her text usage….and she went pale thinking I could see her text messages.

DCMomof3 February 10, 2012 at 11:11 pm

Back in grandma’s day when we didn’t have cell phones, texting or skype, we got along just fine. Unfortunately, the life of a 20 year old today is not so simple.
Back in the stone ages, 3 years ago, I could monitor the phone bill for textaholics. One au pair had 600 texts in one month. I gently approached her and told her that I was monitoring the bill and that I expect her to be fully devoted to the baby during her work hours. The next month she was down to under 100 texts and kept it that way for the rest of her year and extension year.
These days, things are not so simple. With new apps that work on wireless like “whatsapp” and skype for android, its harder to monitor. But, sneaky HM over here still does. For “whatsapp” you can see when somebody is online. If I check my phone while I am at work and see that my au pair’s status is “online” I send her a message and ask what she is doing. I can also see in the google task bar on my computer if she is “green” on gmail and active on skype. Ditto those. If I see it on when she should be working, she gets an IM from me.
When I am working from home, I will often pop outside if she is in the driveway while the kids are riding bikes or walking the little one in the stroller to see if that droid is in her hand. It often is and the evil eye from me usually results in it being put away.
I think its really tempting for all of us to be checking our phones all the time, but I try not to do it in front of au pair and kids in order to set an example that personal interaction time should not include a wireless device. I’ve also had some conversations about living in the moment and not seeing your au pair year through the lens of facebook on your phone. Mostly these are met with incredulous stares as if there is simply no other way to live, but I will keep on waging my not-so-silent war against the iphone.

NewHM February 11, 2012 at 9:41 am

I think cell phone usage should be very limited during AP’s work hours but I also think it’s quite hard to control it when you are not there to see it. I personally don’t have time to check the bill and monitor the times of phone calls or texts unless the bill was higher than usual.
My question to everyone though is who pays for your AP’s texts and what kind of phone/plan is she getting. We got the basic phone for our first and former (still looking for new one) AP which costs us $10 a month. We paid that. She also came with her own smart phone and used it extensively for checking e-mail and skype. We told her numerous times to stop using it during work hours. She had tendency to carry it around and every time it beeped check it, even when we were home and saw her do it. That was clear addiction and she would argue that it didn’t distract her from her duties. Thank goodness she is gone. ;) After she run the bill for texting we told her that she can choose to have it (250) added for $5 a month or pay for each text. We have an extra phone with internet, e-mail, navigation abilities (not smart phone) that we could offer to au pair but the requirement is extra $10 plan on it. I don’t want to pay that. I figured we can offer it to new AP if she wants to pay the fee. Is it reasonable?

AFHostMom February 11, 2012 at 10:20 am

We don’t offer our au pair a smart phone, intentionally. If she can’t get it through texts or phone calls, I feel like she can pay for it. I also don’t want to put that smart phone temptation out there. I’m not sure I would *want* to give the AP the “better” phone–I rather like being able to check usage as I need to with her good old “dumb phone.” Last AP did ask for an iphone for Christmas (we gave it to her–and it took WEEKS to get out of her what she wanted, so the request wasn’t too much for us. she was awesome). We were very specific that she would be responsible for the data plan if she replaced her cell phone with it, but she chose not to.

Penn AP Mom February 11, 2012 at 12:27 pm

Our AP cell phone is on our plan (the $10 add’l line) and shares our minutes. We don’t text, but added the 250 texts per month for her use to her phone for $5. Any texts over and above that usage is her responsibility.
I want our AP to have a cell phone in case of emergency when she is out with the kids – we have a landline she is free to use in our home, as well as skype on the computer. While a lot of other families give their AP’s cell phones with unlimited phone, text, and data usage – that is not how we live and we think it is important to earn what you have. Neither my husband or I have jobs that include free phones, free cars (and mileage), etc… and we have found that the AP’s that work best with our family understand that these are extra’s – not entitlements. Part of the AP year is growing up and becoming an adult, and part of being an adult is learning to be responsible for yourself.

AFHostMom February 11, 2012 at 3:21 pm

Oh, another thing you might want to consider is how you will communicate with her, and part of this consideration depends on your AP’s language skills. 90% of the time, if I need to contact AP during the day or when one of us is not home, I text rather than call. The other 10% is when something is really urgent or I have to talk to her immediately. But for routine stuff I also like to put things in writing to cut down on misunderstandings.

Au Pair in Italy February 11, 2012 at 10:37 am

I think that before you offer your potential Au Pair a position, you should really get a good grasp of his/her maturity level. I had spent several years working in a corporate environment before deciding that I wanted a job working with children. In that job I was not allowed to text. Of course, I had my phone on me and sometimes I would send the odd text off to friends, but overall I concentrated on the job at hand.

Now that I am an Au Pair, the same applies. I do not text or use the internet when I am with the children unless it is relating to the children. For example, I often recieve texts from other mothers about play dates etc or which park the children’s friends are going to after school. Such information is helpful and does not distract me from my job. Am I texting my boyfriend 100 I love yous during this time? No! LOL!

When interviewing be sure to bring these points up and also include them in the contract. Excessive texting/internet use was grounds for reprimand in my previous job, now that I work with the most precious things on earth (children) I would think that it could be considered an equally, if not more important a rule!

Long Island Host Mom February 11, 2012 at 6:03 pm

My AP has a text plan of 250 texts – if she goes over she pays. I also tell her that those 250 texts also count for times that I text her and I pay for the text plan so that I can text her if I need to – which I do. Sometimes a phone conversation isnt possible or necessary and this is easier and faster. She knows that if she uses all of them up – she is gonna pay so this is out there in the back of her mind. ALSO – she also knows – no calls during work hours unless my child isnt with her – so if she gets a call or a text – make sure this is just something super quick so they can connect later. SO far this has worked well…

WestMom February 12, 2012 at 9:51 pm

I think txting is only a small part of this question. We don’t offer a smartphone either, but we do have an unlimited text plan. I much prefer to communicate with our AP via text, since it is quicker, to the point, and less disruptive. We have had no issues with over-texting as far as I can tell.

But what do you do with APs who go out and buy their own smartphone/iPod touch? Do you let them use your WiFi while at home? Do you actually feel like you can regulate the usage of their own device? Now my DCs are older and don’t need constant supervision, but I do struggle with defining realistic expectations, and not feeling like I have to police another adult’s behavior. And having had 3 au pairs who have purchased smartphones during their stay, I am assuming that this issue will be ongoing. Any thoughts?

Dorsi February 12, 2012 at 11:41 pm

Oh golly. We have just gone over this — current AP bought her own smartphone (instead of the nice flip-phone with unlimited texting and minutes we provided for free.) I really don’t want APs with smart phones but do not feel you can forbid them from buying them. I do think smart phones make constant facebook/email/texting way too easy.

My strategy (with next AP) is to provide a good phone to keep the smart phone incentive low. I think the next one will have a little less access to money (less from parents, lower stipend) and may not be willing to pay a $500 deposit and $200 for phone and $80/month bill.

hOstCDmom February 13, 2012 at 9:25 am

I”m curious – how will your next AP have a lower stipend? do you currently pay more than the required amount? Or have you heard the stipend is going to be lower? or will you do EduCare?

Dorsi February 13, 2012 at 1:58 pm

We were in the extraordinaire program ($250/wk) and are moving back to regular.

Taking a Computer Lunch February 13, 2012 at 8:16 am

My guidelines are explicit, but I don’t forbid usage when the work is done. I differ from most of you, in that having a medically-fragile teenager in diapers means that when my APs are working, they are working! I don’t mind if they read when the work is done, and for several years that hasn’t been a problem (mainly because my APs tend to work for 5-7 hours a day, which leaves them plenty of time to do other things.

For the past four years, all of my APs have either brought or bought their own laptops, and some have used their fancier phones (we provide a flip with limited, but fairly generous, texting), and at least one bought an iPad. Of course they get to use the Wifi in my house. My bill doesn’t change with the number of devices plugged into it.

There are times when my son doesn’t want to play with the AP (although most of my APs have been great at engaging him – even though most of their time and energy is spent with my special-needs child), when they are home together and DH or I have The Camel. In that scenario, I don’t mind my AP reading, texting, or whatnot – she is expected to be the adult in the house in case something happens to him. She does the work I ask of her, and if she has down time so be it. There are moments, when I have down time and the kids aren’t making demands of me, that I, too, turn to electronic devices for a few minutes before my next activity.

If you suspect that your AP is choosing electronic devices over childcare, then it is time to come home unannounced. If you discover her engaged with your kids, then smile and show your appreciation. If you find her texting, Skyping, or searching the Internet while your kids are ignored (not happily playing but ignored) and tasks have gone undone, then it is time to have a chat and give a warning (and prepare to have another spot-check).

AFHostMom February 13, 2012 at 12:06 am

I think it’s fair to regulate the use of your wifi….and I also think it’s fair to not allow an AP to use her personal device on the clock. I wouldn’t dream of texting away for hours at a time at work; that’s just part of having a job. And frankly a fact of life that young people in any job–ap or otherwise–need to learn.
My husband monitors our general wifi usage and can tell when the internet has been used every day. He doesn’t track our AP’s usage because she hasn’t given us a reason not to trust her, but he spot checks (as part of his network security stuff–he’s a big nerd and enjoys it).

Chicago Host Mom February 13, 2012 at 1:09 am

We buy our au pair a decent pay-as-you-go cell phone with good texting/photo etc., but not a full smartphone. We pay $40/month for Virgin Mobile unlimited text/data plus a decent number of minutes (the girls don’t use all the minutes — texting is king). So far, we have not had anyone buy a smartphone, and I have told the girls that I may check usage periodically to be sure they are not abusing the phone and using it to talk/text while working. I ask them not to talk/text/surf while working, keeping calls infrequent and in all cases under 10 minutes. I make/accept calls when I’m at home with the kids, and I try to have the same standard (within reason) with my au pairs. Because my kids are young and active, it would be hard for an au pair to chat very long. In her quest to get an M.R.S. and stay in the US, our last au pair found a boyfriend and texted him every 2 minutes for about 12 hours a day until I checked usage and melted down. I reminded her that I would absolutely be fired from my job if I texted like that during work, and we had no problem after that. Biggest key is to just try to screen for a mature au pair, lay down the rules in advance, and enforce as necessary.

JJ Host Mom February 13, 2012 at 3:13 pm

Related question – for those of you who have max 250 texts, how do you enforce it? The last couple of au pairs have greatly exceeded that on a regular basis. We made a deal that they would pay the extra $10 or whatever to get a higher text limit, but it always seemed petty to ask them for that every month. I finally gave up and put the whole family on an unlimited texting plan, since it worked out cheaper in the end, even though the au pair is really the only person who texts.

Maybe an unlimited texting plan is just part of having a young person in the house, dunno.

Should be working February 13, 2012 at 4:22 pm

JJ, for our plan, the difference between 250 texts/mo and unlimited is $5. It’s worth it, especially because I mention that I “pay more for unlimited texting because I know this is something important to APs/young people” and so far seem to get some good will out of that, plus I don’t have to worry about the billing issues.

What Chicago Host Mom says is making me reconsider whether it is worth it to give the AP unlimited talk as well. Does she not even use it? Good question. It costs only $49 in conjunction with my own unlimited talk plan, but maybe there are cheaper alternatives. I could also save money but maintain good will perhaps by asking the AP whether she prefers unlimited talk or text, and then reduce the less important one.

hOstCDmom February 13, 2012 at 8:42 pm

FWIW — Our 6 APs have never used more than 50-100 minutes of mobile talk time per month, and we DON’T have a landline — so all of APs calls are either on the mobile we provide her (and she could use 1000 minutes per month before it would make a blip in our plan), or skype, or facetime on an iTouch, or IM, or text….I’ve concluded that anyone under 25yrs rarely uses a phone line to actually speak to others. Plus, all of my au pairs, even those essentially proficient/fluent-ish in English, have said that talking on the phone in English is just that much harder that they will always chose to text/IM/Facebook/Skype or Facetime (where they can see the person, making spoken English easier)

Taking a Computer Lunch February 13, 2012 at 9:55 pm

Yes, my AP Skypes her local AP friends with whom she must use English as a common language.

DCMomof3 February 13, 2012 at 6:00 pm

This whole thread is making me angry at my inability to control the smartphone. I work from home so restricting wifi in our house is not an option. As I noted above, I try to monitor the smartphone and laptop usage during the day, but I know that it still goes on. I think next time around I need to be explict about “if you bring your own smartphone you cannot use it during work hours.” Or something like that. This round, I kind of got duped because I agreed to buy my au pair a $10 month phone plan with no data usage thinking that her personal smart phone would be limited to just texts and phone. I didn’t realize how much kids do via wifi on their phones these days. Whenever we enter a new establishment I see her waving the thing around trying to pick up the nearest signal possible. I finally threw a fit over that when we were on a 2 week trip in Florida over Christmas and she was skyping on her phone constantly. Her response? I miss my boyfriend so much more when I am here that I need to be able to talk to him all the time. Ugh. Oh, and by the way, Cultural Care sold her the smart phone with a US sim card in it before she left France. They marketed it as one that would work seamlessly in the US, which a lot of European smart phones are blocked from doing. Thanks, CC.

Should be working February 13, 2012 at 6:04 pm

Ooooh, I have not heard of CC doing this! Wow, what a racket that must be for them.

It should indeed be possible for you to simply make a rule about phone/computer use and have it be honored by your AP. Such rules would include not using electronics during work time, and also not being rude (as a member of the family) by phoning and skyping at restaurants and so forth.

Now if only I could impose these rules on my PARENTS when they visit and babysit. At least my kids are old enough so that my parents know they will tattle if my anyone tries to use the phone while driving. And then, as I tell the kids, “Grandpa will be grounded from driving you around,” so they are extra eager to see how that works.

hOstCDmom February 13, 2012 at 8:45 pm

Get a Cisco E3000 or E4000 router (and there are probably others out there, I have no tie to Cisco, these are simply the ones I use for my networks) – you can very easily restrict Wifi by USER, and by very specific times. (You don’t need to be a techie). You can block any/all devices your AP uses on your Wifi during specific time periods/multiple discrete time periods per day. Also very useful for tween and teen host children… ;)

Should be working February 13, 2012 at 8:51 pm

Now that is the most useful bit of information I have picked up in a LONG time.

hOstCDmom February 13, 2012 at 11:29 pm

Glad to be of help :)

The router has VERY easy install steps (again, you don’t have to be a techie, it is a one button process) and then the software interface that runs the firmware on the router (i.e. the DVD you put into your computer and download the program from that will result in an icon on your desktop) allows you to very easily set parental controls by device — and most will show on the list of devices on your network by the name the user has put on their PC/iTouch/smartphone etc. (like Bob’s computer, or Sarah’s iPad etc.). You select that device and set parental controls. OR this class of routers also allows you to have a guest network (it is basically a virtual network on your main network) that gives any guests in your home – including and AP – Internet access, but you can have entirely separate “rules” for this network. We do not give our APs access to our main network (I use it for work and don’t want anyone/any device on it other than my work computers or our family computers/devices). APs can’t get on our main network because I don’t give them the password to it. Rather, I give them the password to the guest network. It is possible to shut off the guest network and leave the main network on. It is also possible to set parental controls (i.e. block internet access, or specific sites, or domains like .xxx ) for computers and devices that are on the guest network. So you can start with full 24/7 internet access, then if things aren’t working block it for AP’s devices during work hours, and then if things go REALLY pear shaped, you can turn off the guest network but keep your main network on. I’ve actually only once had issues that caused me to implement Internet access restrictions for an AP (and that relationship was already well on its way to rematch, which happened a month or so later) but sorting this all out has been useful as I contemplate having multiple tweens and teens in my house over the upcoming years. :)

MommyMia February 14, 2012 at 4:16 pm

Thank you SO much for this very useful info. that will make life easier as our home adds iPads, etc. and we need to limit our tween’s usage. Getting enough sleep at night is becoming very difficult for her unless her access to screens is taken away, and this solution seems perfect for us!

Taking a Computer Lunch February 14, 2012 at 8:16 am

I think this conversation has been diverted from the original intent – texting & driving – which is dangerous, and illegal in many communities and states. If it is illegal in your community or state, then put it in your handbook that getting caught may result in going home before the end of her year, and will definitely result in rematch with you. It will make them think twice. I hand my cell to my son or my AP if they are in the car with me and someone calls – sets a good example of how I want them to behave in a similar situation.

As for the fear that your AP is using electronics at home – that is a different issue. There is a difference between use and abuse. If you fear that your children are being neglected in favor of electronics AND/OR your AP appears to be incapable of getting a reasonable amount of housework done, then it is time to make an unannounced appearance at naptime, playtime, etc. to see if your AP is parked in front of an electronic device. If your children love your AP and are well-adjusted and the housework is getting done, then my guess is that use is reasonable and you need not obsess about what might or might not be happening.

If your children are old enough to talk, as them before bedtime, what they liked best that day, and what their favorite activity was with the AP.

Dudette February 14, 2012 at 3:18 pm

Here, for once (Though I read this blog quite a lot), I must disagree with your responses. I am an au pair in America, my host parents let me use a cell phone and pay for “normal” cell phone use, and haven’t given me any restrictions on when I can use it. And it all comes down to two major things, I believe:

1. My generation has greatly different cell phone habits, etiquette and skills than yours. What is considered rude to you, like texting when talking to someone, or eating with the family, is not necessarily rude to us. However, this doesn’t mean that you cannot point out that you take offence, and ask us not to text at those times. The code of conduct is of course set by you, and au pairs should follow, however, please remember that we are not intentionally rude, we are simply following another etiquette.

As skills and habits go, texting is far beyond second nature to us. I have on occasion send text messages blind with the phone still in my pocket, and it takes basically no brain power to neither compose nor send a message off, as you would suspect, if you really did see what we write to each other. Me sending a text message off while watching over my two older host kids, both of school age, on a slow evening, or while I’m waiting for the food in the microwave, or when in the bathroom (Oh yes, you’d be amazed how many text messages teens can push into one “sitting”) does not impede my ability to be a safe child-care provider. However, here comes the second major thing:

2. If your au pair’s judgement is already so bad that she would text in the car, or while she’s giving a baby a bath, or while the host kid is riding their bike closer and closer to the road, then cell phone restrictions are not your worst problem. If your au pair can handle it, then I see nothing wrong with letting us text during the day. It is an important part of our lives and our days to be in contact with someone else, or to tell someone what is going on at the moment. I would implore you to not see texting as a black and white issue (A few of your responses feel down-right draconian to a responsible member of the Texting generation), but to trust a good au pair (Which I hope you all have) to know, perhaps after a few guidelines, when it is a stupid idea to text, and when it’s perfectly fine.

AFHostMom February 27, 2012 at 12:40 pm

Something you should learn with regard to texting–it IS rude, whether you consider it so or not, to “text when talking to someone, or eating with the family,” and so on. That’s part of normal societal behavior–in every society with which I’m familiar, at least (and I’m not familiar with all, but I have had some exposure to the world).
The fact that something doesn’t take a lot of brain power doesn’t make it not rude. It’s very easy for me to chew with my mouth open or belch loudly in public, but that doesn’t mean I do it. I also want someone who is spending hours a day with my kids to model good behavior–and texting while you’re supposed to be, as my handbook says, “ever present and engaged,” is not that behavior.

Happy Au Pair February 27, 2012 at 12:18 pm

I don’t text a lot when I’m working but it’s not that I don’t do it at all… If I text my friends it’s usually just about: “Let’s meet tonight at 8 at Starbucks” -“okay, I’ll ask XY if she wants to come” -“Great, see you tonight”… But I know my HM is fine with that. Most of the time I’m texting her anyway… Tell her how the kids are doing, the funny things they said and did, send her pictures of the kids,… just so she knows what’s going on because she feels that she misses a lot of the kids’ lives. But I do not text when the kids really need all of my attention (playing outside on the driveway, sitting on the tub, throwing a tantrum,…)

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