Covid-19 makes traditional babysitting impossible. Parents can’t allow strangers into their homes or near their kids for risk of contagion. Moreover, there’s nowhere to escape to. Date nights can’t happen in the absence of restaurants, movie theaters, bars, restaurants and social gatherings.
But parents need babysitters more than ever. Quarantine keeps families cooped up together around the clock. Parents working from home have to juggle work and housekeeping responsibilities while helping kids with remote schoolwork. It’s a stressful and demanding time for parents. They need a break more than ever. That’s where virtual babysitting comes in.
What is Virtual Babysitting?
While traditional in-person babysitting isn’t an option, modern connectivity tools allow babysitters to care for children remotely. A handful of companies are offering virtual babysitting. While virtual babysitters can’t do everything an in-person babysitter can, they may be able to offer relief, stressed and stir-crazy families in quarantine need.
Elizabeth Harz, CEO of babysitter-matching service Sittercity says virtual babysitting offers a valuable service to parents and kids alike. Adults get a welcome break from round the clock childcare while kids can interact with a new friendly face during isolation.
“Small kids miss other adults in their lives,” Harz says. “They’re super happy that mom and dad are home a lot, but they also miss their teachers. They miss their coaches. They miss their dance teachers. They miss their babysitters or their daycare teachers and introducing someone new and having that person show up with some games and ideas.”
Interactivity is key to virtual babysitting. While virtual babysitting relies on the same screens kids use to marathon Ryan’s World and Paw Patrol videos, it involves much more active thinking from children than typical screen time. Kids don’t just sit still and watch. They engage in a variety of back and forth activities with the friendly face on their screen.
What Happens During Zoom Babysitting or Virtual Babysitting?
Virtual babysitting comes in various shapes and sizes. But it’s more than just an individual staring at your child and talking to them for an hour.
“There are more traditional babysitting experiences where the kids are playing games or doing dance parties with the babysitter,” Harz says. “They are baking with them. There’s a wide range. It depends on the age and interests of the kids, but there are lots of things that babysitters can do with children remotely.”
Virtual babysitting providers offer a variety of sessions catering to different ages and interests. Another virtual babysitting company is Veebee. One of their sitters brings children on virtual tours of her family farm to visit with her cows, chicken, bunnies, and dogs while another sitter on the site uses puppets and draws on bilingual skills for educational entertainment.
What Parents Can Do to Set Up a Zoom Babysitter or Virtual Babysitter
Parents and sitters need to do more set-up for virtual babysitting sessions than in-person sitting. Parents have to do some light I.T. work. “The babysitter uses your preferred video conference technology,” says VeeBee co-founder Elizabeth Picciotta. That usually translates to Zoom and FaceTime. The parents help the kid get logged into it and then the babysitter just takes over from there.
Of course, if parents have specific requests, they can communicate those with the service. “We tell the parents that if they want the babysitter doing something specific, like working on reading or homework, let them know they’re happy to comply,” says Picciotta.
Sitters can help children with homework, play games, or lead them in arts and crafts, dances or activities like cooking. “We encourage the babysitter even more so than in-person sitting to really think about the time and have a plan for it,” Harz says.
Sitters need to know the kids’ interests as well as what materials are available for the session. After all, creative kids may love finger painting but without finger paints or a safe place to make a mess it’s not happening. Scavenger hunts are popular virtual babysitting activities for younger kids but sitters need to know what’s in the house for the game to work. Cooking lessons — which, naturally, won’t involve knives, a stove, an oven, or any other equipment requiring in-person adult supervision — depend on the availability of ingredients.
And, of course, vetting is a good practice. Parents should conduct virtual interviews to suss out candidates and supervise a session or two to ensure everything is working out okay.
What Kinds of Zoom Sitters Are Available?
As with standard babysitters, there are many different people who work in the field. Some are child care professionals and teachers; others are artists or students who are looking for extra work.
The latter is particularly popular these days. For instance, Virtual Babysitter Club has sitters from New York City’s community of professional entertainers who draw on their talents and showbiz razzle dazzle to keep kids engrossed in group and one-on-one virtual babysitting sessions. They often focus on activities like dance, game shows and art.
“Performers have this charisma, this confidence, and the skill to captivate their attention, to make it completely interactive and then to showcase their talents, which oftentimes include amazing voices or dance moves or, puppetry and stuff like that,” Virtual Baby Sitters Club co-founder and CEO Kyle Reilly says. “We feel like they are absolutely perfect for it.”
Reilly also adds that virtual babysitting is a rare opportunity for theater and arts professionals to earn money without breaking quarantine.
“We thought of the performers who were all going to be out of work indefinitely from their day jobs with Broadway closed,” Reilly says. “And most of their side jobs were in the service industry or other industries that are shut down right now.”
How Long do Zoom Babysitting Sessions Last?
Given the challenges of keeping a child’s attention through a screen, virtual babysitting sessions generally last only an hour or two — too short for a leisurely date night but enough to help parents spend an hour focusing on work or their own well-being.
“I’ve had a couple of moms who’ve said this is my self-care hour,” Picciotta says. “It’s a time for them to do a yoga video or something just to let them decompress for a little bit because they’re exhausted right now.”
How Much Do Zoom Babysitters Cost?
Now, in terms of cost, Virtual babysitting prices vary. VeeBee and Virtual Babysitters Club lists prices for individual sitters while Sittercity lets parents pick a price range but an explainer page for paying virtual sitters notes that the average cost of a sitter is $16.50 per hour.
“They are engaging with your children,” Harz says. ”They are preparing for that. We think that parents should honor the market rate.”
Picciotta, a clinical psychologist, isn’t sure what VeeBee will look like when COVID-19 is over. But she’s happy for the help it’s able to provide now. “We’re trying to provide a service to frazzled parents,” she says, “and also people who want to earn some money right now in this really scary economic climate.” .