Miss Conduct

Advice: Our baby sitters watch their phones, not our kids

They spend so much time on their screens it is creating safety issues.

This column is from this year’s Women & Power issue. Visit on Friday morning when we’ll reveal the Commonwealth Institute’s list of the Top 100 Women-Led Businesses in Massachusetts.

We have some longstanding baby sitters whom we respect and appreciate, but my children report that the girls are addicted to their phones — including a lifeguard who kept typing away and missed a whole “situation.” How do I talk about this with them? It feels delicate but important. In the water or on land, the kids need and deserve the attention of whoever is with them. I feel more comfortable saying this to a new sitter.

M.S. / Boston

Someone who works for you is underperforming in a way that endangers your children. What here is difficult or ambiguous for you? I genuinely don’t understand, and advise you to explore your feeling that confronting this behavior is somehow disrespectful or unkind.

Let each of the sitters know what behaviors are unacceptable, and why, and what you expect going forward. Ask for and accept an apology, and give them exactly one second chance. Write out a script in advance if that will help — maybe get a fellow parent to help with exact wording.


The girls may well be embarrassed, defensive, and argumentative, and it may bring up adolescent memories that put you into an agony of vicarious humiliation, and that doesn’t matter. Your children’s safety is on the line. The fact that you didn’t have this conversation up front doesn’t mean you’re unjustly changing the rules: You’re making implicit standards explicit, because you learned you had to.

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Do this for the girls’ sake as well. Informal odd jobs are one of the few areas in our unforgiving meritocracy where teens can underperform, get called out and feel the sting of that, and pick themselves up and improve without resume-altering implications.

Also, it’s hard to grow up to be a leader when you’ve never seen leadership modeled. So show them what a woman in power looks like: how a boss disciplines a subordinate; how a parent advocates for her child; how a mentor gives feedback to a younger person. How else will they know how to do it when it’s their turn?

You got this.

Need advice? Submit questions for Miss Conduct here.

Miss Conduct is Robin Abrahams, a writer with a PhD in psychology.