Should You Use a Nanny Cam? Here's What You Need to Know

Even if you've interviewed a new babysitter several times, contacted all of her references and done a background check -- leaving your child alone with a virtual stranger can feel like an impossible leap of faith. While most parents do their best to find a caregiver that they feel they can trust and then take a deep breath when they walk out the door, some want the additional level of security of a "nanny cam," a camera that films your sitter at home.

But is it a good idea to use technology to keep an eagle eye on your caregiver? Or can it create added anxiety for both of you? "It’s important to have both faith and healthy caution whenever you hire someone to take care of your children," says Lisa Spiegel, co-director of Soho Parenting, a New York City-based group that offers family classes and counseling. And for some parents, the reassurance that a nanny cam can offer is the right choice, she says.

Using one was the right choice for Adam, a dad blogger. "We've all seen the news and I wanted that peace of mind," he says. Although he never reviewed the recordings taken while the sitter watched his two-year-old, he says he felt safer knowing he had the option to check in.

Other parents argue that a camera isn't necessary. "We don't use a nanny cam," says one member of the iVillage community. "You just have to trust the person. If you don't have that feeling, then I wouldn't leave my kids with her. I would hate to be recorded every moment at my job.”

As with all parenting decisions, you need to do what's right for you. If you decide to use a nanny cam, follow these guidelines to protect yourself, your child and your relationship with your sitter.

Consider telling your caregiver.
Some parents use a webcam to check in periodically throughout the day, and in those cases, it makes sense to be up front with the nanny from the start, says Vicki Panaccione, child psychologist, parent coach, founder of The Better Parenting Institute. "Honesty is important in any relationship. This way, the camera serves as an extra layer of protection," she explains. If you’re installing a nanny cam because of a gut feeling that something isn’t quite right, however, there's no need to share that information. In Spiegel’s experience, she says most people don’t start out having a nanny cam; it’s usually because they suspect something is off. "Those gut worries are important to pay attention to," she says. As far as the law goes, it's legal to record a video without sound of someone in your own home; state laws vary on the use of audio, however.

Do your research.
The size, scope, and technology of nanny cams vary greatly. You can get everything from a stuffed animal that connects to your PC for under $20 to a high tech wireless Internet security camera that's about $300 or top of the line motion-activated digital video security system for $500. It all depends on your needs.

Decide how frequently you'll check in.
Resist the urge to monitor every moment of your child's day, says Spiegel. "Use it when you’re concerned about something or when you'd just like to check in," she says. Spending too much time observing may contribute to your anxiety level.

Be diplomatic.
If you see something you didn’t like on the nanny cam that wasn’t egregious (like her keeping the TV on too much), tell your nanny you’d like to go over the rules again, but try not to be overly critical, says Spiegel. For more serious offenses, however, you’ll likely have to let the nanny go, and if necessary, alert her agency and  authorities.

Learn to trust your sitter.
The best way to ease your concerns is to make sure you feel as comfortable with the nanny as possible: Check references, do a background check, and take the time to conduct a thorough interview at the start, says Panaccione. And if you want to continue to check up on your sitter without using a hidden camera, try a few unexpected drops-ins, call the house using a video call program like Apple’s FaceTime or Skype, or ask a trusted mom friend at the playground to report back. "The bottom line," says Spiegel, "is that trust is something that is earned on both sides." 

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