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posted: 3/26/2012 6:04 AM

Apps let parents keep tabs on kids

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By Aimee Tjader
Minneapolis Star Tribune

Returning to work after having a baby used to be a new parent's first lesson in letting go. Not anymore.

New baby-tracking websites and phone applications are the latest tools for parents to keep tabs on their baby's every waking and sleeping moment -- even while they're at day care.

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"I can't imagine how my return to work would've gone without it," Stephanie Malone said of recently enrolling her 5-month-old son Max at Kinderberry Hill in Roseville, Minn. The child-care center is using a web and cellphone application to share information with parents in real time. Through "Baby Connect," Malone receives alerts to her Android phone, including photos and videos every time little Max does something short of blinking his eyes.

"I get an update every time they change his diaper ... I can see if he's drinking his bottles and how long he naps ... as a first-time mom, that's peace of mind," Malone said. "And the pictures they send are such a day-brightener. It helps bridge the gap of being at work and having that time with him personally."

While it may seem distracting for your phone to "ding" every time your child makes a new friend or eats a cracker, the parents using the technology say otherwise.

Conrad and Kristi Wasmer of Minneapolis were using Baby Connect at home well before their 19-month-old daughter went to day care. The program came in handy to track her feeding and sleeping schedules as a newborn. The couple still use it to log medications, growth charts and milestones, and tailor the notifications function of the application so they aren't getting updates from the child-care center every hour.

While communication about what a child is doing at day care reduces fear and brings peace of mind, some parenting experts are divided over the use of such technologies, with some arguing that it's helpful for parents to feel connected while others say they "can be a trap" and caution against getting into a long-term pattern of continually monitoring their child's every move.

"It could lead to some micromanaging of the child-care center, which is called hyper-parenting, a phenomenon where parents want to coach the coach on how to play their child, and they want to intervene for them about their college grades and they increasingly want to negotiate the benefits when they get their first job after college," said Bill Doherty, a professor of family social science at the University of Minnesota. "If a parent wants to use this app, my suggestion is to do it early on, then wean yourself off after a number of days or weeks ... once you feel confident your child is being well taken care of."

According to Kathryn "Jo" Behm of the Twin Cities-based St. Catherine University, for most parents, the more information, the better. After years of teaching a class where students are asked to interview parents who use child care and hearing stories of neglect and abuse, Behm isn't surprised that parents are going to the lengths they are to track their kids.

"At least it gives parents some security to know how their child is doing and how that child is being treated and handled," said Behm, an adjunct professor in the university's Family, Consumer and Nutritional Science Department.

Day-care providers using such programs as Baby Connect say this paperless version of charting a child's day as it happens is actually more efficient and comprehensive than sitting down at the end of the day to complete a written report. They say the application can be operated with one hand on the phone so they can log items while holding a child. Plus, there are always at least two child-care providers to every group of kids so that one can use the app while the other keeps an eye on the children.

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