App ways to parent

Tech-savvy parents are turning to apps to monitor their kids' well-being and use of gadgets as well as for parenting advice

Some tech-savvy parents are using and even customising mobile applications to aid them in achieving their parenting goals.

The apps for mobiles and gadgets come in diverse forms, including breastfeeding trackers, apps that remind parents about children's medical appointments, apps that offer parenting hacks, baby-monitor apps, location-trackers, games and activities, as well as many others.

For the past five years, Mr Ronald Tam and his wife Vanessa Tan have been logging information daily relating to their two sons' food intake, vaccination and medical records, schedules, heights and weights as well as toilet habits.

After firstborn Peter, now five, arrived, they wanted to have a comprehensive, day-to-day record so they knew their child was being well fed, hydrated and cared for while they were both at work.

Their domestic helper helped with the data collection as well.

This became a habit that has continued with their second son, Paul, who is two.

Mr Ronald Tam, who works in the technology industry, used the Launch Center Pro app to customise an ecosystem linking four apps to track his sons' food intake, vaccination and medical records, schedules, heights and weights as well as toilet habits.
Four-year-old Charlotte Yeo's (above) screen time is monitored by her mother, Ms How Wen Ya, through a parental management app called plano. PHOTO: COURTESY OF HOW WEN YA

Mr Tam, 40, works in sales operations in the technology industry and Ms Tan, 39, who is expecting their third child, works in the legal sector.

Using an app called Launch Center Pro, which allows the user to connect with other apps to perform a series of actions, Mr Tam customised an ecosystem that links four apps that help organise information.

His system allows, for instance, their domestic helper to log details of every meal the kids eat ("chicken with breadcrumbs, rice, blended pea soup, steamed broccoli, carrots and French beans") on an iPad.

This data is sent to the couple's e-mail and streamlined on Google Sheets, which can call up any keywords or details they wish.

"It's the most efficient way of doing it," says Mr Tam.

Using apps on their smartphones and gadgets in this way even helped their paediatrician diagnose Peter's food intolerances after the child had a bout of food poisoning and bloatedness late last year.

"Peter developed an allergy to dairy and soy. We were able to show the doctor what he had eaten as all his meals had been logged for five years. The paediatrician could tell what we had to eliminate from his diet," says Mr Tam.

Apps can also help busy parents monitor their children's health and lifestyle to their satisfaction, as in the case of Ms How Wen Ya, 33.

The bank vice-president uses a parental management app, plano, to keep track of her children's gadget use, including the frequency and duration of screen time. It even monitors the distance at which the child looks at the device to minimise stress on the eyes.

So she can tell if her eldest daughter Charlotte Yeo, four, who has sensitive eyes, is leaning too near the iPad.

She has also installed an app on her phone linked to CCTV cameras in her home so she can tell her daughter, via a voice function, to step back if she is too close to the screen.

Ms How and her 40-year-old husband, who works in the financial industry, have three tablets at home. She installed plano a month ago because her three children, aged four, two and 11 months, were spending a lot of time on the devices.

The couple can remotely control or turn off the tablet or block unsuitable programmes if the kids are using the tablets for too long or viewing violent cartoons online, says Ms How.

In contrast to this control from afar, their attempts to switch off the iPad in real life usually make the kids flustered.

 

When it comes to using parenting apps, there is a fine balance between being in control as a parent and being too controlling, especially for older children and teens.

"Some parents use parental-control apps to monitor and restrict content or time spent by their children on their devices. This might result in conflict, especially if the rules of usage (of the device) were not clearly communicated," says Mr Jeff Cheong, a member of the Families For Life Council, which promotes resilient families.

"If we enforce (rules on using) the app on our children when they are much older, it will come across as invasive and a way of policing."

Neither should parents be too dependent on such technology at the expense of spending time together as a family, he adds.

Mr Chong Ee Jay, a family life expert with Touch Family Services, says parents need to be discerning.

"Always spend time trying out the app, especially games or videos you plan to show your children, before allowing them to use it or installing it on their devices," he says.

"Is the so-called expert advice on the app from credible, reliable and/or medically sound sources, or just based on personal experiences and hearsay?

"Take time to check out ratings and reviews other users have given the app as a second opinion on its trustworthiness, ease of use and accuracy of information."

Stay-at-home mother Chan Lup Wai, 39, feels that the parenting apps she used were more helpful when her two children, aged eight and five, were younger.

About four years ago, she used an app that allowed parents to network and share parenting advice, such as how to deal with tantrums.

"As a first-time mum who had stopped working, I needed to connect with people of the same mindset. Suddenly having so much time with your kids, you feel lost at first about what to do with them," says Ms Chan, who also has a parenting blog.

She is now too busy to use such apps and her children are old enough to voice their needs, she adds.

For Ms Chloe Tan, whose children are aged one and four, using parenting apps during pregnancy and in the early years helped her better prepare for parenting.

Apps such as What To Expect, named after the reference book series that takes parents from pregnancy to toddlerhood, helped Ms Tan, a sales manager in her 30s, eat healthy foods during her two pregnancies.

She was also able to track and anticipate growth spurts for her younger child, Natalie Xie, by making an effort to pump more breastmilk to accommodate the child's increasing demand when feeding her at around two months old.

When her son Nathan, now four, was younger, he had a cough that lasted a few months. Googling his symptoms suggested alarming possibilities such as whooping cough or pneumonia.

But when Ms Tan, who is married to a 30-year-old army officer, consulted her informational app, she found that these were unlikely and her paediatrician concurred.

She says such informational apps help her "not to panic" during challenging periods of parenting.


Four useful apps

1 GLOW BABY

The app is helpful for parents tracking a newborn's feeding, diaper-changing and sleep schedule. It comes with growth milestones and expert advice.

2 BABYSPARKS

This provides parents of children aged up to 24 months with suggested activities that aid a baby's development.

3 BEST OF PARENTING

The app offers advice, opinions and articles by experts to help parents tackle parenting challenges. It is suitable for those with children of a wide range of ages, such as toddlers to teenagers.

4 COZI FAMILY ORGANIZER

A shared calendar that helps family members better manage everyday life by keeping track of one another's schedules as well as important tasks and dates.

• Information provided by Mr Chong Ee Jay, a family life expert with Touch Family Services.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on December 10, 2017, with the headline 'App ways to parent'. Print Edition | Subscribe