Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Sneak-A-Peek at your unborn child

Every day my husband and I talk about what our child could potentially look like. Sometimes it starts because we see a child on the street that looks like one of us, or sometimes we pick a quality of the other that we hope our child gets - I hope ours gets my husbands eyes and legs!

Now, parents can get a sneak peek at what their child might look like. Aha! Baby, the pregnancy search engine, just launched "Sneak-a-Peek" a new photo morphing technology that enables parents to upload photos of mom and dad and have a glimpse of what their child could look like.

Although "Sneak-a-Peek" only reveals the face of the baby and won't predict whether or not my little girl will get her dad's legs, it is a fun technology for the ever-curious parents-to-be. The only downfall is that, unless your like the hard-core tourists and have countless pictures of yourself standing alone with a blank expression on your face in front of attractions - you'll have to take a non-smiling, hair out of face, mug shot of both parents to be able to properly use the system. I was hoping to surprise my husband with the photo but had to reveal my plan and ask him to get in the line-up to get a picture that would work.

If you're curious, take a peek - but don't let it scare you!

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Itzbeen how long?

It's getting down to the final weeks before our baby arrives and friends and family have started showering us with tons of amazing baby gear. It is so exciting and also a reality check that in 6 weeks the baby will be here and we'll be changing diapers, feeding and checking on baby at all hours of the day - and night!

I recently received a small device called the Itzbeen which is designed to help new, sleep-deprived parents remember baby care details. With the push of a button parents can track the time since the last feeding, last diaper change or last nap. There is also an additional tracking button which can be used to track time between medications, exercise or any activity of your choice. Another great feature of the Itzbeen is the breastfeeding reminder, which helps nursing mothers to remember which side their child last nursed from. Say good bye to the rubber band around the wrist!

As you can see in the above picture, the Itzbeen is about the size of an old-school cell phone and has a clip for parents to secure it to their clothing, the crib or another convenient location. From reviews I've read, parents seem to love this device. "This product is a must for mommy brain!" said one. "I'm not sure what my 'husband' and I would do with out this" said another.

If you're having trouble remembering the basics or have a baby on the way, check out the Itzbeen. It can be purchased at most baby stores for $25.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Driving out of control

I just drove down the FDR drive in NYC to get my car fixed and was shocked at how many horrible drivers were on the road. From the livery cars driving between 2 lanes, to the NASCAR wannabes speeding 100 miles per hour, to the guy next to me clearly texting or reading on his cell phone while driving - I was amazed at how dangerous our roads have become. The baby kicked at that moment making me painfully aware of the fact that she would one day be asking me for the keys to the car and I would reluctantly agree before reciting every driving caution in the book. I can just hear myself now.. "Don't go over 50 miles per hour", "Keep your seat belt on all times," "Never use your cell phone in the car," "Keep the volume down on the radio"!! Gosh, I am already annoying myself.

Well, it turns out that Ford must have a few worried parents on their development team. According to an Associated Press article from October, in 2010 Ford will be introducing the "MyKey" to give parents some peace of mind when their teen hits the road. MyKey enables parents to limit the maximum speed of the car to 80 mph, limit the audio system's volume, to sound continuous alerts if the driver doesn't wear a seat belt, and even to sound a chime if the teen exceeds 45, 55 or 65 mph.

A study conducted by Harris Interactive Survey for Ford indicates that the MyKey is appealing to 75 percent of parents of teen drivers because of the speed-limiting feature, 72 percent like the more insistent safety-belt reminder, and 63 percent like the audio limit feature.

The MyKey would certainly make me feel a bit more comfortable turning over the keys to my kids and the survey showed that about 50 percent of parents also said they would allow their children to use the family vehicle more often if it were equipped with the new technology.

Good news for parents and good news for teens, this is surely a great technology for parents to consider. The MyKey will debut as a standard feature on the 2010 Ford Focus and will quickly be offered on many other Ford, Lincoln and Mercury models.

Monday, March 23, 2009

iWonder what kids are doing on their iphones

Did you ever wonder what your children are looking at on their mobile internet? Now you can know for sure. iWonder Surf is a new application available for iPhone and iTouch devices. This first of it's kind parental control allows you to block the sites your child can visit, disable the device with the touch of a button and see exactly where your child is surfing from any computer.

In a recent press release, Michael Pike, Chief Software Architect of Life Record Inc., the developer of iWonder Surf, said that "filtering is not enough in the internet of today, parents need a way to see what their children are thinking about and who they are talking with." iWonder enables parents to get insight into their child's thinking by providing real time reports of what a child is searching for, sites they are visiting and what they are doing there.

The application is available for download for a one time fee of $15 at iTunes.. User reviews so far are overall positive with some complaints about dissatisfaction with the browsers limited functionality. Many parents reported discovering that their children are browsing the web during class instead of paying attention and one is now fighting with her daughter because she saw so much browsing she decided to disable the internet while she is in school. Although intended as a parental control, one women installed it on her boyfriends phone disguised as a "faster browser" and logged in the next day to read his private messages on MySpace in which he was setting up dates with other women!

While I don't encourage use of the application to spy on other adults, I can see how it could be a valuable tool for parents that are concerned about the well-being of their child. If truancy, drug abuse, depression, violence or other harmful behavior is suspected, iWonder could help.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Si, necesito consejo de la tecnologĂ­a!

You're not alone. Parents from all walks of life and all cultural backgrounds are looking for help navigating technology and parenting. To meet the demand of the Spanish market, AOL Latino recently launched Technopadres.com, a site offering Hispanic parents advice about technology so they can understand the ever-changing world that their children are growing up in.

Technopadres features content from several bloggers and covers topics ranging from understanding You Tube to talking to kids about Sexting and Cyber bullying to implementing parental controls to monitor kids online activity.

Technopadres is published in Spanish and powered by The Online Mom, where similar content can be found in English.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

It's all fun and games...

Video games are becoming increasingly more accepted by parents as many recognize that it is an opportunity to bond with and educate their child. According to Microsoft's 2009 "Play Smart Play Safe" study, more than half of parents polled feel video games bring their families together and three quarters of parents think video games can be educational. Although some have their benefits, not all games are created equal and parents still need to carefully monitor which games their children are playing to ensure their safety when they are playing alone.

I recently interviewed Tracy Mooney, McAfee's Chief Cyber Security Mom, to get her advice on gaming and she warns "Parents need to do their homework about this." Tracy, the mother of 3, encourages open communication with children about the games they are playing but also mentions that basic consumer skills are the best bet. "Honestly, the best things parents can do is read the box or read information on the website," she said. "Many parents skip this step and it is the simplest way to find out if a game has something they don't want their kids to view."

The Entertainment Software Rating Board (ESRB) is an excellent resource for parents. The ESRB is a non-profit organization dedicated to empowering parents with the ability to make informed decisions about the computer and video games they choose for their families through the assignment of age and content ratings. Parents can find ESRB ratings on each box ranging from Early Childhood to Teen to Adults Only. Or, with a simple visit to www.esrb.org parents can type in the name of a game and see the maturity level and find out if a game includes violence or nudity.

Tracy also recommends asking older children for the inside scoop on games. "My oldest son is willing to tell me exactly why the game is or is not appropriate, such as violent, sexual themes, etc. I also always let them talk about games in general to keep the conversation going even when they are not asking for a new game."

As we can see with Microsofts Play Smart, Play Safe study, the gaming companies are also concerned with the safety of children. Tracy suggests checking if your gaming console has tools to help with your efforts. "Many of the gaming consoles have parental controls and time limits built in to the systems," she advises. For instance, Microsofts Xbox and Xbox 360 have family settings which allows parents to decide if their child can connect to the "live" online component and, if so, the option to limit what they download and/or approve who can communicate with their child.

Tracy said that before buying a game for her children she always ask whether they they have the ability to chat with others. "If they do, it is not necessarily banned," she said. "I just make sure they can “stop, block and tell” - stop the chat if something happens, block the user from contacting them, and tell a parent or other adult what has happened."

There are many resources available to help parents navigate the gaming industry. Overall, being educated on the games your child is playing and maintaining open communication makes it fun for the whole family.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

The Hub

In February, Verizon introduced the Hub phone system, which connects to any broadband line to provide home phone service using the Internet. Designed to reinvent the home phone system, the Hub offers owners many features including the ability to sync with hand held calendars and contacts, pull up traffic and weather reports, locate family members via GPS, send text messages to multiple phones at once, send driving directions to a wireless phone and even log in to the phone remotely to use the functionality or update information from the office or another location. "Verizon Wireless is updating the tools busy families can use to manage their lives,” said Mike Lanman, vice president and chief marketing officer at Verizon Wireless. Here's a quick look at the device and its features.

Launched as an important piece of technology for "busy families", a March 9th Ad Age Article, says that Verizon's initial market research indicated that the primary Hub purchaser would be a "lifestyle manager," and most often, that person would be female. With this information in hand, Verizon is now honing in on women - specifically mothers - as the key target audience for the device.

Verizon recently tapped the iVillage community to help identify key features of the device that would appeal to women. "Overall, Verizon learned from iVillage that it shouldn't play up the bells and whistles of the product but instead emphasize what it ultimately does: connect families."

I agree with this statement, as the bells and whistles of the device seem to be very similar to what a laptop offers. However, despite how useful The Hub can be in connecting families, I think it was launched a bit too late to become the next must-have technology for this audience. Moms are already accustomed to using various technologies such as PCs, cell phones, social networks and other online tools to manage their schedules and connect their families. Furthermore, an increasing number of Moms are on-the-go at all times and spend little time at home like Mothers of the past. Priced at $200 with a $35 monthly charge, I predict that it will be challenging for Verizon to persuade women that they need the Hub in addition to their existing technology.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Instant Alerts About School Emergencies and Absences

When I was a kid and something happened at school - snow day, late buses etc - the good old fashioned phone chain was initiated to inform parents. If your last name started with Z (like my child's will), you could be the last to know and perhaps trek through the snow to find the school doors locked. Today, there is a new technology available that enables school districts to notify thousands of parents about emergency situations, instantly.

Honeywell Instant Alert For Schools is a web based system that has been implemented by thousands of schools around the country to notify parents of emergency situations, truancy (yup, you can know right away if your teen skips), school updates, snow days and more. The Lake Superior School District is getting ready to utilize the system this evening to notify parents that schools are closed again due to the storm expected to hit later today.

The best part of the Honeywell tool is that, as a parent, you can register online to receive notifications via your technology of choice - a phone call, e-mail and/or text message - to be sure that you receive the notification in real time and don't arrive home later to a frantic message from a fellow parent on your answering machine.

With so many media stories about emergencies in our schools, this technology can give parents a little peace of mind. If your child's school has this system in place, sign up today. If not, encourage the school to consider implementing it.

Monday, March 9, 2009

Support 2.0

I woke up this morning and turned on the Today Show to find this segment on Digital Moms.

The segment features folks from CafeMom discussing some of the findings from the survey I covered in an earlier post as well as Heather Armstrong, the popular blogger dooce.com and author of the new book It Sucked and Then I Cried. Heather started her website/blog in 2001 and believes that blogging saved her life. As she battled with postpartum depression in 2004 fans of her blog supported her by listening to her struggles, sharing advice and assuring her that she was not alone. Similarly, when Chastity Cortio's daughter was diagnosed with infant asthma, Chastity used forums on CafeMom to get support from other parents caring for a child with the illness.

In a time when every minute of every day is filled, online communities can be an excellent resource for parents dealing with personal health issues or caring for a sick child however, they can also be dangerous if not used properly.

In an article penned for the Seattle Post Intelligencer, Dr. Robert Nohle warns that getting medical advice online can be a gamble. "There is no easy way to know that the information you are getting is accurate -- or evidence-based for that matter," he said. Self-diagnosis based on others experiences can lead to unnecessary stress or a delay in needed treatment.

I was recently diagnosed with Lyme Disease and spent days consumed with reading widely varying opinions and stories on how it could impact my unborn child. I was scared sick and it took three infectious disease specialists to reassure me that treatment would eliminate any potential harm to my child. I was also informed that I am not the only parent that has fallen victim to unneeded stress as a result of "Cyberchondria" and was warned to take everything I read online with a grain of salt.

Millions of parents are using online support groups but it is imperative that we remember they are simply for support and should never replace proper medical attention. For all you cyberchondriacs, be sure to follow Dr. Nohle's tips to ensure the safety of you and your family.

# Bring in the information you have found online to your pediatrician so he or she can see the source.

# Stick with quality Web sites; check your health insurer or provider's Web site, or wrongdiagnosis.com, or look for sites ending in .gov or .org.

# Ask you pediatrician's office for recommendations.

# Looking for an online support group? Check with a related national association, such as jdrg.org, for juvenile diabetes support.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Nadya Suleman's Mommy Blog

Nadya Suleman has taken Mommy blogging to a whole new level. Not only has she signed an exclusive deal with RadarOnline.com to write the blog, she's writing it by hand on a legal pad and it is available in PDF version online.

In addition to her unique style, she also already has some unique content including fears of her father being on Oprah and worries about what the most powerful woman in the world will think about her "crazy" situation. In case she cares what I think...I think I've already had enough.

Let's face it - Empty Nest Moms on Facebook

Just like "Youth Moms" and "Teen moms", "Empty Nest Moms" are all over Facebook. Parents of children age 18 and older are using the tool in a wide variety of ways. Yes, some are still spying on their teenage children off at school, yet others are using it simply because of the cool features. "Facebook captivates the Baby Boomers" says Kay Hoflander in her recent Examiner article . Why? They can find old friends, learn about what their friends and family members are up to, give into their competitive streak with games such as Scrabble and Trivia, and get excitement from watching their number of friends rise. According to the Chattanooga Times Free Press, other parents are using it to promote their businesses, connect with colleagues, or because employers want a presence on the site.

In my personal experience, my mom and her friends that have joined just plain old get a kick out of Facebook. After I helped my mom set up an account she was thrilled to report how many "hits" (aka friend requests) she had from my friends and my brothers (even though she knew they that they thought it was hysterical that she had joined the site). She spent the rest of the day looking through our friends' wedding pictures, pictures of their children, and anything else she could find. Like many of us, she's addicted.

In his recent Time article, Lev Grossman provides the top ten reasons "Why Facebook is for Old Fogies". I highly suggest a read - not only is it hysterical, it actually puts a pretty compelling argument forward as to why Facebook is perhaps better designed for parents than kids!

Monday, March 2, 2009

Let's face it - "Teen Moms" on Facebook

"Youth Moms" are using Facebook as a communication tool (see earlier post), however evidence shows that most "Teen Moms" (women with children age 12-18) are using it as a way to keep an eye on their children. The Razorfish Study of Digital Moms found that 47% of moms with a child over the age of 12 that use social networking sites do it to monitor their child's online behavior and a 2008 study by Garlik, a UK based online identity company, found that 72% of parents spy on their kids' online activity by secretly logging into their accounts (25%) or by setting up their own accounts (26%). While this may seem like an invasion of privacy, is it necessary for the protection of our children? The debate is open.

Linda Philips, mother (and Facebook friend) of eight children who range in age from 10 to 25 and one of the teachers of Stanford University's new course "Facebook for Parents," says that being friends with your children on Facebook is "responsible parenting, knowing who their friends are and who is involved in their life. We're ineffective as parents if we are naive and ignorant," Philips said to ABC news.

On the other hand, Dr. Herbert Mandell, a psychiatrist and medical director of KidsPeace, a 126-year-old national children's crisis organization, and Roy Cooper, co-chairman of the State Attorney General Task Force on Social Networking, both believe that it is more effective to talk to teenagers than to spy on them. Cooper said in a recent Sun Sentinel article that "parents should talk to kids about things they post online about themselves, including pictures, videos and comments that can be seen by strangers, future employers and others. And tell them not to accept friends on social-networking sites unless they know who they are."

89% of parents in the Garlik study did report that they speak to their children about the dangers of social networking, but is that enough protection? Here is an example of one teen that,despite talking to his parents about online dangers, accepted a friend request from a stranger who then tracked him down at his home within 24 hours.

While the above report was an investigative journalist and not a threat to the teen, the risks are real. According to a 2006 report by CBS evening news, The Center for Missing and Exploited Children reported more than 2,600 incidents of adults using the Internet to entice children in 2005. A 2007 report found that 29,000 sex offenders had MySpace pages.

Reports of sexual predators, cyber bullying, blackmail, and overall incriminating behavior that can impact a child's personal and professional future, leads me to believe that parents should not only talk to their children about the dangers of social networking but also help them to put available safety precautions in place and teach them to understand why their parents should be able to view their activity. After all, if a teen does not understand why they should not be posting anything on Facebook or MySpace that they would not want their mother to see, it is a clear sign they do not understand the potential dangers being discussed.

If you are a parent of a teen that is active on social networking sites there are tons of tips out there on how to keep them safe. Here are some that stand out from my research.

1) Educate yourself. First, learn about technology in general. In this day and age parents can't in the dark. Parents - The Anti Drug offers some great information about teens and technology. Then get social network savvy. Be aware of the social networking sites that your child could potentially be on and keep an ear open for discussions about their participation in these sites. Research the features of each site they are on and privacy measures available.

2) Talk to your teen. Engage in an open, non-accusatory conversation with your teen about the appropriate use of social networks and the dangers that exist. Cite examples in the news to show them that it is reality, not a paranoid parent, and agree upon specific rules to follow in terms of accepting friends and information that they can and cannot (last name, address, phone number) reveal on their profile page. Keep the communication open and regular.

3) Put privacy measures in place. Help your child to understand the privacy settings that are available and ensure that their information is protected. GetNetWise offers audio tutorials to help you with privacy on Facebook, MySpace and Xanga.

4) Join the network. Create accounts on the same sites as your teen and become friends with them. If they are a minor require that they accept you or prohibit them from using the site. Check in on your child's page but DO NOT publicly interfere with something you disagree with. If you find something that they are posting inappropriate or dangerous, discuss it with them privately.

5) Encourage your child to have friends over instead of socializing online. It seems like personal interaction is becoming a lost art.