The website that helps parents play Big Brother

Phone and web tools let parents log every nappy change and track development
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The Independent Tech

Erin Sager Weinstein slept for an average of 12 hours and 33 minutes a day last month. Her parents Lauren and Jacob know this for certain because they have been tracking every nappy change, feed and nap since their daughter was six weeks old.

Thanks to the Trixie Tracker website, the couple has a graph of precisely how many minutes their 21-month-old daughter has slept on almost every day since her birth, and can compare it with random samples of other children her age.

Lauren, 36, a business development manager who now monitors her daughter’s schedule from her phone, said: “When we started the tracking we were very sleep-deprived and feeling a bit overwhelmed. We had friends who had done baby tracking in paper form. My husband was looking online for some sort of baby tracking paper diary when he found Trixie Tracker.

“If you change 10 nappies a day, how do you keep track of the last time you did it? It was really about putting some order back into our lives. When she started on solids it helped me to keep track of whether I’d given her pears already today or three days ago. It’s nice now to look back. It makes a nice history of her life so far.”

Her husband Jacob Sager Weinstein, a writer, said: “For us, sleep was really the big challenge, so that’s what we tracked most carefully. Her sleep at five months was all over the place. Now, at 21 months, it’s pretty predictable and regular.”

Lauren added: “There’s no one right way to be a parent. For us, baby tracking was very helpful in diagnosing some issues. It’s very quick and easy to enter the data. But if someone felt that they were tied to their computer to enter all this information then it would be counter-productive.”

The Sager Weinstein family, who live in London, may be unusual in having compiled so much data about their daughter but they are one of a growing number of families who are measuring, recording and comparing minute details of their offsprings’ lives.

Previously, tracking a child’s development involved having the baby weighed every few months by the health visitor and marking his measurements on a simple height and weight chart.

Today, baby tracking is big business. As well as websites which record children’s schedules, there are iPhone apps which record your baby’s cries and diagnose what’s wrong, devices which measure how much you talk to your child and those which claim to check whether their speech is developing correctly. There are even electronic toys that record how your child plays with them, so you can compare their progress to developmental “norms”.

The problem with average developmental milestones is that if half of children fall above the benchmark, then the other half must fall below.

Mia Moe, of the Lena foundation, which produces a digital recording device that tracks how often parents talk to their children and how often their kids talk back, argues that technology can help create parents who are better able to boost their children’s development.

The foundation’s research has found that parents of children with exceptionally good language skills spoke substantially more to those children than did parents of children who were not as advanced.

“We found that it is vitally important to talk to your children as much as possible. I aim for between 18,000 and 22,000 words a day,” said Ms Moe. “It’s hard to do as talking is really mentally exhausting.

“We found that parents did not talk to their children as much as they thought they did. Most of the parents who took part in our study were shocked by how little they were talking to their child. Once they got the feedback they automatically increased the amount of interaction by 30 per cent.”

But child development experts warn that the new craze for parental monitoring and measuring of children can be dangerous, particularly if it makes parents over-anxious.

Frank Furedi, professor of sociology at the University of Kent and the author of Paranoid Parenting, described it as “a really bad idea for a number of reasons”. He explained: “I think they actually make parents more anxious. Instead of focusing on building a relationship of trust between themselves and their kids they are looking for a technological quick-fix solution.

“No matter how enlightened and liberal any parent thinks they are, there is always a huge pressure on parents to compare their children with everyone else’s. There are a lot of very crude comparisons which get made. Parents very quickly become prisoners of all these benchmarks that somebody has cobbled together.

“If you go into toyshops everything you buy is always sold on its developmental consequences. It seems that there’s no point in just being something that’s fun to play with. Everything has become a goal and we have lost sight of the fact that there needs to be scope for experimentation and for some things just to be fun.”

Dr Nadja Reissland, a senior lecturer in Psychology at the University of Durham, said the new trend could be harmful to babies.

She said: “I think the use of these devices is absolutely horrible. They are bound to make parents more anxious about their child’s development and how they compare to other children.

“All the research actually shows that the mother and infant interaction is so finely tuned that even if the mother is out by a little bit the baby will react to it. Babies react to different types of smiles and the tone and pitch of voice. So if mothers are anxious - because they want to control everything that happens and then think something is going wrong – then the child will pick up on it and react. So it becomes a self fulfilling prophesy whereby mums try to control everything but end up with things more out of control. These gadgets will only add to this phenomenon. I think it is a very, very bad idea. Too much control can definitely be a bad thing.”

Appy babies: Smartphone parenting

*Trixie Tracker

Allows parents to track the minutiae of their sprog’s existence – how many naps taken, how many bottles, how many solids passed …Upload the stats and compare the little darling with babies around the globe. $8 (£5) per month from www trixietracker.com.

*Cry Translator

This iPhone application claims to differentiate between the “universal” wails of hungry, sleepy, annoyed, stressed and bored, if you hold the phone to your baby. £17.99, iPhone App Store, or www.crytranslator.com.

*LENA Digital Language Processor

Check baby’s language skills with this language kit, which uses monitoring devices and analysis software. $699 (£440) fromwww lena baby.com/LenaSystem/AboutLena.aspx.

*Baby Monitor

Leave your iPhone next to the sleeping bairn and Code Goo’s Baby Monitor claims to automatically dial mummy should the infant wake. £2.99 from the App Store, or www.codegoo.com/page/baby-monitor.

*Baby Name Shaker

Can’t think of a good name (or random letter agglomeration) for your kid? This 59p app solves that. From the App Store.

Thomas Mendelsohn

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