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How working parents use technology to monitor, communicate with kids

As a working mom, I love texting. Today, my daughter sent me a text letting me know she was attending a club meeting after school. I forwarded the text to my son so he would know to wait for his sister.

If I'm out interviewing someone for a story, I can text my kids to make sure they are where they need to be. But I'm certainly not as tech savvy as some of the other working moms out there who are using all kinds of devices and apps to keep up with their kids while at work.

In my Miami Herald column today, I talk to some experts and parents and share their examples. Readers, please chime in with your comments if you've discovered some tools or cool Apps that I didn't mention in the article.

The Miami Herald

New technology helps parents monitor kids


While at work, Eden Rose, an office administrator at the law offices of Buckingham Doolittle & Burroughs,  uses her iPhone to watch and communicate with her  daughter.
Tom Ervin / for the miami herald
While at work, Eden Rose, an office administrator at the law offices of Buckingham Doolittle & Burroughs, uses her iPhone to watch and communicate with her daughter.
For Wendy Brown, keeping an eye on her toddler from the office meant using a NannyCam to ensure the caregiver was changing her daughter’s diaper and reading her books. Now, she has graduated to Skype sessions with her 13-year-old daughter, who logs on from a laptop the minute she arrives home from school. “It takes a lot more to keep an eye on a teenager.”

Video alerts, smartphone apps, email and other digital tools are gaining popularity as working parents try to monitor and communicate with their 21st century kids. Today, technology can allow parents to know who their kids are with, what they’re saying about their school day and whether they are safe — even if Mom or Dad is away on a business trip, out on a sales call or stuck late at the office.

With the new school year kicking in, parental use of technology is evolving. “It not just about using technology to monitor or track them, now it’s about communicating with them,” says Monica Vila of TheOnlineMom.com. “If you work all day, there’s the guilt thing. You feel, ‘What am I missing?’ Technology now allows you to bridge that gap and add quality to your communication.”

For communicating, texting is the most common between working parents and their kids, particularly when they reach middle school. A teacher friend of mine leaves before her kids in the morning. “I feel a sense of calm when I get the text from my son that the bus arrived and he’s at school safe,” she says. Some parents are taking it a step further. Vila, for example, creates video messages for her teen daughter to watch on the family computer when she arrives home. “I might say, check Aunt Judy’s Facebook, she left a really funny post. Then I’ll blow a kiss. It’s simple and it’s a different quality communication than a text message.”

Going forward, she says, communication will get better because myriad new smartphone apps are rolling out that use location-based technology. For example, the new app I’m OK, in the iTunes store, is kind of a private Foursquare for parents to ensure that their children are safe “without the nagging.” Family members check in from the library or Starbucks and let Mom or Dad know what they’re doing and that they are OK — then it rewards the child for doing so. They can even upload photos of the book they checked out. “It allows them to share more,” Vila says.

Beyond communicating, some parents want to be able keep their kids on task — even from their workplace. From her law office, Eden Rose, a legal administrator at Buckingham Doolittle & Burroughs, uses her iPhone to access the iCam on her 10-year-old daughter’s laptop. “It helps me know she actually is studying when she says she is.” Rose also uses a smartphone to send her daughter afternoon reminders to take her medication or check email alerts from new websites her daughter has visited. She uses Google Latitude to track her daughter’s location. “It’s been a big help to me. If she’s supposed to go to a friend’s house, I know that’s where she is.”

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