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Most Baby-Centric Gadgets are Unnecessary

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Guest blogger Kate Tuttle: We live in a world of technological marvels. Just think of all you can now do with your phone -- a tool that, when we were kids, was reliably attached to the wall and used only for real-time voice communication. Nowadays, for better or worse, we do much of our reading and nearly all of our communicating via handheld devices. A sweet little gadget roundup in the New York Times got me thinking about how we use -- or don't use -- technology when it comes to parenting.

Farhard Manjoo, writing about his own experiences as a new dad, gives the rundown on an assortment of techno-gadgets designed with parents of new babies in mind. A few he rejects out of hand: The mamaRoo bouncing chair gets a thumbs-down from his baby boy, while the various apps and devices meant to translate babies' cries seem to him a total waste of time and money. (I agree.)

Still, some of the electronic tools he tried out he found very useful, including the Itzbeen Baby Care Timer, which allows parents to track the times between baby's sleeping, diapering and feedings. Here's where Manjoo and I part ways. Sure, I can see that, for a new parent, it might make sense to try to track and measure these daily activities. But if you think about how new babies work -- the way their daily patterns change a little bit every day; the way their growth comes in fits and spurts; the way their need for food (at least in the case of breastfeeding, which should not be done on a schedule) creates its own supply -- then keeping track numerically seems like more trouble than it's worth. Worse, it could even cause harm, both by undermining a parent's ability to truly observe and intuit the baby's individual needs at any given moment, and by, in a worst-case scenario, subtly encouraging a parent to deny those needs because it "isn't time yet" to meet them.

Experts and parents often disagree about the best ways to raise children, and nearly always the parent is right -- because nobody knows your child the way you do. But in this case, most experts will tell you that parenting by feel, by observation, and by close contact with your child is better than any faddish tool that would attempt to add data collection to the mix, no matter how attractive it might seem to nervous new moms and dads.

Remember the headlines a month or so ago about how cavemen were great parents? It was perhaps an overstated, gimmicky way to present the ideas, but the point was that what kids need are caregivers who are right there, ready to respond to what a child needs when he needs it. And no gadget will ever do that.


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