I regularly sing the praises of my iPhone. I used it not only to call AAA after a car accident a couple of weeks ago, but also to take photos of the damage, find directions for the tow truck driver, and work on a blog post while waiting for the tow truck to arrive. I used it as a GPS on that long road trip, and to check my email while on the road. And I use it from time to time to amuse our youngest kids, who are 5 and 3 and surprisingly good at navigating the device, even if I haven't done more than download the apps for them. As Globe Magazine staff writer Neil Swidey pointed out in his article, "Why an iPhone could actually be good for your 3-year-old," preschool-age kids "are the purest breed yet of natives to the wireless world where the rest of us are refugees." If done the right way, with the right limits, he wrote, a smart phone can do more than buy you a few minutes of peace -- it could help your child's development as well.
Smart phones have become more than a must-have accessory for parents; while there are plenty of entertaining games out there, there are also apps that are geared specifically for moms and dads who need a bit more help navigating and simplifying parenthood. And we're not just talking iPhones here -- there are plenty of parenting apps for Droids and Blackberrys, too.
I've taken a look at some of the newest apps around, and these are the ones that I think are most helpful.
Baby Monitor by CodeGoo. If you travel often with small children, this $4.99 app lets you leave the baby monitor at home. Fire up the application, and place your iPhone near your sleeping tot; if it detects noise, it'll call you at any phone number you designate, so you can listen in (and since you choose what number it calls, it has a virtually unlimited range).
iCurfew by Radical Parenting. Vanessa Van Petten wrote the book You're Grounded! -- a parenting guide from a teen's perspecitve -- when she was a teenager. Now 24, Van Petten runs Radical Parenting, a resource parents with a fantastic blog authored by herself and her crew of about 80 teenage writers. The beauty of this 99-cent iPhone and iPod Touch app is that it allows teens and parents to check in with one another; kids use the app to send their parents an email with their whereabouts, and parents can verify the real-time location through an uneditable link to Google Maps (so if your kid says she's at the movies, the map will show you if she's really at the movies). It can also be used to make pick-ups and drop-offs easier, since you can use it to send directions.
DadsZeal by TruAffinity Inc. A free app for the Verizon Android phone, DadsZone is an online community where dads can discuss anything they like with other dads, trading information, sharing photos, and offering support.
SymptomMD by Self Care Decisions. For $2.99, you can have a virtual pediatrician on call anytime via your iPhone or iPod Touch. It's more than a list of common ailments; SymptomMD offers specialized guides to help you decide what, if any, care is needed for a particular problem. The clinical protocals it draws from have been used by thousands of pediatricians and nurses.
Amber Parent and Amber Child by DroidOmics. This pair of apps for the Verizon Android allow you to keep track of you teens (as long as they have their phones with them, of course). Download the parent application ($4.99) to the parent's phone, and the child app ($4.99 more) to the teenager's phone, and the GPS tracking system shows the child's location on a map; if he or she strays outside the "geozone" designated by the parent, mom or dad gets an email alert.
Baby List by LovedByBaby. Overwhelmed by the very thought of leaving the house with your tiny baby in tow? This 99-cent iPhone app for new parents provides a checklist of everything you need for any kind of trip, whether you're going to the store for an hour or to Grandma's house for three days.
Text4baby. This technically isn't an application; it's a service from the National Healthy Mothers, Healthy Babies Coalition that sends tips via text message to any type of mobile phone. Moms-to-be can register online or by texting BABY (or BEBE, for tips in Spanish) to 511411; you'll receive three tips a week throughout your pregnancy and up until your baby's first birthday. The messages are timed to various stages of pregancy and early childhood development and cover prenatal, maternal, and newborn health issues.
So, why turn to your cell phone instead of your friends, your family, or even your gut feelings?
Think of the apps as additional resources at your disposal 24/7. They're not meant to replace your friends and family (or your physician, for that matter) -- they're tools you can use to make navigating parenthood a little easier.
Do you use smart phone applications for parenting? Do they make your life easier -- or do you think that people are starting to rely on technology a little too much?
Lylah M. Alphonse is a Globe staff member and mom and stepmom to five kids. She writes about juggling career and parenthood at The 36-Hour Day and blogs at Write. Edit. Repeat. E-mail her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The author is solely responsible for the content.