New parents are going overboard with gadgets for monitoring every aspect of their baby's existence -- and it's not healthy.
I am one of those strange old-fashioned mothers who does not have a camera mounted in my children's bedrooms and an app on my phone that shows me every movement they make. I've never owned a two-way baby monitor. Instead I rely on my eyes and ears -- a novel notion in this tech-obsessed day and age. If my baby is crying upstairs, then I know nap time is over. If there are fussing sounds in the middle of the night, a blanket has probably fallen off. (Yes, I use blankets -- gasp! -- and none of my kids has suffocated.) If everything is silent, I assume all is well.
My lack of obsessive monitoring would likely strike many modern parents as irresponsible. It is not. I am acutely aware of my children's whereabouts, states of consciousness, how much sleep they've gotten the night before, and their level of wellness. The only difference is that I do not rely on technology to give me this information, but rather draw on observational methods that have been effective for every other parent throughout history.
I have long thought that baby tech has reached absurd levels, and my view is supported by Sophie Brickman's article in the New York Times, "The Overmonitored Nursery." Parents are preoccupied with monitoring every aspect of their baby's wellbeing, even the most obscure things like oxygen level and heart rate -- measurements that have never mattered before, unless a baby was unhealthy in some way (in which case, they'd probably be better off in the hospital). Brickman gives a few examples:
"The POMO baby tracker ($119) not only notifies you when your child has moved outside of a 'safe 15 meter distance,' but also monitors your baby’s temperature, so that, according to its website, 'you will always know if the blanket slips off'...
"Take the FeverFrida ($69.99) [and the] NoseFrida (which allows devoted parents to suck snot out of tiny nostrils) and Windi the Gas Passer (I’ll let you extrapolate). The TempTraq patch, placed under the baby’s arm, takes his temperature every four seconds and pings your phone if something is up.
"These hyper monitors join myriad others that record your baby’s every move, from how much he is drinking while breast-feeding (Momsense’s sensor, affixed to the baby’s throat, counts swallows) to precisely how many minutes of sleep she’s getting a night. The Nanit watches your baby’s movements at night and uses computer vision to spit out an algorithmically generated sleep score each morning."
The mere thought of collecting and analyzing all this data makes me exhausted. What a burden it must be on new parents -- and they must be first-time parents, because nobody with multiple kids could possibly have time to care about this -- to feel they have to keep track of these numbers! Then there is the obvious fact that mulling over data takes time away from precious sleep; and being woken by beeps and buzzes for the slightest deviation from the norm would make decent sleep pretty much impossible.
What does this actually accomplish? Brickman quotes Alexis Dubief, blogger at Precious Little Sleep, whose main concern with these gadgets is "whether or not the information they transmit is a) accurate or b) actionable. 'I want to know, can I apply this information in some meaningful way, or is it just noise?' she said."
The consensus appears to be, no, the information does not matter. Pediatrician Michael Yankee said that the vital signs of healthy babies do not need to be monitored regularly. Pediatrics professor Lori Feldman-Winter says that products claiming to reduce risk of SIDS are "false advertising."
But worst of all, in my eyes, establishing this level of monitoring right off the bat makes it even more difficult for parents to let go. It sets a precedent for extreme helicopter parenting that will only become harder to break as the years go by and the perceived risks become greater.
Overmonitoring underscores the harmful notion that children are incapable of surviving without maximum parental intervention, that they must be propped up and guarded against the world's evils every step of the way. (They do, to some extent, but not to the level advocated by the manufacturers of these devices.) It fosters a culture of fear, a distrustful mentality, and an unhealthy reliance on technology for making decisions.
I suggest we reassess our parental priorities. Time spent playing outdoors, good food in their bellies, face-to-face interactions with family members, cozy snuggles, naps in a sling on a parent's chest, all enjoyed without the constant presence of smartphones, are far more important to me than any set of sleep scores.
And let's be honest -- a good night's sleep is guaranteed to make me a much better parent than if I'd lain awake stressing about that missing 2 percent of oxygen registering on my phone.