This fantastic piece in the New York Times, The
After bringing healthy baby Ella home from the hospital, Brickman and her techie husband slipped the Owlet Smart Sock on the infant’s foot. This gizmo measures, among other things, the baby’s blood oxygen level.
Cut to: an hour later. A piercingly shrill electronic version of “Hush Little Baby” blares through our room as a blue neon light strobes frantically. I leap out of bed in a panic. I check on Ella. She is in a deep sleep, breathing fine. Dave and I finally locate the source of the sound and light show — the “base station” that communicates with the sock. Turns out it had lost connection to our shoddy Wi-Fi and was just letting us know, in its earsplitting, alarming way.
That incident probably took years off my life. After another wee-hours-of-the-morning baby rave, I unplugged the thing and shoved it in the closet.
Nonetheless, Sophie agrees to set up a Nest camera that alerts parents whenever there is “activity” in the nursery:
After weeks of being notified at work when Ella was crying or moving around (read: being a baby) and hours sunk addictively scrolling in fast-forward to see her move around in her sleep, it dawned on me that all this technology, which purportedly calms agitated parents, actually agitates them more.
That’s something that Susan Lynn, author of The Case for Make Believe, explained to me long ago: Most gadgets promising to give parents “peace of mind” actually do the opposite. That’s because the premise behind the monitors is: Your kid is in SUCH CONSTANT DANGER that if you are NOT watching/worrying all the time, you will rue the day.
So, is all this info just noise? I called my pediatrician, Dr. Michael Yaker…a faculty member of the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai.
“In general, do the vital signs of healthy babies need to be monitored regularly? Absolutely not,” he told me. “If it makes a parent more comfortable with a situation, fine, but I wouldn’t make any actionable medical decisions based on it.” And in the cases of unhealthy babies? Preemies who are leaving the neonatal intensive care unit, perhaps?
“If your baby needs to be on a monitor regularly tracking vital signs, your baby is likely not ready to be discharged from the hospital,” he said.
Okay, but can’t the monitors prevent sudden infant death? No. Dr. Lori Feldman-Winter, an author of the American Academy of Pediatrics’ most recent SIDS policy paper, told Sophie, “We don’t recommend products that are specifically sold to reduce the risk of SIDS because we think it’s false advertising.”
False or not, the products are popular, creating a generation of parents who have been told they must hover (electronically) or else. That’s why we can’t blame “helicopter parents” for helicoptering. They are being force fed fear.
They’re also being told that, far from being resilient, their children need their safety and comfort instantly attended to. And so, Sophie writes:
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.”
We thought tech was going to liberate us. But for parents…maybe not. – L.