Cell phones find new use as babysitters

When Annamarie Saarinen needed to soothe her ailing daughter, she used a rattle — downloaded to her iPhone.

When Annamarie Saarinen needed to soothe her ailing daughter, she used a rattle — downloaded to her iPhone.

Jeff Hilimire uses a white noise application on his phone to make shushing noises for his infant daughter. And Tracie Stier-Johnson lets her young daughters answer trivia questions on her phone while waiting in the doctor’s office or at parent-teacher conferences.

“You can only play I Spy so many times,” said Stier-Johnson, 40, of Racine, Wis., whose daughters like Who Wants to be a Millionaire game on her iPhone.

Parents have handed their cellphones to children as distractions since they were invented, and toy versions tap into kids’ love of pushing beeping buttons and playing with electronic gadgets. But a mushrooming number of applications on smartphones have parents using them as modern baby rattles.

These wired-up phones allow parents to play number and letter games with their preschoolers or to get a few minutes of quiet when children watch movie clips on a plane or while waiting for a restaurant table.

Jenny Reeves, 34, of San Antonio, lets her boys — ages 3 and two — type words or flip through pictures of themselves and their dog on her BlackBerry when they have to pass time without books. Her older son is learning to send emails to his grandparents and dad that say, “I love you.”

“It’s almost as good as lollipops,” Reeves said.

People also are making their phones parenting helpers, downloading applications to turn them into impromptu baby monitors, to research nutrition information in grocery aisles and to check their babies’ growth rate compared to average measurements.

Hilimire, a 33-year-old father from Atlanta, started putting his iPhone to work during his wife’s pregnancy, when he timed contractions with the phone’s stopwatch and downloaded software that showed the size of the growing baby.

Now when his infant daughter gets fussy in the car or during a walk, he puts his iPhone in her carrier to play the free application called White Noise Lite. “It immediately relaxes her,” he said.

Stier-Johnson leaves her iPhone near her sleeping three-year-old daughter to listen for her to wake when she sits near her pool, which is out of range for her regular baby monitor. An application prompts her phone to call her home number or her husband’s iPhone when her daughter makes a noise.

And the phones have been put to work in times of crisis, too. Saarinen and her husband Paul, of Minneapolis, used a program called Cardio Calc on his iPhone to track their infant daughter Eve’s health information during a hospital stay for heart surgery.

A free rattle application, Baby Rattle Bab Bab Lite, showed spinning graphics and chimes when Eve moved it around. It stopped her most intense crying when she was coming off pain medication.

Smartphones can be an expensive child diversion, to be sure. Some parents set rules for kids to try to prevent damage, such as no shaking and no carrying the phone on hard surfaces in case it’s dropped.

Brooks Duncan, of Vancouver, B.C., has to hide his iPod touch from his two-year-old. “If he sees it, he’ll go for it and want to play with it,” said Duncan, 35, who bought the device when his children started arguing over their grandfather’s iPhone.

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