How mobile apps are making parenting easy

Nairobi-based techpreneur Alice Oduor. photo | diana ngila | nmg
Nairobi-based techpreneur Alice Oduor. photo | diana ngila | nmg 

Tasks that seem simple at first, such as keeping track of a child’s progress report and homework diary, can be difficult for today’s frazzled parent who is constantly juggling work and family.

Alice Oduor, a Nairobi-based techpreneur, sought to address this challenge through Sprout, a mobile application that enables parents and schools to communicate with each other.

The android app sends parents progress reports about their kids including homework information, health, performance in extracurricular activities as well as check in and check-out time in school.

“The app allows parents to keep track of the child’s behavioural development and monitor progress while in school,” said Ms Oduor, an Economics and Finance graduate from Kenyatta University.

The sports category of the application, for instance, will have feeds such as “Mary was number two in athletics today” while the health one would have “She has a runny nose”.

Since it went live in May, 10 kindergartens have signed up on the platform, giving Sprout a customer base of 700 parents in Nairobi.

Ms Oduor, 26, explains that upon signing up, the school administrations opens an account for each parent and shares log and credentials with the families. 

The uptake of Sprout shows that there is a hunger in the local market for applications that make parenting more efficient.

A similar app dubbed Hi-Mama has been developed by Victoria Kids Care in Garden Estate, Nairobi.

Just like Sprout, Hi-Mama allows parents to get updates on their children’s activities in school including the meals they eat, what they learn and how they interact with peers.

Victoria Kids Care managing director Peter Muraya  previously told Business Daily that the app also allows for sharing of photos which gives parents a picture of what their kids are doing in school.

The updates, which include the child’s development, are sent via email which also accords parents a chance to seek clarifications and ask questions.

The development of these solutions indicates that parents in Kenya are catching up with their global peers, increasingly using technology to make running a family an easier task.

A quick jaunt through parenting blogs online shows that there are technological solutions for most steps in the parenting journey, from conception to selection of schools.

The Bump is a popular international application that provides a week-by-week pregnancy tracker and a social platform for mothers-to-be to share their experiences.

Once baby is born, there are applications that track everything from growth, to doctors’ appointments and immunisations.

There is even an application that will translate a baby’s cries into emotions (fear, annoyance) or needs (hunger, cold, comfort) for the first-time parent.

A local equivalent to these international innovations is Totohealth which gives parents SMS-based updates on the health of a child or pregnancy. Organisations and governments can also use the service to help parents schedule doctors’ appointments and to collect data.

Totohealth’s website indicates that 38,921 parents have subscribed to the service in Kenya and Tanzania. As expected, Totohealth’s primary focus in these two countries is reducing maternal and new-born mortality, rather than convenience for new parents.

But with technology increasingly guiding the parenting process, there are questions on any possible negative impacts that are yet to be addressed. Are these mobile applications, these tools, expanding the distance between parent and child?

If a father can keep track of his daughter’s runny nose remotely or monitor a toddler through a nanny cam, is the incentive to rush home to provide comfort reduced?

Parents are able to track their children’s growth in minutiae that was previously impossible. One mobile application allows parents to compare their children’s growth statistics against World Health Organization statistics, placing them within a percentile in comparison to their global peers.

Google is, of course, a wealth of information on every single childhood ailment, real or imagined. Where social voices and medical practitioners might have been able to provide information to reassure parents while also enabling their decision making, Google can induce daily panic attacks for the average parent. 

The overload of information may leave parents constantly worried or see some, especially mothers, comparing themselves with unrealistic ideals. A 2013 study found that 70 per cents of American parents did not think that smartphones and tablets made parenting easier.

The implications of technology on parenting are more explored from the child’s perspective with studies warning that gadgets and apps are changing the experience of childhood. Studies have warned against the developmental impacts of technology addiction for young children.

Communications Authority of Kenya is currently developing a policy to guide legislation on the Internet activities of children.

This is a move driven by research by the International Telecommunications Union (ITU) showing that 75 per cent of children are likely to share sensitive information online. Children, especially in developing countries, are also likely to be the target of online predators.