I was one of four children growing up. Now that I have a couple kids of my own, I often wonder how my parents raised us without modern technologies like mobile phones and GPS. Sure, technology has given rise to some new parental challenges—controlling screen time, for example, or managing social media—but on balance it’s made life for the whole family so much easier.

That’s true more than ever with the proliferation of smart home technology, from WiFi cameras that function as an extra pair of eyes to smart toothbrushes that can help cut down on trips to the dentist.

5 Ways Smart Tech Can Help Busy Parents

1. Keep ‘em entertained with a virtual assistant.

When my five-year old is throwing a fit, distraction is often the best strategy. Our Amazon Alexa has turned into a valuable ally in that effort. Whether the digital assistant is telling a quick joke or saying how many days are left until Christmas, it’s often enough of a divergence.

There’s much more that a digital assistant—be it Amazon Alexa, Google Home, or Microsoft Cortana—can do to keep kids entertained. That includes learning-based activities, from math skills to spelling bees to a good old fashioned game of twenty questions. That last one comes in handy on road trips, which you can usually do by connecting the assistant to your phone’s hotspot, if it’s a feature of your mobile service plan.

2. Minimize hazards—and the boogeyman—with motion-sensing lights.

There are few things more frightful to the child’s mind than a long, dark hallway in the dead of night, say when they need to use the bathroom at 2 o’clock in the morning. Motion activated lights can put an end to the darkness, which will probably mean wake-up calls for parents of the otherwise freaked-out young’uns.

Our video features the Philips Hue Motion Sensor, which works with compatible Philips Hue Lights. Simply screw in the lightbulb and plug the sensor into a nearby outlet. The sensor will then turn the light on when you or other family member enters the space, then off again when no motion is detected. You can control light levels via the app—say bright light during the day and soft light at night. You can also set it to only turn on at night, when light is needed.

3. Use interactive security cameras to maintain a watchful eye—even when you’re away.

Connected cameras can mean peace of mind for the 35 million US households with children under the age of 18. Mindful of those market numbers, manufacturers have brought a ton of innovation to the category to win over consumers.

Most devices, including the $150 Arlo camera shown in the video, are wireless, making them a snap to install, say in a baby’s room or the backyard. Once cameras are synched to the home’s Wi-Fi, users can watch live video of the space from anywhere via their smart phone. If you have older kids, cameras can ensure your home doesn’t become party central if you duck out for dinner and a movie.

Devices with built-in speakers go a step further by letting parents converse with kids remotely. Is there baby in the house? The Lyric C2 Wi-Fi Security Camera, $170, can pick up the sound of an infant crying from other noises in the home and send an alert to your phone. The camera will be available early September at the Home Depot and online at YourHome.Honeywell.com.

4. Track health and wellness.

I’m pretty sure my daughter’s main reason for wanting a fitness tracker was the cool aqua hue it comes in. No matter: the device is still motivating her to hit 10,000 steps a day, and it’s made her more aware of what a good night’s sleep looks like.

Another clever, healthful tech device is the Kolibree, a smart electric toothbrush that shows users where to brush and for how long via the smartphone app. For kids, the instructions become a video game-like experience where they rack up points with thorough brushing.

5. Maintain ideal temperatures for the whole family.

Climate needs and preferences often vary from one family member to the next. For example, the temperature in a baby’s nursery might be a degree or two cooler than the rest of the house. Smart climate control equipment gives you that flexibility. Among thermostats, consider the ecobee4, which comes with room sensors that allow you to measure and control the temperature in different parts of the house.

We recently reported on the Flair Smart Vent, which distributes air throughout the home and control how much air goes into each given room, eliminating hot and cold spots. Flair’s Puck thermostat enables room-by-room control of room air conditioners and mini-split heating and cooling systems, something you couldn’t always do with these types of equipment.

Dan’s Bottom Line

If you have kids at home, whether they’re teens, pre-teens, or still in diapers, smart home technology can help the household run more smoothly. While much of the equipment in this roundup is DIY-friendly (a digital assistant, for one, is about as plug-and-play as they come) other items may require professional installation, for example installing a connected camera high on a wall or into a masonry surface that requires serious drilling.

As a result, home service pros are in a good position to educate customers on the parental benefits of smart home technology. A tech-savvy handyman will be able to handle most smart home installations. So if you’re there to fix a broken window, you might recommend adding a few monitoring cameras while you’re in the process. Homeowners spend $392 on average for the service, according to HomeAdvisor’s True Cost Guide. For a smart thermostat, hiring an electrician might be in order, for an average cost of $317.

One final note for homeowners: you might find that, with the addition of many smart devices to your home’s WiFi, you need to upgrade your internet plan to keep things running at optimal speeds. A few months back, I went to a plan that allows me to connect up to 100 devices to my Wi-Fi, for an additional $30 a month. That’s probably more bandwidth than I need, though my kids aren’t even teenagers yet, so you never know!


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