Divorce, long commutes and business travel can make modern parenting tricky. But today's tech savvy moms and dads are finding new ways to stay connected with their kids. Many of us have the tools at our fingertips: A new Yahoo!/Reader's Digest survey finds that 95% of those surveyed own a laptop or desktop computer, 86% have a digital camera and close to half use a smart phone. From Blackberries to iPads to social gaming platforms, there have never been more ways to bridge the miles. As I discussed on the Today Show, here are five high tech ways to help you stay plugged into your family's lives from afar.
1. Give Real Time Updates
A photo is really worth a thousand words and thanks to wireless technology, you can literally show your child what you are up to instantaneously. With the Vizit photo frame, you can send images from anywhere anytime in REAL TIME and your child can send a reply or a photo back to you. All do you is plug it in and invite friends and family via email to send photos to the frame. I sent a few from my cell phone and it was super easy. The frames are not cheap. They run $229. Isabella Products is coming out with a new gadget that will allow people to make use of any digital photo frame. It's a plug-in stick called the Mini and it will retail for $99 for the device and annual subscription.
2. Make a Scrapbook Together
Use Flickr or another photo-sharing site to create your own Day In The Life gallery for your child and let him or her do the same for you like Brian Egan a divorced dad of two living in Reno, Nevada. He's been posting photos of his kids since they were babies but now that they are 7 and 4, he can share photos with them and they with him. Here is his page: http://www.flickr.com/photos/daddyisaninja/Brian told me he uses Flickr to keep his ex-wife and his extended family in the loop on all the fun things the kids are doing when they are with him like when they went to a hot air balloon festival. Best of all, this is free. And if you have a mobile phone app with a photo sharing app, you can update in the moment and on the go.
3. Play Games
Massively multiplayer online games (aka virtual worlds or role-playing games) are super-popular among kids. Some are free to play, others require a subscription and many involve options to buy virtual goods. One option for kids over 10-years-old is Lego Universe. It's a virtual world in which you create an avatar for yourself that allows you to build, play and hang out with your child's avatar from wherever you are. It costs $19.99 for either a boxed game or a download from Lego.com plus one month of playing time. Monthly playtime runs $9.99. Check out Common Sense Media.org for more game reviews and recommendations. If you prefer a more traditional game, you can check out online Scrabble or chess which you can play remotely with your child.
And of course, social games are super popular on Facebook so if your child is on FB, you can play games like Farmville using that platform, too.
4. Be Pen Pals
Set up a free Web mail account for you and your child and use it tell each other about your day or week. Get into the habit of corresponding on a regular basis. Over time, you'll have an invaluable record of your child's growth and development that will make a very cool keepsake for both of you. I'm also a fan of the new RedStamp app for the iPhone. You can send e-cards or actual postcards from your phone. The designs are really cute and you can pull photos from the library on your iPhone. So sending a quick - "I'm thinking about you" is a snap. Postcards run $1.29 each.
5. Read a Bedtime Story
Keep up a treasured bedtime routine by reading a story to your child from afar using A Story Before Bed. The website allows you to read a story to your child online in your voice. It will work on any PC or Mac with a webcam. You can record a book for free to test it out. Single books range from $6.99-9.99. You can also access the digital books from the iPad and the company will soon introduce an app for the iPad2 that allows you to record books on the table. The book I recorded took about 5 minutes to set up. You can also pause or start over if you flub the words. Once you're done, you can preview the book and then send it off via email or post it on Facebook. You can also purchase an annual subscription for 50 books for $39.95. There is an iPad app that allows you to listen to your recorded books on your device. The only downside to this service is that you have to choose books from their library, which is growing, but there are only 350 titles right now. It's been used by more than 100,000 deploying military parents and their families.
6. Listen to That Little Voice
For those times when you wish you could hear the sound of your children's voices, the iTalk Recorder is more than handy. A voice-recorder application for your iPhone, the limited free download allows you to record and store numerous sound files for later use. Files upload easily to your PC via wireless transfer, giving you the freedom to customize your own ringtone, preserve a special memory, or just remind yourself why you go to work each day. Blackberry and Android also offer similar voice recorder apps.
-Heather Cabot, Web Life Editor for Yahoo!