New app monitors temper, behaviour in...parents

Equipped with cardiac rhythm monitors to gauge stress levels, a new app called developed by computer scientists at Microsoft Research and the University of California, San Diego could keep frustrated parents in line. 

When the sensory wristband detects stress, intervention follows by means of a smartphone on which the app presents research-based techniques to ease emotionally charged interactions between parent and child. 

Intervention examples include alerting the parents that it's time to count to ten, or firing messages designed to tickle vulnerable emotions such as "You are your child's role-model. What do you want to teach?" 

If the app proves to be successful, machines might have scored a point in the supposed struggle for dominance over mankind. 

Judging from the app's name, ParentGuardian, they have certainly climbed another rung in the hierarchy. 

The app's interventions are based on Parenting Behavioural Therapy, developed to initiate and guide parents through raising children with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. 

Although studies say the therapy can be effective, like any kind of training it can wear off over time. 

The app was developed by Laura Pina, a doctoral candidate in computer science at the University of California, San Diego and former intern at Microsoft Research. 

"Instead of focusing on an individual in need we are looking at how to build and design technology for the family as a whole and what's beneficial for them," Pina said. "We wanted to help parents to be the parents they want to be." 

In developing the app, Pina worked with 10 parents over a two-week period. 

They were asked to wear the monitors and refer to corresponding interventions from the app during the peak parental stress hours of 6pm to 10pm. 

As parents pushed to get kids to buckle down and do their homework, sit up straight at the dinner table and organise for the following day, they received inspiring electronic reminders upon stress detection by the sensors. 

"For every one bad thing you say, find three good points to highlight," says the app in one example. 

In a perverse twist of traditional parental authority, the app contains messages that could theoretically benefit the younger set such as "Be consistent. Be predictable. Be prepared." 

But such items are intended for parents with the idea that the wisdom will make its way down the hierarchy for generations to come. 

Feedback was positive. 

"It made me aware of that I need to handle my stress differently," says one mother. "It made me aware of exactly which steps I'm taking to get me to be really stressed out, so it's like self-awareness." 

Pina presented her work at the 2013 International Conference on Pervasive Computing Technologies for Healthcare in Germany. 

The app is in its final phases of development, with no launch date announced. — ©AFP/Relaxnews 2014  

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