Hire your own virtual nanny

First, there was Mary Poppins, and for a brief time, a short-lived 1970s sitcom called Nanny and the Professor. Then Supernanny, the popular ABC series, came along. And so I guess it should be no surprise that an entrepreneur has figured out a way to capitalize on America's interest in nannies. Welcome to NannysCircle.com.

It's a web site that's aimed at helping families organize themselves. As in the kids, just as much as the adults. In fact, if a family takes the web site to heart, I can envision how you do wind up with your very own virtual nanny.

And before you think to yourself (as I did), "Oh, brother. Can't parents take care of their own kids?" -- the rationale behind starting it was very admirable. It was built as an online tool to help provide structure and organization for families who had kids with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, or ADHD. But apparently it worked so well, that they're now offering it as a full-fledged family organizational tool for everyone.For those who are interested, it works like this: Grown ups and kids both get to use the site. It has something called the Schedulematic, which is what you would think. It provides reminders for piano lessons, soccer practices, PTA and chores, which can be very important, of course, when you're working full-time and trying to please both your boss and your kids. Still, why would a kid care about keeping track of their schedule?

Well, what makes it enticing to children is that it rewards them when various tasks and chores are successfully completed. For instance, everyone has their own virtual room, and if a child completes their chores, they might get virtual decorations for their room, or personalized coupons that can be printed and redeemed in Nanny's Store.

The main features are:

Time & money management -- a child can keep track of the amount of money they have in a virtual bank and watch it grow. So if you're trying to encourage your child to save their allowance, this would come in handy.

Strikes/Discipline -- If your child misbehaves or doesn't fulfill a chore, strikes will appear on a child's virtual wall in their room, and, well, no child wants that. (I'm thinking that this won't work for kids over the age of 12. But then probably not too many 13-year-olds need a nanny.)

Notes & Journals -- Note Board provides a way to communicate between parent and child. You can write notes to your child reminding them to do their homework, or that their Aunt Mabel will be coming over on Sunday or whatever. Your child can leave notes to you.

Weekly Reports -- Every week, NannysCircle.com provides families with a report detailing how well the child did in the last week, and statistics are monitored, giving families an accurate idea of how they've been progressing every week.

And they're soon going to add a new feature called Homework Helper, allowing a teacher to get involved in the site. He or she can post good grades or assignments, for instance, and a child can earn points for turning in assignments and getting good grades.

Cost is $9.95 a month for unlimited use for up to three family members -- one parent and two kids. The web site doesn't say how much it will be if you add children, and they don't mention adding another parent. Maybe they figure both parents will use the same virtual room.

It all sounds like it could possibly be a very useful tool, especially for over-scheduled families, and it's really designed to bring parents and kids all on the same page, as the saying goes, and to help them bond. And I hate to lob a cheap shot at a site that I've never used, but I can't help but think, "Boy, a few more technological advancements, and I'll never have to see my kids or my wife."

We'll just all communicate to each other from our computers, typing X's and O's to our children at bedtime and telling them to listen to their virtual nanny when she tells them that it's bedtime.

Geoff Williams is a business journalist and the author of C.C. Pyle's Amazing Foot Race: The True Story of the 1928 Coast-to-Coast Run Across America (Rodale).
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