Smart appliances in popular media have long teased us with visions of a more carefree, convenient life. In “The Jetsons,” a popular cartoon series from the 1960s, machines pretty much handle every household chore, from cleaning to breakfast.
Our Roombas and Alexas haven’t quite gotten us fully there. Machines can’t handle the “last mile” of putting dishes away, for example. But an alternative exists: Machines can tell our kids to do it.
In the latest twist on parenting in the digital age, smart dishwashers, coffeemakers, washers and dryers made by BSH—sold under brand names including Bosch, Thermador and Gaggenau—can now assign chores to children. That’s possible due to a recent partnership between the German appliance manufacturer and S’moresUp, a California-based developer of a parenting app.
Here’s how that works: Users can see a list of possible chores related to BSH devices and assign them to the whole family or just one member. The app then sends a notification to the person’s smartphone or tablet.
When the dishes are done, for example, the dishwasher creates a task in the S’moresUp app and notifies users to remove the dishes. Once that’s done, the chore-doer updates the status of the task in the app. Parents have the option to receive a final notification or request photo evidence of the completed chore.
Developers tout the partnership as a “way to make home management and parenting easier.” But the extent to which routine duties are tracked, tallied and rewarded may leave some wondering whether these experiences are less “Jetsons” and more fitting for Netflix’s dark science fiction series “Black Mirror.”
While S’moresUp has thought about more ways for parents and children to interact with its platform, the BSH partnership “took it to the next level,” says app co-founder Reeves Xavier.
A tech consultant walks through the S'moresUp app.
Based in Los Altos, Calif., S’moresUp provides parents a platform to measure how well and how often children complete chores. As they finish them, they earn points that can be used for rewards set by families.
S’moresUp is decidedly aimed at the consumer market. But its founders hope that parents and teachers see educational value in the platform, says Priya Rajendran, the company’s CEO and cofounder. She believes the incentive system can help children develop positive habits around taking care of themselves and a household, and that learning how to manage and spend points can build skills related to financial literacy.
The company plans to launch a pilot program with a school in India to see how the platform would work in the classroom. S’moresUp’s founders also hope to integrate with digital assistants like Amazon Alexa and Google Assistant.
The S’moresUp app is aimed at children 4 to 12, but the founders say they know of users as old as 21. The company claims to have 225,000 users, most of them in the U.S.
The basic, free version of the app comes with family management tools for unlimited family members and unlimited devices. For $4.99 a month, there are further management options including assigning late penalties and automatic allocation of points. Future features on the product roadmap include digital badges and reports on children’s behavior measured by the app.
Rajendran, 43, and Xavier, 41, met at PayPal and founded S’moresUp in 2017. The co-founders and six employees in India make up the S’moresUp team. The company is self-funded for now, with financing from friends, family and an angel investor.
Is Data-Driven Parenting a Good Idea?
The idea of relying on smart appliances to assist with parenting gives rise to plenty of concerns—not the least of which is children feeling micromanaged by parents and machines.
Parenting apps are no replacements for parenting and face-to-face communication with children, says Christine Elgersma, a senior editor at Common Sense Media, a nonprofit that reviews children’s media and education software.
Apps that offer reward systems based on behavior and performance “shouldn’t form the framework of the parenting, they should add to it,” Elgersma says. “There is no replacement for falling back on your old-school parenting techniques.”
AnnSheryse Holden, a mother in West Sacramento, Calif., says she uses the S’moresUp app to assign her 10-year-old chores. The app keeps her informed on whether her son puts his toys away and feeds the fish, for example.
Holden says she prefers the app to paper checklists she used to use. Those checklists used to provoke stress in her son, even meltdowns. The icons on the S’moresUp app are a more aesthetically pleasant way for him to sort out tasks to complete. Plus, the app makes tracking rewards easier, with her son earning play time and other goodies for completed tasks. She’s also rewarded her son for demonstrating good behavior, like helping someone in school.
Organization by app isn’t without its flaws—sometimes Holden misses a task her son completed. Mother and child have mitigated any disagreements through old-fashioned conversation. Data-driven parenting, to Holden, “is as complicated or as easy as you want it to be.”