Reverse Alarm Clock - wake down, kids...

From Carnegie Mellon professor John Zimmerman (and through Engadget) comes a very interesting concept: a "Reverse Alarm Clock" which cues kids to go to bed. It features a display with three states - sun, stars, and moon - to signal full-awake, quiet-time, and in-bed states for the kids; transitions are accompanied by sounds or music.

What's most intriguing about this idea is not the details of the execution, but the overall concept itself. The notion of using external, controllable cues to signal quiet-time and bedtime could be a very powerful behavior tool. As is, any cues for quiet time or bedtime for children suffer from one or more of the following flaws...

-Not external- "Because I said so" has never been a very effective parenting phrase. Kids are too smart, and learn that parents are flaky or, worse, can be bargained with or manipulated. External cues come from machines or devices which possess none of these weaknesses.

-Not intentional- Kids, like dogs (hmm), often develop unintentional and unconscious cues. For example, maybe Dad tends to sit in a certain chair after dinner; this might develop into a cue for the kids that bedtime is near. So on a random night when Dad happens to not sit in that chair, the parents may be very confused about why the kids are suddenly more difficult to corral to bed!

-Not controllable- Dusk is certainly a powerful cue for bedtime; one that may even be ingrained in instinct. However, it changes time throughout the seasons, it may not be at the time the parents want to send the kids to bed, and the effect of dusk may be muted by dark weather during the day or spending a lot of time indoors.

This really is potentially a very powerful tool for those - parents - who need it most. Pavlov to the rescue, and not a moment too soon!

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