Mommmmmeeeeeeee! It’s the first thing most kids cry when they scrape their knee, cut their finger or stub their toe.

Like children all over America, mine instantly feel better once a Band-Aid is applied -- as if the cotton adhesive strip has some magic, analgesic property. Band-Aids don’t only contain blood and scrapes; they also seem to contain fear. To the very young, they make boo-boos literally disappear.

Band-Aids (and other brands of bandages) have always held this power, long before a parade of characters irresistible to kids – Spiderman, Hello Kitty, Barbie, Scooby and Dora - started inhabiting the strips.

Sorry Johnson & Johnson, it’s not the Band-Aids you’ve manufactured since 1920 that makes cuts and scrapes feel so much better. It’s the closeness, the attention, and the hugs and kisses kids get when the strips are applied. You have to get close to put on a Band-Aid. Laps are best. Often, tears stop before the Band-Aid is even out of its sterile wrapper.

Like nearly every other corporate entity on the planet, Johnson and Johnson Consumer Companies, Inc. recently released a new app. This one, called Band-Aid Magic Vision, is for hurting kids and is linked to Muppet Band-Aids already on store shelves. Point your phone, or iPad, at a Muppet Band-Aid or box and a Kermit on the screen will swing over the boo-boo, play his banjo and sing Rainbow Connection. Miss Piggy will act vain, demanding you take her picture. Or Gonzo will act, well, gonzo. The free app merges the Muppet graphics with the child’s surroundings, providing parents, according to a Johnson and Johnson press release, “an unprecedented ability to entertain their kids during the traumatic moment of getting hurt in a way like never before.”

Distracting? Funny? Able to instantly turn tears into laughter? Surely.

Marketing experts have given the app high reviews since its release late last month, saying it will emotionally connect children and parents to Band-Aid brand and generate consumer loyalty. Many mommy bloggers are raving about it too. (In their brilliance, app designers picked Muppets because they appeal not only to both boys and girls but also to parents.)

But I fear this snowballing trend of transferring age-old parenting duties from ourselves to our smart and sleek devices.

We see it everywhere. Toddlers play Angry Birds on airplanes. Kids play Temple Run or Monkey Quest so their parents can finish their restaurant meals in relative peace. Parenting magazines are filled with articles about the best iPhone apps for kids, toddlers and babies, which range from the ridiculous to the sublime. Kids can breed frogs, fly helicopters around their rooms, pretend they are at a birthday party or learn their musical notes – all without leaving their high chair.

These are easy and cheap distractions for harried parents. Parents are left a confusing path to navigate: is it hypocritical to say no to these addictive apps when our kids see us tethered to our phones and iPads?

The American Academy of Pediatrics comes down strongly on the question. They recommend no screen time at all for children under two and less than two hours a day of screen time, with purely non-violent content, for older children.

And now, replacing hugs and kisses from a loved one with a machine when a child scrapes a knee? It’s dangerous territory that psychologist Harry Harlow explored well in classic and controversial experiments he conducted in the late 50s and early 60s. Harlow took baby rhesus monkeys away from their mothers and had them “raised” by surrogate monkey mom machines that could dispense milk.

Some of these wire moms were covered with terrycloth to make them softer. In general, baby monkeys preferred the softer cloth-covered replacement moms, whether or not they provided food and especially when they were scared.

Harlow concluded that contact and comfort is extremely important to healthy development. Monkeys that didn’t receive contact and had only wire moms to cling to became psychologically disturbed. They screamed, acted terrified and refused to explore or interact with other monkeys. While the studies are now widely condemned for their cruelty, they did help offset widespread parenting advice at the time that children shouldn’t be cuddled or comforted too much at risk of becoming spoiled.

Admittedly, a fun little Band-Aid app with a crooning Kermit is a far cry from sticking your child onto a wire manikin instead of hugging her – but the decision to use these apps shouldn’t be taken lightly. Even if your iPhone cover is warm, snuggly terrycloth, there’s no substitute for a real, human hug. Especially when you’ve scraped your knee.


Image: BAND-AID(R) Brand Adhesive Bandages