HomeTeam: Keeping Families Connected

hometeam Grandparents2Life can get pretty crazy around here. Typical weekdays start at about six with me rolling out of bed and giving my 12-year old daughter a gentle wakeup nudge. I take the dog for a walk, and 20 minutes later, it’s time for a second nudge—this one somewhat less gentle. Then it’s down to the kitchen where I make breakfast and lunch. At this point, my daughter swoops in, wolfs down a waffle or some eggs, mutters an unintelligible complaint about the lunch menu, and spends a few minutes scrambling around trying to find her shoes and homework, and brush her teeth. Then we slip into the car and it’s off to school. During the ride she’s either frantically trying to finish an assignment that’s due in an hour or snoozing. By the time I drop her off, we’ve probably exchanged 15 words.

Afternoons aren’t much chattier, between picking her up, schlepping her to the extracurricular du jour, driving home (although at least 10 minutes of dad-daughter conversation is mandatory during these after-school rides), and trying to pull something together for dinner while she goes to her room to do her homework. Next thing I know, it’s off to bed.

I know that what I’m describing is pretty typical for today’s busy families—especially the part about the challenge of finding quality (let along quantity) family time. And if it’s this hard to stay connected to kids you see every day, imagine how hard it is to stay connected to children when you’re a parent on a business trip, a military servicemember on deployment, or a grandparent who lives hundreds of miles away.

Having done a lot of work with military families and hearing firsthand how painful it is to be separated from the folks back home for months at a time, I was thrilled when the folks at Panasonic asked me to explore their new HomeTeam app, which is designed to keep families connected across time and distance. In a word, it’s wonderful.

hometeam dan and sonHomeTeam, which was developed by Panasonic Health & Wellness Solutions, gives families three ways to connect, the most obvious being video chat. But anyone who’s ever tried to have an actual conversation with a young child on Skype or some other platform will tell you that the phrase “awkward silence” is more appropriate than “chat.” That’s where HomeTeam’s other features really shine.

With HomeTeam, the kids and mom, dad, grandpa, grandma, or anyone else can read stories or play games together—and by together I actually mean together. (It’s possible for people in up to five locations to be online at the same time.) The HomeTeam app includes nearly 2,000 classic and new digital books, including a number of recently added ones from Disney, Pixar, Star Wars, and Marvel. Books are sorted by age group or category (adventure, animals, biography, fiction, non-fiction, folk tales, sports, and more). Pick a story, figure out who’s doing the reading, and you’re off.

hometeam gamesThere are also more than a dozen interactive games, again, sorted by age or category. These include matching games, puzzles, classics like Go Fish and chess, and even educational selections that focus on word play, math, and science.

Whether reading a story or playing a game, kids and adults are doing it together, with the game or book on part of the screen, and the smiling faces on another part. Of course, there’s nothing like snuggling up on the couch together and reading or playing a game while sitting at the same table. But when that’s not possible, HomeTeam gets you about as close as possible.

The service is aimed at kids 3-12, and the interface is sleek, attractive, and extremely easy to use. You can download HomeTeam in the App Store, Google Play, or at MyHomeTeam.com. Give it a whirl for 30 days for free (you don’t even need a credit card to get started). After that, HomeTeam costs $8.99 per month and can be shared with up to five family members.

You can connect with Panasonic on Facebook, Twitter, and/or Instagram.

Disclosure: I received an extended trial and some compensation to facilitate this review. However, it would take a lot more that that to make me give something a thumbs up that I don’t honestly believe it deserves.

Nice Coverage of My Terre Haute, IN Talk on Military Dads

Author Helps Deployed Dads with Home-Front Issues
Brott, Military FatherThis article ran on the AP wire and also appeared in The Military Times.
Oct. 2, 2014

By Howard Greninger
The (Terre Haute, Ind.) Tribune-Star via AP

Staff Sgt. Shawn Oxford of the Indiana Air National Guard said he knows what it’s like to come home after a military deployment.

“Things are definitely different when you come back, such as kids (initially) listening more to the parent who stayed at home. It does take some getting used to, but it is nice to know you are not the only one,” Oxford said.

He was among more than 50 members of the 181st Intelligence Wing Wednesday to hear a presentation from Armin A. Brott, who has written several books for dads, including his book, “The Military Father — A Hands-on Guide for Deployed Dads.” Brott is known as Mr. Dad.

Brott said he decided to write the book after he heard statements such as “my husband just came back from deployment and every time a door slams around here, he dives under a table. Or something from the mom or dad, that their 2-year-old daughter comes up from behind to give a hug, and I almost threw them out a window,” he told the Tribune-Star.

Brott served in the U.S. Marine Corps from 1976 to 1978, entering the service at age 17.

In his presentation to the Intelligence Wing at the Terre Haute International Airport-Hulman Field, Brott said there are different challenges facing families in active duty and reserve deployment.

One is finances.

“Young enlisted guys, or girls, are not making a lot of money, and they tend to live on the base,” he said. The young enlisted, Brott said, also tend to be targets of predatory loans and have a high rate of bankruptcy. “The average credit rating for active duty is 592, while the civilian reserve has a 692 credit rating,” he said.

The guard or military reservists may have a good job in their civilian life, but have a lower rank and earning less in the military. “If they get deployed, they have some financial issues to deal with because there is a long stretch of time where they are not making enough money to make ends meet. There is also the opposite effect of someone who has a good military income, but low civilian income. If there is a deployment, they get used to having that extra money and start buying things on credit. But when the deployment is over, they have all those bills to pay, so (they) end up in the same spot with difficulties managing finances,” he said.

Military personnel today also are more likely to see combat. In World War II, about 15 percent of veterans saw combat, while in the Vietnam War it was closer to 30 percent. “In Iraq and Afghanistan, it was closer to 70 to 80 percent who saw combat,” he said. Yet, Brott said, that does not mean there is a bigger connection of those in combat to post-traumatic stress disorder symptoms, especially when compared with another military problem of suicide, he said.

“Half of the people who commit suicide in the military, and it is a problem, were never deployed. Eighty percent of those committing suicide never saw combat,” he said.

Brott said active duty families often have support of being on bases and with people of similar situations. Reserve-duty dads, when deployed, go through feelings of shock, fear, anger and uncertainty, particularly before a first deployment. At the same time, their spouses can feel withdrawal and an emotional distance.

Capt. John Petrowski said he appreciated that Brott was able to show both sides of the deployed and a spouse at home. “Both face challenges and fears going into deployment. Plus the stress (of the spouse) at home with the kids. We have always said the toughest job is for the person who stays at home,” he said.

Petrowski said technology, such as Skype, can sometimes become too distracting to the person serving overseas, as well as a hardship on the person at home. “If the lawn mower is broken and you are in Afghanistan, it doesn’t do you any good to know that. Let’s just get the lawn mower fixed and not pass that on” to the deployed spouse, Petrowski said.

Brott said children react to deployment and returning from a deployment in different ways. “Yet all kids just want to know how it affects ‘me,’ your going away or your return, how will it affect ‘me.’ They have no other concerns, really and truly,” he said.

For infants, he suggests the deployed person record themselves reading stories. Toddlers do not understand time and can lash out verbally when a parent is gone. Pre-school and elementary children still have “the me thing going. We need to be reassuring that they understand what is going on. Give the child something to hold onto, something of value, so they feel connected to you and feel connected to what you are doing and your return.”

For children age 8 to 12, talking and listening to questions is important. For teens, “they can be sullen, can push you away or have behavioral problems, but the difficulty is being sullen or withdrawing or just being annoying sometimes is basic teen behavior. To separate out what is normal for a teen to what is normal for a teen with a parent who is deployed is difficult. Talking and listening is still important,” he said.

Senior Airman Anna Dennis said she appreciated the presentation. Dennis said that while she does not have children and could not directly relate to that discussion, “I didn’t think about the different ages of children and how they react” to a deployment, Dennis said.

The original article apppeared here.

Dinner with Heroes

[amazon asin=1401324878&template=thumbleft&chan=default]Sarah Smiley, author of Dinner with the Smileys.
One military family, one year of heroes, and lessons for a lifetime
Issues: The heartwarming story of a family’s commitment to fill a deployed servicemember’s place at the family dinner table with interesting people–teachers, Olympians, politicians, athletes, authors, comedians, and more.