My two-year-old son has three preferred video conferencing platforms.
He uses FaceTime on iPhone to chat with his East Coast granny.
He uses good old Skype on the laptop to call his West Coast granny.
When he needs to get a little silly online, he uses Tango. Because sometimes every kid needs to see themselves as Hello Kitty.
And like my son, lots of young kids are playing around on the computer on a regular basis. So much so, that “how much screen time is too much screen time” has become the dilemma of choice for post-millennial parents.
Video conferencing, however, is seemingly immune from the screen time debate.
In fact, you might be surprised to learn that the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) thinks video calling can be beneficial to the very young.
How Much Screen Time Should a Young Child be Allowed?
In October, the AAP created as many headlines as an organization like it can when it made a crucial exemption its 17-year stand on banning screen time for children under two.
The reason for the ban in the first place was the fact that very young children, going through very rapid brain development, can’t transfer what they see on a 2D screen into their 3D world. The AAP insisted that the best way for young minds to develop was through social interaction and hands-on play.
That’s hard to achieve when you’re alone in front of a TV screen.
However, the interactive nature of video calling has given the highly influential academy reason to rethink its blanket ban. Its own research, published earlier in 2016, found evidence that children and babies are socially and emotionally engaged when using video chat, in a way unmatched by other new media.
There’s also evidence that babies as young as six months can tell the difference between passive streaming media, like a TV show, and active conversational streaming, like a video call.
Furthermore, video calling has the unique ability to build and strengthen family bonds across otherwise insurmountable distance–such as talking with grannies on separate coasts.
So video calling has been given the green light.
Now, how do we make it even more beneficial for the youngest minds?
Expanding the World of Video Conferencing with Kids
I mentioned earlier that my son enjoys seeing himself disguised as Hello Kitty with Tango’s superimposed mask feature (Snapchat is popular with him for the same reason). Now, I’m no pediatrician so I’m not going say that kind of added element in his video chats with granny is doing him any good.
What it does demonstrate–and this is something VC Daily discussion often centers upon–is that video conferencing is not just the replication of face-to-face communication; it is a means to improve on how we communicate.
So these augmented reality masks are just one of the simplest, most obvious ways a human conversation can be improved.
In the case of my son’s chats with his granny, we could ratchet up the obvious educational value by introducing superimposed numbers, letters, photos, and animals into the conversation. And not just static flash card-style images, but moving, mooing, flying, textured creations.
Now when Granny sings the alphabet song–she likes Usher’s version–the actual letters could appear on screen and offer a new visual element. Perhaps the letters could be tapped in by Granny and displayed one after the other as bubbles that my son could pop with the touchscreen tech of a smartphone.
Or, she could present him with an image of a horse and ask him to guess what sound it makes, before releasing a neigh from the animated stallion with a touch of her finger.
Augmented reality already lets us play instruments on our phones, launch angry birds into the sky, and make patterns out of candy, so why not converge these physical gymnastics into the audio/visual world of VC?
After all, the AAP itself has decreed children learn by playing.
Getting Physical with Video Calling
It seems logical that video calling technology that was designed to humanize and socialize communication across the void would be a great tool for expanding the worlds of youngsters.
But when your mind is still thrilled by gravity, the clash of saucepans, and the feel of a human face, perhaps it’s best to use video conferencing in a more physical way.
Maybe we just need to add some virtual stacking blocks to our next Skype. A little augmented reality could render some bright coloured ones in the corner of a chat window, and my son and his granny could take turns moving them into place with a fingertip and then smashing them down with a well-aimed flick.
All the while disguised as Hello Kitty, of course.