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Here's Why Your Kids Should Skype (or Facetime)

Video conferencing has managed to completely change the way that families communicate. Instead of phone calls and letters, families can now chat face-to-face no matter where in the world they live.

For grandparents who live in different cities, or parents who have to travel for work, this is invaluable. Staying in touch with young children when you live or work far away can be tough, but video calling means you can interact with them every day. 

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Karen Evans, a mother from London, says video calling allows her sons to stay in contact with their grandparents who live in Ohio. “Most of my family live in Ohio, but my husband and I traveled to the United Kingdom for my job. Our three sons Skype their grandparents every weekend, and they have even virtually attended Christmas and birthday parties. It’s really sweet - every call ends with the kids blowing kisses to their grandparents.

Writing letters or making phone calls wouldn’t have given my sons the chance to actually spend time with their grandparents. This way they can maintain a real relationship.”

University student Rachael also thinks that video calling helps her to stay close to her little sister. “Before I moved to England to study biology at university, I was mainly worried about feeling homesick and missing my little sister Katie.

Now I am here and I Skype Katie and my mom every other day. If I’m having a hard day, or if I just want to catch up, I just call Katie on Skype and we can sit and chat for hours. I love being able to see her smiling and laughing.”

It can seem like video calling is made for children; most video calling apps are simple to use and children seem to prefer the face-to-face interaction to a phone-call. Parents seemed to have picked up on this too - The U.S. Association for Psychological Science found that nearly 90% of families used video-conferencing programs with their infants.

For Alan, video calling means he still gets to spend time with his children whenever he works away from home. “I Skype my daughters before they go to bed so that I can still tell them a bed time story. They don’t mind me working away from home so much because they know they will still get to see me, which makes me feel better about working away. It is always really interactive – they love it when I show them around the hotel room I am staying in.

As the technology become increasingly popular, it seems possible that video chatting may one day completely replace phone-calls. Some of the most popular apps allow video calling, such as FaceTime, and many people choose to video-chat on their mobiles instead of making a phone call.

Dora the Explorer or Grandma and Granddad: Research shows that babies know when they are Skyping

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Video conferencing is very popular with children, teenagers, and adults, but what do babies make of it?

Grandparents may want to cheer at this news; apparently, babies benefit from video conferencing too. Scientists now have evidence that proves that babies can tell the difference between a television show and a video call, meaning family members can maintain a relationship with babies even if they live in a different state.

“Babies who are pretty young are able to pick up, in particular, whether or not an adult is actually responding to them in real time,” said Elisabeth McClure, a researcher who focuses on children and media at Georgetown University. “Some television shows try to imitate this. You see, for example, with Elmo, or on Blue's Clue's, they look directly at the camera and pretend to interact with the child. There's evidence that babies can tell the difference as early as 6 months old.”

This shows how beneficial video conferencing can be in the modern day. Many people have to move for career opportunities and cheaper living, but they still want to stay in contact with their loved ones and families. Children and babies were especially difficult to stay in contact with, but with video conferencing, that is now a thing of the past.

Choosing the right video-conferencing software for you and your family

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Video conferencing is one of the easiest ways to stay in contact with your family, but if the connection is poor or they can barely see you the experience will be more frustrating than enjoyable.

However, it is easy enough to create the perfect set-up for a video call. You simply have to download your video-calling software and set up a space to chat from. Once you have done that, you can chat face-to-face with your family whenever you want. 

First of all you have to decide what video calling software is best for you. Three of the most popular choices are Skype, Google Hangouts and FaceTime. All three are versatile and easy to use, but each has different benefits.

FaceTime is simple to use and versatile, but it only works with iPhones, iPads, and tablets, so it isn’t ideal for people who use Windows laptops or android smartphones. Realistically this app is best suited to whole families who prefer the Apple platform, as other families will need to have the app to answer your call.

Google Hangouts can be used on any laptop or phone, but you will need a Gmail address to sign up. This is simple to do, and the software comes with free apps that you can use together to play games – perfect for video calling with children! It is also ideal for families who want to have group video calls, as it allows up to ten people to join one call where you can all see each other.

Skype is perhaps the most popular option. It can be installed on any computer, laptop or phone, and it is free to download. It is easy to find solutions to technical problems online as it is so widely used. The differences between the three are small, but it is important to choose the right software for you and your family.

Creating the perfect set-up for a video call

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Looking good during a video call isn’t about putting on nice clothes and some make-up – instead, it is all about making sure you have a good space that is set-up for your call. Things like lighting, sound and your Internet connection can all ruin your video stream. Check out five tips to make sure your video call looks great!

Don’t have light coming from behind you. The light will fill up the screen, and the webcam will compensate by making you look dark and shadowy. Instead put a light in front of you, illuminating your face.

Connect your laptop to the Wi-Fi using an Ethernet cable. A bad connection could make your camera slow and jumpy – it can even disconnect your call. Using an Ethernet cable will help you to get the best possible connection.

Find a quiet place to sit down and chat. Loud background noises can be distracting, and sometimes they can distort the video. Sitting somewhere quiet will make it easy for your family to hear you.

Shut down any programs that you are not using before you start the call. Programs running in the background will slow down your laptop or computer, which can make your video jumpy or cause your computer to crash. 

Position yourself in the middle of the camera. It can be pretty distracting to talk to someone who is too close or half out of the screen!

How to make video calls fun for kids

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Video calling is the most interactive way to spend time with the kids in your family if you live far away from each other, but sometimes it can feel a little limiting. There are actually lots of different activities that you can do together to have fun – check out some fun activity ideas below.

Go on a trip together. Take your mobile with you to the park and video call the kids from there – they will love getting to explore the area where you live!

Read them a bedtime story. Buy some of your favorite children’s books and read it to them as they fall asleep – this is a great way to bond with each other.

Play guessing games. Show the corner of objects to each other and try to guess what the object is.

Play drawing games. Google Hangouts has an app called Scoot and Doodle which allows you to draw pictures for each other.

Have a starting contest. This classic game is just as fun nowadays as it ever was – and it is the perfect game to play during a video call!

Your child and the digital world; tips to keep them safe online

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The world is becoming increasingly more dependent on the Internet, and many parents worry about keeping their children safe while they are online.

The Internet is certainly here to stay, so it is important to embrace it while teaching your children about safety and boundaries online. Here are some tips to help you keep your child safe when they are online.

1. Be aware of what your child is doing online

Don’t constantly monitor their activity online – this can seem pushy and invasive. However, make sure you who their online friends are, and which websites they use. Be aware of the apps that they download and the software that they use.

2. Set limits on how long they can be online

Just like television, Internet use should have reasonable limits. Make sure their Internet use isn’t affecting their sleeping pattern, and make sure they are still playing outside and with other children.

3. Have internet-free times

Keep meal times free of mobile phones to encourage social family time and good eating habits.

4. Look out for ‘educational’ apps

Many apps claim to be educational, but most research suggests otherwise. Organizations like Common Sense Media review games to see if they are appropriate and educational, so check out their site here to choose the best games for your children.

5. Remember that your children may make mistakes

Just like in real life, children can easily make mistakes online. If they accidently download an expensive app or a virus, use it as an opportunity to teach them about being smart online, rather than punishing them.

What could go wrong? Some of the most common video call fails

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As more people start to make video calls, more people start to embarrass themselves online. Mostly it is funny – but sometimes it can be pretty awkward! From FaceTiming in the bathroom to forgetting to mute your speaker, we look at some of the most common video call fails.

1. Forgetting to dress the part

Recent studies revealed that 21% of Americans admitted to taking video calls while wearing their pajama bottoms. Sarah from Manchester revealed that she totally forgot that she was wearing her PJS. “I Skyped my dad in the morning so that he could help me to prepare for a job interview.

He told me to make sure I was wearing smart clothes, but I thought I could get away with wearing a suit jacket and my PJ bottoms. It almost worked – until I stood up at the interview and the interviewer saw my flowery pink pajamas!”

2. Video calling from your bathroom

Surprisingly 6% of people in the survey said that they had seen someone video calling from their bathroom – it feels pretty obvious why this one is a no-no.

3. Accidently video calling the wrong person

This isn’t such a problem if you just have your family on your call list, but it can cause some complications if you also have your co-workers on there. Student Nick Evans had an awkward experience when he accidently called his boss instead of his little brother. “I had just bought a Spiderman costume for a fancy dress party and I thought my brother would like to see it. I meant to call him – but instead I accidently dialed my boss. Thankfully he found it hilarious!”
 

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References:

Carmen Sakurai. 10 Activities to Make Family Video Calls Fun for Kids. Piccolo Universe. June 2, 2015. http://bit.ly/1LBFMb3

Donald Shifrin, Ari Brown, David Hill, Chapel Hill, Laura Jana, Susan K Flinn. Growing Up Digital: Media Research Symposium. American Academy of Pediatrics. Oct. 1, 2015, 1-7. http://bit.ly/1NjOJFs

Elisabeth McClure.Let’s Skype! Video chat use among infants and toddlers. Association for Psychological science. June 3, 2014. http://bit.ly/1Rdxt4q

Lindsay Kolowich. 10 Simple Tips for Looking Good on a Video Conference Call [Infographic]. Hubspot. February 16, 2015. http://bit.ly/1AVs0tO

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