Video Chat

The other day I video-chatted with a friend’s daughters.  At first, the older daughter (age 5) thought it was cool to see me and talk to me, but then she quickly preferred to look at herself making funny faces in the camera.  Her sister (age 21 months), really loved the video chat and came right up to the computer and said, “hi”.  She lost interest after a few minutes but she clearly understood that she was speaking to me and came back over to say good-bye before we got off.  It seemed clear that even though this was her first video chat experience and she was less than 2 years old, she understood the concept that I was real and was speaking and interacting with her through the computer.

New research is beginning to examine video chatting and it seems that it is a new fast growing phenomenon especially with very young children.  Parents in Washington, DC use video chat to introduce their new babies to their grandparents in New Zealand.  Sisters (one in New York one in Chicago) use video chat to let their infant sons see each other.  Mom’s watch their children on live video feeds at their daycares.  And toddlers in child care use video chat to stay in touch with a former student who recently moved out of the country. Video chat is popular and it’s changing the way adults communicate and the ways infants and toddlers understand screens and 2D presentations.

Most research has shown that until children are about 2.5 years old learn better from a live demonstration compared to a video demonstration1.  That means, if I wanted to teach a young child to stack blocks in a certain way, it would be easier for the child to learn if I was sitting in the room with him teaching him how to stack the blocks than if I showed him a video of me stacking the blocks. But learning from a video chat seems to be entirely different from learning from other screens.  In a study recently presented at SRCD, 24- and 30-month old children learned words from video chats and live demonstrations  better than children that watched a video that presented the new words.  So why can children learn from video chat but not from a video?

It seems the true interaction that occurs during a live video chat is more “real” and acts in many of the same ways as a live interaction.  The person on the screen can ask questions, pause for answers, point to different objects, just like they can in “real life.”  On a TV show or video, even in programs like Dora the Explorer where they producers tried to create an interactive feel (Dora will ask a question to the audience and stop and wait for a response), young children still struggle to learn. So, for young children all screens are not the same.  Learning from a video screen in which live interaction can occur, like on video chat, is much easier for young children than learning from even a computer than has only programmed responses.

Not only can young children learn from these video chat experiences, research has demonstrated that relationships can actually be maintained through such video chat sessions (even with children as young as 17 months old)3.   A study conducted in Australia demonstrated that children were much more comfortable in a room alone when their mother was present on a live video chat than when they were entirely alone in the room without the mother3 similarly children were more comfortable in the room alone when their mother was on video chat than when she was on a speaker phone4. Results from these studies suggest that video chats may offer both learning and emotional development opportunities for very young children and that they can be used to keep children in contact with family members that live far away.


1Anderson, D. A., & Pempek, T. A. (2005).  Television and very young children.  American Behavioral Scientist, 48, 505-522.

2Roseberry, S., Hirsh-Pasek, K., Richie, R., & Golinkoff, R. M. (April 2011).  Blicking through video chats: Contingent interactions help toddlers learn language.  Poster presented at the Society for Research on Child Development, Montreal, CA

3Tarasuik, J., Galligan, R., & Kaufman, J. (April 2011).  Maintaining familial relationships via video communication. Poster presented at the Society for Research on Child Development, Montreal, CA

4Tarasuik, J., & Kaufman, J. (April 2011).  Almost like being there: Social interactions via video link between parents and young children. Paper presented at the Society for Research on Child Development, Montreal, CA

1 Comment

Filed under Infants, Toddlers

One response to “Video Chat

  1. Great post! Thanks for sharing this fascinating new research line. Clearly, video chatting has the interactive component that is missing from regular video. A lot of products marketing themselves to “intergenerational” co-viewing have employed the video-chat method as a way of sharing media with young children (e.g.,; this research will bolster that argument.

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