Facetime for Babies?

Photos of babies playing with a touchscreen in order to video chat. From a site called mamanloupsden.com
Facetime for Babies?

Dear Ms. Smartphone: During the Covid pandemic my parents got in the habit of helping me out and using the video chat on their iPhone(Facetime) to call my infant daughter. She was about six months old then. Now she is turning two and they want to continue using Facetime. I don’t see the need to have extra screen time. And we get to visit with them every other week or so.  Ginger

Dear Ginger: This one’s hard to call (pun intended) because young children got exposed to a lot of extra screen time during the pandemic. Now conscientious parents, like you, are trying to wind back viewing time and Facetime for babies.  But the other side of the coin is that your parents want to stay involved and enjoy using electronic technology.

Video-chat is a special case of screen time, according to the expert opinion from the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP). Growing up in secure families with strong family ties are important for a child’s well development and happiness. So video chat is “exempt” from the AAP recommendation that children do not start using screens prior to eighteen months of age. Now that your daughter is two, their recommendation is that viewing is OK for up to an hour a day, providing that you select “high quality programs” and co-view with them. 

Fuzzy for All:

You mentioned that the family began video chats when your daughter was about six months old. There are only a handful of studies that look at how infants that young process video chats. Many of these were conducted during Covid.   Babies don’t recognize faces on the screen or hear the audio track in the way that adults do. One researcher observed an eighteen-month- old who ‘fed’ her grandfather raisins during a Facetime call, and would then run around to the back of the touchscreen to make sure he was eating them.  Most likely the video chat sessions between your daughter and the grandparents were a blur and somewhat confusing (to both of them!) However, the repetition, frequently  seeing and hearing someone familiar, helps to close that gap. 

There’s no reason to not continue the video calls, providing that they do not substitute for in-person visits.  Don’t let them interfere with that. You might consider initiating the chats from a larger fixed screen, like a desktop monitor or TV, instead of your phone. Then your parents may be able to find an activity, like reading a book aloud to her or pointing out and naming things they hold up. Meanwhile, you might set aside a special time of the day or evening to receive these calls, and make it more of a special occasion- for all of them.


One last thought: When you visit in person perhaps you do a drop-off so that the grandparents get more time with your daughter one-on-one. Don’t think about screen time the same way. Following the advice of the American Academy of Pediatrics, it’s important to stay in the same room when you video chat and help her understand the dialogue with Grandma and Grandpa. Otherwise she is likely to get distracted by the keyboard or mouse, or things she can manipulate on the screen. With video chat, young kids need to focus on the love and words that are exchanged, not on the device.