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Home Family Parenting Advice How Much Video Chatting Is Too Much—Good Parenting

How Much Video Chatting Is Too Much—Good Parenting

Dear Dr. Debbie,

My seven-year-old really misses her friends. I have to admit this social isolation is getting to me, too. This will be my sixth week of teleworking and her third week of half-hearted attempts at e-learning.

I’ve let her use my devices to “see” her grandparents a few times which is very sweet and a little sad. How much video chatting with her friends is too much? And what about me?

Anybody Out There?

Dear AOT,

Social interaction is a basic human need. We are often at our best when operating within the social relationships of our families, our classmates, our workmates, a neighborhood community or professional community, and other close affiliations. Fun times are shared times. Hard times can also be shared.

Take advantage of technology so you and your daughter can continue to interact with friends you can’t physically be with. Under normal circumstances, a seven-year-old doesn’t need to be Face timing a friend for an hour every day, but think of how much of her social time has been lost while school is closed and everyone is staying at home. The same is true for you. You’re missing the face-to-face interactions of a normal work week and many other everyday social connections. Indulge your daughter’s longing to be with her friends through the devices that can magically put them together in the same room. Use your screens to remedy your own loss of social contact as well while the country slows the spread of COVID-19 by staying away from each other.

Dynamic Faces
Social scientists recognize that people subconsciously extract clues about another person’s state of mind from facial movements. Emotions are a primal form of communication. We “hear” people better when we can see them. Well before they understand words babies understand the moods expressed on faces. Before they learn to speak, babies learn to control their own facial movements to communicate their needs. A two-year-old’s temper tantrum stems from emotions but can escalate “dramatically” for effect. These are intentional gestures of self-expression. Children also learn, especially in middle childhood, how to see through the “fake” faces that other people make to get at the truth.

For your daughter, then, screen time with friends helps her develop proficiency in sending and receiving the deeper emotional messages that underlie verbal communication. Longstanding friends get really good at decoding each other’s facial expressions, and will call one another out on an attempted deception. These are the friends you hold onto in adulthood, too.

Social Capacity
Enduring friendships, as demonstrated through research, are good for your health and mental health, boosting the immune system and reducing depression. On a practical level, a friend gives you helpful advice and roots for you, essentially steering you to reduce your stress level by helping you successfully deal with your stressors. Your daughter’s friends might help her to complete a math problem or to deal with a bully. Your own friends encourage you to take good care of yourself and they may help you with critical decision-making.

“Human beings are an ultra-social species — and our nervous systems expect to have others around us,” says Emiliana Simon-Thomas, PhD. of the University of California at Berkeley.
Dr. Simon-Thomas is considered a leading expert on the neuroscience and psychology of “pro-social” skills such as compassion, kindness, and gratitude. She asserts that, “We’re built to really seek social companionship and understanding,” in order to be happy.

Heartfelt Strength
Happiness is multiplied and sorrow is divided between friends. A joke is doubly enjoyed when you tell it to a friend. When you are struggling, a friend empathizes and consoles. A friend will affirm your emotion, validate that it is reasonable, and help you figure out the best thing to do about it. You’d do the same for her. A friend will also remind you of your past successes and your sustaining strengths. Knowing your friend believes in you, you would do your best to not disappoint her. Interestingly, we often choose friends with strengths that are opposite our own, out of authentic admiration – natural cheerleaders for each other. Your daughter’s friends are helping her figure out what she’s good at and helping her to be better at being a friend.

We draw strength from our friends. During this very unusual and very challenging time children, and adults, too, need friends more than ever. This is more important than sticking to your pre-pandemic limits on screen time. Your daughter’s, “What is there for me to do?” can be countered with, “What could you do with a friend?” She can do some of her e-learning assignments with a friend. If you have an app with a whiteboard and screen sharing, friends can play tic-tac-toe or a drawing game together. A smart phone or tablet can be used to give each other tours of their spring gardens. They can take turns choosing music to dance to or, as a special treat, indulge in using two phones and two televisions to watch a full-length movie together. Pop your own popcorn but watch your friend pop some into her mouth. Parents could watch the movie, too, and perhaps become friends in the process.

Screens can bridge the distance between friends. Definitely find ways for your daughter, and for you, to stay connected with the people who help you to be your best.

Dr. Debbie

Deborah Wood, Ph.D. is a child development specialist with degrees in Early Childhood Education, Counseling, and Human Development. Workshops for parents, teachers, and childcare professionals can be found at: www.drdebbiewood.com.

Click here for more parenting advice by Debbie Wood.

What do you think? Email your comments or questions to Dr. Debbie at editor[at]chesapeakefamily.com

 

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