How To: The Best Video Chat Apps to Use with Your Infant

The Best Video Chat Apps to Use with Your Infant

You know your infant is advanced. Maybe you want to give her or him a head start at learning things like writing code to develop the next big Fortnite game. Or maybe you just want to play Fortnite with your infant. But the American Academy of Pediatrics discourages screen time for kids under than 18 months, with just one exception: video chat.

Only the best for your little one. So let's look at some fantastic video chat apps that you and your wee one can use together on Android or iOS.

But before we do, let's also address the elephant in the room. For 17 years, the AAP strongly discouraged the use of any digital media, including video chat, by young children. Then, in 2016, the AAP updated its stance on video chatting, even for children 18 months and younger. The updated guidelines don't prohibit video chat — they indicate that it may foster family time and build relationships.

This is a bit of a paradigm shift from the previous "any screen time will rot your child's brain" (slightly exaggerated) persuasion. Nonetheless, reading, play, talking, and sleeping are still very necessary in the real world, not the digital.

Why Video Chat Apps Are Good for Infants

Sesame Street and PBS are cited as examples of quality digital media recommended for older children by the AAP, but video chats have a distinct advantage over television shows such as these.

For one, they are much more interactive. To illustrate the difference this can make, take the ExerSaucer Bounce and Learn Zoo toy that was graciously given to our daughter. It is possible to seat an infant in this type of toy and walk away; but obviously, my daughter learned a lot more from an adult being present, naming the animals, identifying the sounds they make, and showing her how to spin or use the lever to move the different components.

When it comes to learning potential, context and adult interaction (or that of an older child) are crucial to consider, and that applies regardless of whether you are referring to a stuffed animal or an app.

Also, grandma will be happy to know that research shows babies as young as six months can discern the difference between a responsive adult on video chat versus Elmo on Sesame Street. Kids' television shows have been exploiting this concept for quite some time now, by having the characters make eye contact and appear to interact with the viewer. Via video chat, there's the added bonus of a real-time response, which even babies seem to recognize.

Best Video Chat Apps for Children Younger Than 18 Months

A disclaimer: Most of these apps are not actually intended for solo use by children under the age of 13. The assumption is that children younger than 18 months won't be using them on their own, so these apps are for you, your child, and other family members' mutual benefit.

While ads are of concern for any apps used by children, these apps have none while video chatting. Also, all of these apps are free, so no need to fork out any cash.

App 1: Facebook Messenger

Although I was initially irritated when Facebook first forced everyone to download a separate app for Messenger, I must admit that the standalone version is more robust. Overall, Facebook Messenger is an extremely popular video chat app with good reason(s).

One obvious reason is that so many people are already on Facebook — you probably won't have to walk grandma through installing and using the app because she's likely already using it. Another bonus is that it's easy to use, which is important when you have a baby and need things to just simply work.

Also, as you can see, there are a ton of stickers, emojis, and filters to use during video chats, which will likely make it more enjoyable for your child.

App 2: Messenger Kids

Back in 2017, Facebook released its Messenger Kids app, which was intended to allow children even younger than age 13 to chat with parent-approved contacts.

Obviously, your infant isn't going to be able to use this chat app on their own; but Messenger Kids might be worth considering for the following reasons. The app was created to be used by children, and therefore, comes equipped with interactive masks, stickers, reactions, GIFs, and sound effects. Another benefit of using a child-friendly app is its focus on privacy, safety, and parental controls.

Messages can't be hidden or deleted. Safety filters prevent kids from sharing violent, sexual, or nude content. It's easy to report on, and receive a response to, flagged content. Messenger Kids is Children's Online Privacy Protection Act compliant. You don't have to use a phone number, because the app uses Wi-Fi calling. There is no requirement for your child to have a Facebook account, but you will be asked to verify yours when you go through setup.

App 3: Google Duo

Like Messenger, Google Duo is available on both Android and Apple devices. Video and audio calls are free, and quality is good. The interface is very simple and straight-to-the-point. Google Duo is also very quick and reliable. In other words, it's compatible on most devices, you won't have to worry about your child racking up charges, and it won't be a hassle to use.

App 4: WhatsApp

One downside to Google Duo is that since it's relatively new, it's iffy that the person you and your baby need to communicate will already have it. WhatsApp is less likely to have that issue, with a billion people using it on a daily basis.

WhatsApp also offers more than just video calling, with lots of customizable options also available in its text-chat and voice-calling features. And, as a requirement of all apps on our list, dropped calls are rare and both video and audio quality is satisfactory.

App 5: Viber

Also quite popular, what was once solely a voice-calling app has evolved into a multifaceted and mature service fully capable of meeting your video-chatting needs — meet Viber. This app encrypts all text, voice, and video calls. It can usually handle even a weak 3G signal without disruption and excels at group video chats. It's very easy to use — just tap on the camera icon next to the person you and baby want to video chat with.

App 6: JusTalk — Free Video Calls & Fun Video Chat

JusTalk may not have the same notoriety that the previous apps do, but it's still worth mentioning because of the quality of its video chats, plus the fact that it's fun and secure. You can entertain your little one with lots of doodles, stickers, and other pictures during the video call. JusTalk offers clear image and audio, even in darker settings. Just be careful as some of the themes are only attainable through in-app purchases.

App 7: Skype

It might be remiss not to mention Skype, as it is immensely popular and has been in the business of video chat for a long time. In fact, Skype is often used as a verb to refer to the action of video-chatting. It's free and user-friendly. On iOS, you add grandma or other participants first, then tap the video button. On Android, simply press the "action" icon, then tap the video button.

App 8: WeChat

You can use WeChat to connect with a family member in a different country, to make it seem like they're in the room with your child. Over 1.057 billion active users report using this app monthly.

WeChat is comparable to Facebook Messenger in its structure, with several social media options. These include group chat, text and voice messaging, video conference, photo share, video games, code scan, and location share. But your infant will likely benefit most from the video conference, even more than a disembodied voice on the phone.

Other features include "Moments" where you and your child can share your favorite experiences in life using video, plus an entire sticker gallery. You will be required to enter your region and phone number.

App 9: FaceTime

Do you have an iPhone? So do a ton of other people, making this proprietary video chat option an extremely popular one. And like most software designed by Apple, FaceTime's interface is extremely user-friendly, which is a huge factor in trying to make grandma feel comfortable and allowing you to keep an eye on other things, like your infant.

You can make a FaceTime call by entering your phone number or email, and then tapping on the video or audio icons. Another way to video chat is by simply finding that person in your contacts and pressing those same video or audio buttons. You can also start calls from Messages in iOS 12, and Group FaceTime is coming. It's also easy to switch to FaceTime mid-call, with just the press of the FaceTime button.

App 10: Snapchat

Snapchat excels both in simplicity and features. Snapchat launches straight to the video (or camera.) Snapchat is notable for its large variety of fun ways to visually experiment with pictures and videos, so if you want your child to giggle at grandma's newly augmented facial hair — this app is the way to go. Stickers, silliness, Bitmojis, and spontaneity make Snapchat a top pick.

Make the Most of Your Infant's Video Chat

You may participate in video chats at work with 100 people and feel like a pro, but video chat with children under 18 months is a different ballgame. You or your coworkers may feel bored during a meeting, but you've probably learned not to act on it — at least not on video. Kids, on the other hand, have no such qualms or restraints.

On the other hand, under optimal circumstances, very young children can learn new words and even form relationships over video chat. To give you, your infant, and the other video chat participants the best shot at success, here are some tips.

  • Choose a good time to chat. Your child is probably more attentive when he or she is not hungry or tired, just as we all are.
  • Maintain eye contact. It might not be a bad idea to practice looking at the camera instead of your picture or other images on the screen.
  • Play interactive games. Peek-a-boo is popular for a reason. Playing pretend, like having a picnic and sharing food, can be hit too. Play games like "Simon Says" or just copy one another. Use props, like puppets or stuffed animals.
  • Stick to the familiar. Use songs, toys, musical instruments, books, and greetings your child knows. You can let the other caller in on your child's preferences so they can prepare.
  • Also show your little one the unfamiliar. If the caller is experiencing things your little one has never seen before, like an escalator, have them show it on-screen.
  • Plan to encounter technical difficulties at some point. Even when you use the best video chat apps. One problem will likely be your infant hanging up on the caller if they are able to.

The Bottom Line

Even though video chat offers more than a traditional phone call, it still omits some of the other ways infants communicate in person — like touch and smell. This means that you'll really want to emphasize the sight and sound aspects. Always, always, always supervise any video chat with a child this age. You don't want someone you don't know, or anyone with bad intent, interacting with your child.

Cover image and screenshots by Delani Clatfelter/Gadget Hacks

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