I’ll Skype You Later!
How video chat is becoming a way of life for some kids.
By Sarah Klein
In the time it takes my mom to find the power button on her PC, I can send three text messages, read four Facebook messages, and call a friend on Skype.
That’s not an exact science, but you get the point. Communicating through technology has become second nature, not just to BlackBerry-wielding business types, but to the majority of kids and teens. Cell phones aren’t just a safety precaution for new drivers, they are a necessity, and keeping up with Gossip Girl or posting new pictures to Facebook is a way of life.
The Center on Media and Child Health market research suggests that by 2010, 54 percent of 8 to 12 year-olds will have their own cell phone; and the Kaiser Family Foundation reported that about one-third of children and teens have a computer in their bedroom. Bottom line, kids are spending a lot of time with technology.
While parents and researchers can argue over whether technology belongs in the bedroom, it has certainly revolutionized the way we communicate. The Online Mom has reported before on the benefits of using webcams or IM to connect families scattered across different states or countries.
As the way we communicate changes, so have laws that govern communication. One such law concerns virtual visitation. The term refers to any kind of communication—usually between children and divorced, non-custodial parents—over the Internet, including Skype, IM, webcams, and e-mail.
Recently, the Journal of Law and Family Studies reported on three additional states—Wisconsin, Texas, and Florida—that have adopted virtual visitation laws since Utah became the first to do so in 2004. Seven more states have pending legislation in progress. Around 10 million children don’t have face-to-face interaction with one of their parents and virtual visitation is helping to maintain relationships between these children and the parents they don’t regularly see.
It’s also a means of communication that young children and teens are increasingly familiar with. Millions of them already use Skype, iChat or other video communication programs to stay in touch with extended family members, friends and classmates. As the Journal report documented, one non-custodial father was able to dramatically extend the length and depth of contact with his daughter through video calls, enabling him to admire her new haircut, see her Halloween costume, and “share in other spontaneous moments”.
Opponents of virtual visitation say that divorced or unmarried parents could use technology to replace face-to-face interaction entirely (“I’m too busy with work to visit, let’s just IM tonight.”) or as an excuse to move away (“I’m taking her with me to California; feel free to Skype!”). But psychologists often stress the benefits to a child’s mental and physical wellbeing of having regular contact with both parents, and in an age of high divorce rates and increasing mobility, this is one area where technology is sure to have a positive impact.