During a time when we’re encouraged to stay indoors, connecting with your family is as important as ever. This rings especially true for grandparents who live far away from their grandkids or grandparents who are stuck at home alone. Luckily, we live in a new digital era with an endless array of tools we can use to stay in touch from afar!
Video chatting is one of the best (and usually free) telecommunications tools for staying in touch with your grandchildren. It’s a great way to see their precious faces as you catch up, whether from your desktop computer, tablet or smartphone.
But, just like any new technology, video chat can be intimidating and overwhelming to learn about. We’re here to help answer all your questions about video chat and help you find the best video chat app or program for you.
The technical term for “video chat” is “videotelephony,” and it’s also known as “video conferencing.” It really just boils down to a voice and face-to-face conversation between two or more people on video and in real time using the internet, webcams and video chat software.
Video conferencing technology dates back to the 1870s and was experimented with in the 1920s and again in the 1970s by AT&T. But huge inroads were made during the computer revolution of the 1980s and 90s. In 2003, the appearance of Skype, still one of the most popular video conferencing tools, made video chat available to anyone who had a computer and a webcam. Skype came to the iPhone in 2009, and FaceTime emerged in 2010 on the iPhone 4 — making video chat mobile and even more accessible.
Your grandchildren’s generation is so interconnected with modern technology that speaking on the phone or writing letters has become foreign to them. If you want your pre-teen and teenage grandchildren to communicate with you — tapping into modern technologies is a great way to entice them. Plus, it’s a great compromise between modern technology (which also includes more complex tools like Snapchat) and old-school communication (like phones and talking in person). And you might even gain some “cool” points from your grandkids along the way.
Video chatting with your smaller grandchildren allows you to see them in all their cuteness, and for them to see you as they grow and begin to make visual connections and develop relationships in their early years. If you don’t get to see your little ones often, video chat can help with facial recognition so that when you do reunite during the holidays, they’re more likely to recognize you, even at a younger age.
In order to video chat with your grandchildren, you will need either a smartphone with a camera or a desktop or laptop computer. Most newer computers have a built-in webcam and microphone for you to use, but if you have an older model, you may also need to stop at your local Best Buy and pick up a webcam.
If you are using a smartphone to video chat, you’ll also need a video chat app. If you’re using a computer, you’ll need to install a video chat program. Talk to your grandkids and their children about what video chat app or program to use. (More info on different app options below).
Finally, you do need Wi-Fi or a data plan on your phone to video chat.
The two most popular video-chat programs and apps are: Zoom and FaceTime.
FaceTime is arguably easier to use and more intuitive, so it’s a great video chat app or program for beginners. But it is only available on iPhones, iPads and Mac computers. You and your grandkids, or their parents, must both have Apple phones or computers to use FaceTime. If you do, FaceTime will be the easiest option for you.
The app comes pre-installed on all Apple products, so you don’t have to figure out how to download it. And, if you’re using it on your iPhone, it automatically connects with the phone’s contacts, making it easier to call your grandkids. FaceTime also allows for group video calls for free — so you can video chat with several grandkids at once!
Read Apple's FaceTime user guide
Zoom is a more recent, very user-friendly video conferencing tool and perhaps the mostly widely used. It’s great if you or your grandkids (or their parents) don’t use Apple products or don’t have Facebook. It can be used on Mac and Windows computers as well as most smartphones, making it accessible to many.
The basic version of Zoom is free, and you can video chat with up to 100 people at a time, making it easy to video chat with multiple children or grandchildren in different places! The only caveat: calls are restricted to 40 minutes unless you upgrade to the paid “Pro” version for a monthly fee.
Zoom can be more complex than the other options. If you would like to “host” the call, you do have to download computer software or a smartphone app and set up an account with your email. However, if your grandchild (or their parents) has a Zoom account, they can set up the Zoom call, and you can join them by simply clicking a link provided by them. No downloads needed on desktop (only if you’re joining on smartphone or tablet).
Click here for Zoom set-up instructions (Be sure you open this link from the device you'll be using to video chat.)
Skype can be used on Mac and Windows computers as well as most smartphones. Both the smartphone app and computer program are both free with no time limit on how long you video chat – which is a big plus – and you can call up to 50 people at a time anywhere in the world, as long as the other person is also using Skype.
You will need to download computer software or a smartphone app and set up an account with a username, and you need to know the username of the person you wish to video chat with.
Skype set-up instructions
Facebook Messenger can be used on any smartphone or computer to FaceTime with your grandkids. However, you and your grandchild, or their parent, must have Facebook accounts. When you log in to Facebook and head over to Messenger, you will automatically be connected with your Facebook contacts to video chat with them.
If you’re using Facebook Messenger on your smartphone, you do need to download the Facebook Messenger App. If you’re using Facebook Messenger on your computer, you do not need to install any programs and can video chat right from your browser.
Learn more about Facebook Messenger
The BEST way to get to know your grandkid better is to take them on an epic, unforgettable Grandparent Learning Adventure with Road Scholar next year.
About the Author: Our guest blogger this week is Kelsey Knoedler, a Marketing Writer at Road Scholar and who our social media. A native of Wisconsin, Kelsey discovered her love for travel when she studied abroad in Ireland. She has an MFA in Creative Writing and loves combining her passions for travel and writing in her role at Road Scholar!
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