Toddlers Can Understand and Learn From Interactive Facetime Interview with:

Lauren J. Myers, Ph.D. Assistant Professor Psychology Department Lafayette College Easton, Pennsylvania

Dr. Lauren Myers

Lauren J. Myers, Ph.D.
Assistant Professor
Psychology Department
Lafayette College
Easton, Pennsylvania What is the background for this study?

Response: Many families with young children use video chat to connect with family and friends–but what do children understand about the on-screen people and content of these interactions? The American Academy of Pediatrics discourages screen time for kids under 2 years because children who watch a lot of media often have poor language skills, and they miss out on other activities that would be more developmentally appropriate. However, in this study we wondered whether there is a difference between putting a baby in front of a television and having an interactive exchange via video chat. What are the main findings?

Response: We evaluated 1- to 2-year-old children’s learning from video chat by manipulating social contingency: 60 children experienced either real-time FaceTime conversations or pre-recorded videos as the partner taught novel words, actions and patterns. We found that children paid attention and responded to their on-screen partners, but only children who experienced interactive video chat responded in-sync with the partner, such as clapping to imitate after the partner had clapped. Also, after one week of video chatting, children in the FaceTime (live) condition learned social information—that is, they preferred and recognized someone they had previously only ‘met’ via video-chat—and cognitive information, learning new words and patterns. Learning occurred from video chat only when children talked to an on-screen “partner” who responded to them in real time, and learning did not occur when the partner was pre-recorded and couldn’t actually see or hear the child. What should readers take away from your report?

Response: Starting around 17 months, toddlers can respond to, understand and learn from video chat interactions and can form a relationship with their partners via the screen. Video chat supports learning and social bonding by mimicking live social interaction. What recommendations do you have for future research as a result of this study?

Response: Technology moves faster than research on the effects of various media on children. We don’t yet know what younger children (under 12 months of age) understand about video chat, whether there are long-term effects of video-chat usage in childhood, or whether relationships forged via a screen are similar to in-person relationships. In the absence of research to guide families on these issues, parents should use their best judgment and ensure moderation in their child’s screen time. Is there anything else you would like to add?

Response: Young children learn best from a person who is interacting with them and talking to them. The more that parents can be involved in their child’s video-chat experience (e.g., by asking questions, talking about experiences with the video-chat partner in-person, and helping the child respond to the person on the screen), the more children are likely to understand about those interactions. Also, unstructured playtime away from screens is important to build into children’s daily activities. Thank you for your contribution to the community.


Lauren J. Myers, Rachel B. LeWitt, Renee E. Gallo, Nicole M. Maselli. Baby FaceTime: can toddlers learn from online video chat? Developmental Science, 2016; DOI:10.1111/desc.12430

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Last Updated on July 18, 2016 by Marie Benz MD FAAD