Jocelyn Stevenson's first granddaughter, Ismay, was born last year.

"I was completely stunned by the impact it had one me," she said in an email. "Being a grandma rocks!"

But Ismay lives in Boston. And while Stevenson was able to be there for Ismay's first month or so, she eventually had to go back home to the United Kingdom, thousands of miles and an ocean away.


"I thought being a grandmother rather than a mother meant the distance wouldn't get me. Wrong!" she said.

It's hard to be away from your kids, especially when they're so little.

Stevenson said she visits Ismay as often as she can. "And for the rest of the time, we use FaceTime. Daily."

Whether it's because of work, military duty, or living situations, a lot of people are in situations like these. They have to spend time away from their loved ones, so they use video chat programs such as FaceTime or Skype to stay connected.

Photo via iStock.

"FaceTime has allowed us to grow our relationship," Stevenson said, "even though we're not in the same physical space." When they FaceTime, Stevenson and Ismay play with finger puppets, learn animal sounds, and sing songs.

But, Stevenson said, "I've been wondering what kids must make of it. What doe she think when Grandma is there reading her a book one day, and then [is] a head in a computer the next?"

Turns out, researchers are pretty interested in how kids respond to video chatting, too.

A team of psychologists at Lafayette College recently tested 60 toddlers, age 12-25 months, to see if they would learn better from video chats with real people or from videos.

The experimental setup. Photo from Lafayette Kids Lab/Lafayette College.

They were particularly interested in something called the "video deficit."

The American Academy of Pediatrics, for instance, discourages a lot of screen time for kids, especially kids under age 2.

Photo via iStock.

That's because some research shows kids don't learn well from videos and other screens, especially when compared to interactions with real people.

"A child's brain develops rapidly during these first years, and young children learn best by interacting with people, not screens," the AAP said.

But what happens if we move beyond Dora the Explorer and put a real-life person in a screen?

That's what the researchers at Lafayette College wanted to test.

For a week, half of the kids had FaceTime sessions with researchers. The other half got prerecorded "pseudo-interactive" videos (think of Dora the Explorer and her questions — "Do youuuuu see Swiper?" — and you'll get the idea). Both sessions tried to teach the kids to recognize new patterns and words.

At first, all of the kids paid attention to the screen, no matter what was on it. But at the end of that week, the researchers tested the kids to see what they remembered.

Lo and behold, video chat won by a mile. The kids remembered more of the patterns and words when they were taught by real people, even if those people were miles away.

When it comes to young kids and learning, it's all about real social interactions, the researchers said.

The kids "start to understand who that person is on the screen, and they’re able to get something meaningful out of the live video interaction with them,” said professor Lauren Myers, who led the study.

No matter how much you love Dora the Explorer, she just doesn't have that real social interaction that a call with grandma does.

Now, it's not completely analogous — the kids in this study had never met the person in the video before, for example. And the researchers only saw a real effect after the kids were about 17 months old. So more research will probably need to be done before we extoll the miraculous effect of FaceTime on newborns.

But there's also no shame in letting your kids have some screen time with far-away loved ones. 'Cause this study hints that, for toddlers, video chats aren't just another form of entertainment — there's actually a connection there, and that's pretty awesome.

We have enough to worry about when we're away from the kids we love.

But on this whole "screen time" debate, at least, maybe we can breathe a little easier.

Photo by Maxim Hopman on Unsplash

The Sam Vimes "Boots" Theory of Socioeconomic Unfairness explains one way the rich get richer.

Any time conversations about wealth and poverty come up, people inevitably start talking about boots.

The standard phrase that comes up is "pull yourself up by your bootstraps," which is usually shorthand for "work harder and don't ask for or expect help." (The fact that the phrase was originally used sarcastically because pulling oneself up by one's bootstraps is literally, physically impossible is rarely acknowledged, but c'est la vie.) The idea that people who build wealth do so because they individually work harder than poor people is baked into the American consciousness and wrapped up in the ideal of the American dream.

A different take on boots and building wealth, however, paints a more accurate picture of what it takes to get out of poverty.

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via PixaBay

Being an adult is tough.

Nothing can ever fully prepare you for being an adult. Once you leave childhood behind, the responsibilities, let-downs and setbacks come at you fast. It’s tiring and expensive, and there's no easy-to-follow roadmap for happiness and success.

A Reddit user named u/Frequent-Pilot5243 asked the online forum, “What’s an adult problem nobody prepared you for?” and there were a lot of profound answers that get to the heart of the disappointing side of being an adult.

One theme that ran through many responses is the feeling of being set adrift. When you’re a kid, the world is laid out as a series of accomplishments. You learn to walk, you figure out how to use the bathroom, you start school, you finish school, maybe you go to college, and so on.

However, once we’re out of the school system and out from under our parents’ roofs, there is a vast, complicated world out there and it takes a long time to learn how it works. The tough thing is that if you don’t get a good head start, you can spend the rest of your life playing catch-up.

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This article originally appeared on November 11, 2015


Remember those beloved Richard Scarry books from when you were a kid?

Like a lot of people, I grew up reading them. And now, I read them to my kids.

The best!

If that doesn't ring a bell, perhaps this character from the "Busytown" series will. Classic!

Image via

Scarry was an incredibly prolific children's author and illustrator. He created over 250 books during his career. His books were loved across the world — over 100 million were sold in many languages.

But here's something you may not have known about these classics: They've been slowly changing over the years.

Don't panic! They've been changing in a good way.

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