Helping Mom & Dad: Family Video Chats

Tips & Advice

Editor’s Note: This is the third in a series of articles about how we can help our elder parents get the most out of digital life—the ways we can help them look after their finances and health online, along with how they can use the internet to keep connected with friends and family, all safely and simply. 

Now here’s a great topic. Spending more quality time with our folks, even if they’re far away. That’s the beauty of a family video chat. It’s a way to connect with more than voice. It’s a way to share moments together. 

If your parents and the older loved ones in your family haven’t come around to the idea of video chats just yet, now’s a good time to give it a try. Video chats are far easier to enjoy than ever, and with a little initiative from you, the family can gather around a video chat rather quickly. In fact, there’s plenty you can do to get them started.  

Video chats may be old hat to you, but it’s likely quite new to them 

Clearly, a video chat is different than a phone call. Beyond the technological differences, it’s quite a different way of interacting. After all, there you are, face-to-face, talking over a device. And that may feel a little awkward, especially for our parents. They’ve lived lives where long-distance conversations meant using a phone that was anchored to the kitchen wall. 

So aside from the technical considerations of video chats, there’s a degree of freedom that may leave our parents wondering what to do and how to act in this new medium. Just like when we first used video chat ourselves, questions come up … Where should I be looking on the screen How should I hold the phone Can everyone on this call see up my nose? 

You can ease them in by taking the lead, welcoming them into the notion that your video chat can be much more than a phone call. More than simply talking, it’s a chance to create a shared space together.  

A great example is this: a co-worker recently told me about his in-laws who were scouting out retirement communities to live in. Even though his in-laws lived 2,000 miles away, they all got to do a little house-hunting together. Using a smartphone, they took room-to-room tours of model homes together, got views of the tree-lined streets, checked out the pools and rec centers, and so on. A few weeks later, they shared another video call where his in-laws walked the family through their new place after they’d settled in. And all of it started with a simple request, “Hey, turn on FaceTime so we can take a look too!” 

So, in a way, video chats truly are an opportunity to create moments together. It could be as simple as asking grandma to read a book to the kids, have mom and dad share what they’re having for a birthday dinner, or ask them to show how hard it’s snowing outside their home. Anything you can do to encourage a little free interaction of some sort may make a video chat feel far more comfortable. You can really relax and interact once you settle in and let the possibilities unfold. 

Set a time for your call 

In a way, a video call is much like dropping by the house for a visit. Placing a video call unannounced may catch mom in her curlers, so to speak. Or, as we’ve heard our parents say when they looked at a messy living room, we may catch them when “the house isn’t ready for guests.” In either case, scheduling a time for a video call gives everyone time to prepare. Whether it’s sprucing up your appearance or simply getting into the headspace for a face-to-face interaction, a designated time helps everyone get ready. 

On your end, it’s an opportunity for you to prepare as well. Do the kids have some recent schoolwork or a project they’re proud of? Have them bring it for some show-and-tell. Doing some cooking lately and you just can’t seem to get the family secret BBQ sauce just right? Bring your folks into the kitchen for some cooking advice. Find an old treasure in storage? Break it out and flip through your old grade-school art scrapbook with them on the call. As you prepare, think about sharing and moments, some of the things you’d like to do together over a video call. That’ll make it all the more special. 

Picking a platform for your video call—smartphones and tablets are a straightforward way to go 

As you know, there are plenty ways to hold a video call. There’s a good chance you’ve used several platforms and apps yourself already, whether with friends, work, or a mix of both. So when it comes to picking what’s best for your video call, the question to ask here is what’s your parent’s comfort level with technology. 

If your parents are pretty comfortable with technology, you can share one of my earlier articles on video calls with them, which walks through the ins and outs of different apps and options. If they’re a little less savvy with technology, ideally they have a smartphone or tablet that they can use. Chances are, that device will have video calling built right in, such as Apple’s FaceTime or Google Duo on Android devices—both of which make video calls an easier “point and shoot” experience.  

Even if you’re using different devices, you can still use apps like FaceTime between Androids and iPhones. It’s rather straightforward, as all it takes is for one party or other to click a link. Additionally, Google Duo is available as an app in Apple’s App Store, which makes it easy for everyone to get on one platform as needed. 

Video calls on laptops and computers 

If a smartphone or tablet isn’t in the picture, there are certainly options for laptops and computers, several you may also know well already. Of the free and relatively straightforward apps out there, you can choose from: 

Zoom

With a free account that can run through a browser window, you and your parents can enjoy a call without having to manually download an app. 

Skype

This comes standard on Windows PCs and supports apps for all kinds of tablets and smartphones too. If you want to create a video chat without an account, you can simply visit this page and start an instant video chat with a click 

Google Meet

Free to anyone with a free Google Gmail account, you can use Google Meet just by clicking its icon from your Google apps menu or by visiting https://meet.google.com/. Like Zoom and Skype, it can run in the window of a browser, so there’s no app to manually download. 

Of course, your folks will need a camera and microphone for their computer. If they don’t have one, there are plenty of moderately priced web cameras that include a microphone. I suggest getting one with a physical lens cap. That way they can protect privacy. Of course, they can always simply disconnect it when they’re not using it. 

Setting up a laptop or computer for video calls may take a little bit of work. You can help your parents by walking them through the process with these articles: 

Keeping safe on your calls 

Once you’re all set up, here are a few things that you and your parents can do to help keep your calls private and secure.   

1) Set a password 

If your video chap app generates a link that others can click to join in, be sure to create a password that uninvited parties can’t join in as well. Also, don’t be shy about asking your family members to use a password on the calls they initiate. It’s pretty much standard practice nowadays. 

2) Double-check any video chat invitation links 

Likewise, with any chat link that’s sent to you, be sure that link is legitimate. Confirm the link with the family member who sent it, particularly if you weren’t expecting one. (This is another good reason to schedule calls. Family members will be on the lookout for that link.) 

3) Use security software 

Make sure that you’re using comprehensive online protection software that helps steer you clear of scam emails and links, along with browser protection that blocks links that could send you to sketchy websites. That way, if you do get sent a bogus invite link from a scammer, you’ll be protected. 

4) Keep your apps and operating system up to date 

Aside from giving you the latest features and functionality, updates also often include essential security improvements. Set your computer to update itself automatically and consider using security software that will scan for vulnerabilities and install updates automatically as needed. 

Chat it up! 

An interesting closing note is that getting comfortable with video chat may open a world of other possibilities as well. Perhaps once they get online and see how video chats work, they’ll reach out to other friends and them get in on it too, creating more opportunities to reach out and spend time with others. In other words, you may really start something here by getting mom and dad on video chat. 

Additionally, early research has shown that older adults who use regularly technologies like video chat have seen positive impacts in their long-term memory compared to those who just interacted over the phone or in person. Similarly, research has shown that the use of technology, in general, can enhance mental health for older adults as well.  

With that, I hope you’ll give it a try with your parents and older loved ones. Meet the inevitable technical bumps in the road with a smile because this journey will be absolutely worth it. For all of you. 

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