These are definitely challenging times. Most children are now attending school from home. Parents are working from home where possible. Very little social interaction is taking place as the nation starts practicing social distancing. A word we’d never really heard or used before, but is quickly becoming part of our everyday language.
Many children are social and active kids, and all of this isolation is becoming detrimental to their mental health. Technology is a beautiful and wonderful thing though, and our kids can still be just as social as ever, while still keeping their distance. In most cases, they don’t even need their own device to do it too!
My Favorite Social Interaction Apps
There are several social media apps. Even more apps get created every day! However, during this crazy time, we want to allow our children to interact with their friends, but we also want to protect them from the dangers that can be associated with social media apps like online predators and inappropriate conversations.
My absolute favorite social interaction app is Marco Polo. This is not only true for me (I am CONSTANTLY on Marco Polo), but it’s true for my kids as well. What I love most about Marco Polo is that you can’t find someone on the platform unless you have their phone number. This helps me feel better about other people’s ability to find my kids on the app.
I also love that you don’t need to watch the videos right away. If you are busy at the moment you can check it out and respond when you are free. The app claims to be more like a video walkie-talkie, so it’s a call and response (like the game Marco Polo). You can add multiple people to a group and everyone can send polos to the whole group.
The videos can be as long or short as you want, you can share photos or links, and there are a few fun filters too. The messages also will not automatically disappear like some other platforms, and you can go back and watch ones from the past. The only real downside is your child has the ability to manually delete polos they have sent.
If you want a more live interaction experience Houseparty is a good option. This social media app was popular a couple of years ago but has since dropped off as other popular apps popped up like TikTok. Houseparty allows you to create a video chat room with your friends. It’s like a conference call for teenagers.
You can add contacts from your Facebook account or from your contact list, or you can just search for their name. This allows people who don’t know your child to find them with a search, but they still have to accept the request. Make sure your kids know to NOT accept requests from anyone they don’t know.
Since Houseparty is live videos there is no ability to monitor what happens inside the chatroom or view the chat at a later time.
Facebook Messenger Kids
If your kids really want the Snapchat type experience, they could be very happy using Messenger Kids. What I love about Messenger Kids is that they don’t technically have their own accounts. The account is tied to the parent’s Facebook account and the parent decides who can be added and who cannot be added.
Messenger Kids also has a ton of fun video filters and fun stickers you can add to the chat. You don’t even have to have Messenger Kids to interact with your kids! As they chat with you through the app, it will show up inside regular Facebook Messenger.
The main downside here is that I am unable to send GIFs to my kids… and I pretty much communicate exclusively through GIFs soo…..
A really great way for your kids to interact with actual classmates is through Google Hangouts. Many school districts use a Google Account for your child. As they sign into things like Google Classroom and Canvas they can chat with their teacher or classmates through Google Hangouts. Yesterday my son’s teacher did a Google Hangout for the whole class, and it really helped him!
Google Hangouts offers live video chats and messaging, and they are usually already connected to those in their school or class.
Other Ways To Connect
Aside from the standard social media apps, there are actually some other really fun ways to connect with your friends!
Have a Netflix Party
If you all have a Netflix account, you can have a live Netflix Party. You install the Chrome extension on your computer, and then open the video you want to watch with all of your friends inside the Netflix website. Then you click the button in Chrome to start your party! You can open up a chat session and everyone can chat during the show. It’s almost just like watching it with your friends sitting next to you.
Create a Story
My daughter loves writing stories, and now that we are house-bound, she has been collaborating on a Google Doc with her friend to write a novel. They take turns writing chapters and giving each other feedback. It’s been a really great way for her to still create and have fun with her friends.
Play Video Games
With very limited options for social interaction, playing video games with your real-life friends can feel just like you are together. Whether it is on your Nintendo Switch, PS4, XBox or even just Minecraft on the PC, you can get your friend’s gamer ID and connect with them to play together. Minecraft even allows you to create your own server so their friends can connect with each other and play privately.
My daughter LOVES to play Splatoon on the Nintendo Switch online with one of her best friends since they can’t hang out together right now. As long as you require your children to know the person they are playing online, you should be able to keep them safe from any predators.
Relax the Screen Time Restrictions
Under normal circumstances, screen time is pretty limited in our house. If they want more, they usually have to do an extra chore, read a book or go outside for a bit. These days your kids will be spending a LOT of time on their screens. Between their online school lessons and homework, they will likely use up most of their allotted screen time.
In these social distancing days, I recommend relaxing the restrictions a bit. For most kids, this will be the only social interaction they are able to get. Being isolated is not fun, and the easier we can make it for our kids to communicate with their friends, the better off they will be when this is all over.
Good luck to all of us. We can get through this!
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Sarah Kimmel is a digital parenting coach and family tech expert. She has spent the last 16 years of her career as a Microsoft Certified IT Manager supporting over 100 small businesses. During that time she started Family Tech LLC to help families understand and manage the technology in their home. She has regularly appeared as a family tech expert on KSL News, BYUtv and Studio 5, and has been invited all over the world from tech companies like Lenovo, Verizon, Microsoft, Dell, and Samsung. Find out more on her website SarahKimmel.com