How families, friends are keeping up virtual connections

Seniors use ZOOM to talk to grandkids. Dan Watson/The Signal

After largely spending much of last year sheltering in place, children lost precious quality time in the classroom and with their extended family members. However, there’s still a number of ways that friends and families can connect virtually, using technology that’s becoming more and more user-friendly for children and parents of all ages.

“If I had to drop something off at my daughter’s house or something, and we’d be in our masks and socially distanced, and I would give it to her. But it was so painful because my little grandson is used to me grabbing him and hugging him — and he could just look at me because I was standing so far away,” said Mary Petersen, a Sunday Signal columnist and retired professor.

“In such isolating and uncertain times, it’s imperative that active communication be maintained. Phone calls, video chats, zoom get-togethers, texts, work meetings, thoughtful drop-offs of food and gifts,” said Diana Sevanian, a former Signal staff writer who’s also a parent and grandparent, “and educational online events (some just for entertainment and laughs) have been lifesavers.”  


Possibly the most popular option, according to at least four grandparents interviewed by The Signal, is Facetime. Facetime which is an application available to iPhone and iPad users that is free to use and comes already downloaded on your phone. 

Calling through FaceTime allows for face-to-face conversation from the comfort of your own home. 

“My 7-month-old granddaughter has never known things to be any other way, but for my almost-7-year-old granddaughter, the separation has been difficult. Besides missing me, I know she sorely misses her friends and teacher at school. She was halfway through kindergarten when the pandemic hit. Our regular communication — seeing and hearing each other — has been a treasured ritual and comfort for us both,” said Sevanian, who uses Facetime regularly to communicate with her granddaughter. 

“Our go-to was Facetime,” said Petersen. “Every night at dinner, we would have a FaceTime visit so that we could share what we were having for dinner that night, and he could talk a little bit about what he did at preschool and he could show me his toys. And so that’s sort of what got us through it, was a daily FaceTime visit.” 

Petersen said that of all the options made available, Facetime was the easiest for both her and her grandson. 

Messenger Kids 

Messenger Kids is a program operated through Facebook that connects a kids profile directly to their grandparents’ Facebook profile. However, with Messenger Kids, the free service gives parents oversight and control, with requirements about identity verification and approval of contacts. 

There are also no ads, the children’s data cannot be sold or taken by Facebook and parents have oversight and control with requirements about identity verification and approval of contacts. Also children’s accounts are not considered full Facebook accounts, so they don’t show up on a search of Facebook. 

Seniors use FaceTime to talk to grandkids on their phones. Dan Watson/The Signal

“Messenger kids is our new device for communicating, if I want to talk to her,” said Joyce Carson, referring to her 9-year-old granddaughter. “And if I want to talk to her, I know I have to message her and it has to go to her mom, and her mom has to know who’s calling. So they’ve made it really safe.”

Available on Messenger Kids is the ability to either send written messages or video chat, create kid-friendly filters, reactions and sound effects that make video chats with friends and family even better.


Heralded as the top app for grandparents and their grandkids, Caribu uses video calls to connect families with education and entertainment.

Caribu has been named one of TIME Magazine’s Top 100 Best inventions of 2019, and allows users to search by age group, grade level, fairy tales, animals, art, cooking and more.

Since being recognized by TIME, the small startup based in Miami has exploded onto the national scene, especially due to social distancing requirements. 

The app, which is free to download and connects grandparents with their kids via video conference, has been able to expand its library to include thousands of children’s books, puzzles, games and coloring sheets. Caribu also promises that there are no in-app targeted advertisements or purchases, and all calls made must come from previously approved contacts.  

Free experiences on the app are available, but there are also monthly and annual pay options. 

For more information about Caribu, visit their

Watch Party Streaming

 Three of the largest streaming options for kids have now unveiled apps that allow for a relatively new idea: Watch Parties. 

Watch parties largely evolved out of the COVID-19 pandemic, with people of all ages wanting to join one another in family and/or friend groups to watch movies and shows together but remain socially distanced. 

Through extensions on your browser or in your app, watch party “attendees” can join a private virtual room together and watch as the app plays the movie or program on your screen  simultaneously to everyone else’s screens in their own homes. 

While some apps only allow for text chats, others, such as Disney Plus’ app “Groupwatch” allow you to send little emojis or reactions to key moments in the movie you are watching together. 

In addition to Disney Plus, Netflix has introduced “Teleparty,” and Hulu introduced “Hulu Watch Party.” 

For more information, visit each company’s respective websites and learn how you can be holding family movie night again


Zoom, a free service for at least the first hour or so, allows large groups of families and/or screens to come together and chat with one another. Through the use of video conferencing, invites can be sent out and conversations with multiple people accessed via a phone, tablet or computer. 

“A lot of families are using Zoom to go on … for family gatherings and family meetings. I think for families that have more children or grandchildren than us, they are all getting together (through Zoom), said Carson.To download or learn more about Zoom, visit

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