Noah Brier | May 29, 2020

Why is this interesting? - The Seeing Yourself on Zoom Edition

On kids, therapists, and the challenges we all face adopting new technologies

Noah here. Like just about every other parent, I’m trying to navigate the world of video calls with little kids. There’s school, friends, and family who all want to talk, or rather video, with my daughter. The problem? She mostly doesn’t seem to like it much. It’s a little hard to tell exactly what it is, but she makes it pretty clear that it’s not something she’s particularly interested in doing. She’s not yet five, so that’s fine, but as with lots of things related to parenting, it’s been fascinating to try to unravel what’s actually going on. Does it make her sad? Is it boring? Would she just rather just be doing something else? And of course, it’s hard not to wonder whether every other kid is fine with it.

Well, according to Joshua Castillo, a Los Angeles-based parenting coach and early childhood consultant who was quoted in a recent Times piece on kids and video calling, it seems she’s not alone. “It’s the dirty secret of parenting right now,” Castillo explains in the article. “Everyone’s pretending their kids are successfully doing Zoom calls, but that’s not what I’m seeing with my clients.”

The article offers up a few possible answers: there’s the technology (it’s weird and out of their control), the cadence of one person talking at a time (if you’ve ever watched little kids have a conversation in person, they’re constantly talking over one another), and even just the things kids talk about:

“It’s easy for parents to forget that kids aren’t yet experts at small talk,” said Courtney Bolton, Ph.D., a Nashville-based child & family psychologist and parenting coach. “We coach them on how to talk to adults, but not as much with peer interaction.” Meaning, when we plop them in front of the screen and say, “Hey, it’s time to Zoom with your best friend, have fun!” with no activity or conversation starter to guide them, some kids don’t know how to begin and can quickly get frustrated or lose interest.

In speaking with other parents of preschool-age children another issue has emerged multiple times: their kids find it distracting/disturbing to see themselves on the video.

Why is this interesting?

With that as the backdrop, I was fascinated to see the same point pop up in Adam Gopnik’s excellent piece on the transition of therapy to a remote world. After explaining why video makes therapy much more complicated (“Normally, your patients are looking out the window, at the bad paint job over the desk, all that … It gives you moments when you can look away. With video, I find I need to sit still and look, and the drama of faces is much more intense.”), psychotherapist Cynthia Chalker goes on to articulate why she also finds it hard to see herself on screen:

It’s also much harder to do a session on video—partly because I hate looking at myself, and I’ve gotta look at that all day. You have a mask of invisibility that you impose on yourself, and suddenly you’re seeing yourself seeing your patient, and it’s disconcerting, to say the least. ‘I look like that?’ You imagine an aura of empathy, and what you see is more like indifference shading into worry.”

This kind of fits one of my long-standing theories about kids: that they’re mostly right about things. It started with observing my children when they were little babies and trying to avoid the urge to do root cause analysis every time they cried. I’m not sure whether this was more for me or for them, but I eventually came to the conclusion that the most likely reason a baby is crying is because something is just weird. Wouldn’t you cry a little the first time you felt something pushing on your face that you couldn’t see if you didn’t know it was called wind? Few places is this theory more apparent than on an airplane. On flights, kids whine about being bored, wanting to move around, and being hungry, which, if any of us were being honest with ourselves, would be exactly the same list of complaints we have. We’ve just learned to shut up and deal with it.

While I don’t want to make us all more self-aware of our video floating in a little box in the Zoom interface, maybe we would give ourselves a little more of a break for finding some of our newly-distant life odd if we took a hint from the kids. (NRB)

New Brand of the Day: 

Friend of WITI and former brand strategist Marisa Zupan recently launched her brand, United Sodas. They did a great job with the aesthetic and copywriting. Also, the contrarian move of launching a soda brand (albeit low sugar and interesting one), in a health-obsessed world. Zupan told us it was based on the insight of talking to a lot of people and finding that, though they may not telegraph it, there’s an emotional connection people still have with the idea of soda. She’s built a poppy, interesting twist on the CPG staple, down to the copy and web design. So far, we can give a thumbs up to the Elderflower/Pear (though want a tiny bit more carbonation on the tongue) and will be re-ordering a case of Lemon Verbena and/or Extra Peach to try next. (CJN)

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Thanks for reading,

Noah (NRB) & Colin (CJN)

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