Using the Internet to See Your Kids
Virtual visitation makes use of tools such as video conferencing, Web cams, and other technologies to supplement face-to-face visits and phone contacts between noncustodial parents and their children. These tools are never meant to replace face-to-face time with your child. Nor are they meant to justify relocation. But they are better than no contact, by a long shot. Parents who stay in touch with their kids virtually report that it is much, much more satisfying than the sometimes dry, rushed telephone calls that sadly happen too often between a long distance parent and child.
We live in a technological society. Many divorced parents today already use e-mail as a means of staying in touch with their children. Cell phones, pagers, GPS tracking chips - parents are using them. All are forms of virtual visitation.
How Does Virtual Visitation Work?
Virtual visits are pretty simple to do. You'll need the following:
- A computer (PC or Mac will do)
- A good webcam
- A headset/microphone
- Video and voice software
- High speed Internet or Broadband connection
- Two parents who are willing to support virtual visits.
Once you have the technology in place, you need a plan to carry out your virtual visitation. If at all possible, make virtual visitation a part of your final court orders. Currently in the United States, 3 states have passed Virtual Visitation bills - Utah, Wisconsin and Missouri. There is some type of legislative activity in 18 states.
If you aren't able to include virtual visits in your court orders, work for an informal agreement with your child's other parent. Set up times to connect with your child, and then do it. If you schedule a virtual visit, make sure you keep your word. One of the quickest ways to sabotage this process is to not show up.
What are the Benefits?
If you are living miles away from your child, you know how hard it is to remain in close contact. You miss out on so many of the day-to-day events in your child's life. Spending time with your kids has to be arranged ahead of time. And it involves travel. Either you or your kids are on the road. Imagine how wonderful it would be to be able to quiz your son on his weekly spelling words, listen to your daughter's piano practice, read a favorite story to your kids or see their latest haircut or clothes. With a Web cam this is totally possible. The greatest benefit is that even as a long distance parent, you are able to remain actively involved in your child's life. And friends, that alone is worth it's weight in gold!
Not a Techie?
Don't worry! If you have a computer and are able to purchase a good Web cam, headset and software, you will be good to go. There is a huge amount of support online to help. You just have to be bold enough to ask and comfortable with not knowing everything right away. Chances are good that your kids will be able to act as your personal tech support!
A Word to Custodial Parents
This notion of virtual visitation may seem a bit threatening to you. I've heard parents say that they don't really like the idea of the other parent having access to their home - even by computer.
But please, step out of your shoes and into your child's sneakers. Look at the benefits for your child. Research has shown again and again that children do best when both parents are responsibly involved in their lives.
If having a camera on your computer and setting aside time and privacy for your child and the other parent to visit will benefit your child, then I urge you to put your child's needs first. Be willing to live with your personal discomfort and at least give virtual visits a try. If it's going to work, your child will need your support and help. Give this idea a "green light." If it helps, think of it as a gift for your child's future.
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