‘Awww, she is feeding you’

Young children’s (dis)engagement in video calls with their migrant parents


  • Yumei Gan Shanghai Jiao Tong University




very young children, video-mediated communication, technology literacy, migrant families, ethnomethodology and conversation analysis


Undertaking a video call with very young children can pose significant challenges, as children may wander away or fail to pay attention to the people on the screen. Previous studies have provided important insights into how adults try various strategies to engage young children in such video calls. Less attention has been paid, however, to the children’s perspective: how children orient themselves toward video-mediated communication technologies and the nature of these mediated interactions. Based on 56 recorded hours of naturally occurring video calls between migrant parents and the very young children (aged 8–36 months) they leave behind in China, this article examines how these children spontaneously display engagement and disengagement during a video call. This study highlights children’s interactional competence in engaging with the mediated format of interactions. Very young children can deploy various communicative resources that orient towards the affordance of video-mediated communication technology, such as manoeuvring the camera direction and initiating feeding and showing sequences. The analyses also illustrate that young children actively achieve disengagement in video calls through the artful use of language, body and the material world. These findings contribute to understanding children’s situated practices with digital technology in family communication, and how children are active interlocutors who guide the adults’ actions in moment-by-moment unfolding interactions.

Author Biography

Yumei Gan, Shanghai Jiao Tong University

Yumei Gan is an assistant professor at the School of Media and Communication at Shanghai Jiao Tong University, Shanghai, China. Her research interests include parent–child interaction, video-mediated communication and video analysis. Her work has been published in Journal of Pragmatics, Discourse Studies and Proceedings of the SIGCHI Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems (CHI ‘20).


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How to Cite

Gan, Y. . (2021). ‘Awww, she is feeding you’: Young children’s (dis)engagement in video calls with their migrant parents. Research on Children and Social Interaction, 5(1), 80–102. https://doi.org/10.1558/rcsi.18089