Family technology use, communication and connectedness

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Isolated picture of family using touchpad on red sofa

Use of devices influences the way family members interact

By Joseph Wong

With the proliferation of more smart devices incorporated into homes even as nations push towards smart city status, one can’t help wondering what kind of impact the usage of technology will have on family members and if such communication devices can strengthen family ties.

Certainly, many experts in family dynamics and communications technology emphasise that the use of devices and specific applications influences the way family members interpret their interactions, shaping shared realities. 

On a positive note, these shared realities, in turn, deepen family norms, values and feelings of connectedness. When utilised constructively, media can play a pivotal role in strengthening familial bonds, albeit with an awareness of potential conflicts arising from differences in technological comfort, skill and perception among family members.

A study conducted explored the correlation between technology use within families, particularly between parents and their adolescent children, and the sense of connectedness experienced within these family units. Connectedness in this case is characterised by warmth and positive relationships towards each other. 

The study revealed that cell phones, video games and co-viewing media were significantly and positively associated with family connectedness, whereas email and social networking showed weaker correlations. Furthermore, the authors noted variations in connectedness based on family characteristics, with higher levels of education among parents correlating with greater connectedness related to technology use.

Co-viewing media was highlighted as a facilitator of shared interests and communication between parents and children, fostering mutual understanding and discussion. This finding resonates with earlier findings which emphasised the role of co-viewing in parental mediation of content and its impact on children's exposure. Similarly, although a smaller proportion of teenagers reported playing video games with their parents, co-playing was linked to higher levels of family connection. Moreover, interactions involving children teaching parents how to use various media and technology were found to bridge the digital divide and enhance family connectedness.

Email and social media, however, presented different dynamics within family contexts. While email was perceived as impersonal due to its asynchronous nature, social media's evolution introduced complexities and opportunities for family connectedness. Although earlier studies reported limited parent-teen interaction on social media platforms, recent research suggests that social media can indeed strengthen familial bonds. 

Younger generation’s opinion

Young individuals who frequently engage with social media hold diverse and nuanced perspectives on how their adolescence, intertwined with digital connectivity, has influenced their mental well-being. Acknowledging the significance of social media for maintaining connections in an increasingly digital era, students also recognise its detrimental aspects. 

Various students express their viewpoints on the matter. Student Stella Wong, for instance, values social media as a means of staying connected with distant friends and family, acknowledging its role in bridging geographical gaps.

"In a world where everyone is constantly on the move, social media provides a convenient platform to keep in touch with loved ones who are physically distant. It's a way for us to share snippets of our lives and stay connected despite our busy schedules," she said.

Furthermore, social media serves as an essential tool for students managing hectic schedules, facilitating their involvement in student groups and enabling efficient information sharing within these communities. The dynamics of parent-child relationships and the integration of connections with siblings and extended family as significant contributors to enhanced family connectedness through social media also depends on many other factors.

Downside to social media

Students widely acknowledge the vital role social media played during and after quarantine, enabling them to connect with like-minded individuals and alleviating feelings of isolation.

Another student, declining to be named, highlighted how seemingly insignificant occurrences, such as seeing a social media post excluding oneself, can trigger unnecessary anxiety and strain friendships. Moreover, the ease of social platforms often leads to online interactions replacing face-to-face conversations, fostering potential misunderstandings.

"The convenience of social media can lead to misunderstandings because words can be incorrectly expressed and misunderstood. And some friends do not want to be posted in photos where they are not supposed to be," he observed. Beyond social pressures, students express concerns about the detrimental effects of addiction to popular platforms like TikTok and Instagram on their productivity. "It's easy to lose track of time," the student said. 

While some of the physical health implications of inappropriate social media use among children are now understood, assessing their impact on overall well-being and self-esteem remains challenging.

This is a growing concern among parents, as indicated by a recent study conducted in the United States, which is also reflective of the scenario in Asian nations as well as Malaysia. Mental health, widely recognised as a significant public health concern alongside sedentary lifestyles, is currently the subject of extensive scientific inquiry and the development of new preventive measures. This focus is particularly pronounced concerning the mental well-being of children and adolescents, which has seen a marked decline since the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic. In fact, according to data published by the World Health Organization (WHO) in 2021, one in seven young people aged 10 to 19 (14%) grapple with mental health conditions. 

Limited data

Nevertheless, the literature on social media's impact on family connectedness remains limited, often focusing on teenagers, young adults and individuals rather than the entire family unit. Additionally, research tends to prioritise certain platforms like Facebook, overlooking the varied landscape of social media applications and their potential implications for family dynamics. Understanding these dynamics and motivations behind family members' social media usage can provide valuable insights into leveraging technology for fostering stronger familial connections in the digital age.


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