Never before have the people of the world been more connected. Technology allows us to call, video chat, message, and connect with people whenever and wherever we like. I’d be hard pressed to say this is overly negative. Families can share photos and experiences in real time for relatives to view and enjoy. Just thinking of the number of videos and photos shared with grandparents is overwhelming. While we can list many positives it’s also appropriate to avoid a completely pollyanna view. Technology affects family communication in a variety of ways.
Here I’ll take a brief look at how technology impacts how we communicate and where issues may arise. By understanding where things may go wrong we can avoid the situation or seek a fix if we find ourselves already headed down the wrong path.
How Technology Affects Family Communication
Let’s start with a family favorite: TV.
As a child TV ruled the house. It was on during dinner and was a frequent babysitter. While I’m not anti-TV, we all need time to relax, I am against excessive TV. The problem with excessive viewing is that it prevents families from communicating. It’s all too easy to put on your favorite show and binge for hours. Netflix and others make it so easy by auto-playing the next episode.
When it comes to TV my suggestion is to limit time in front of the screen and also filter the content. Encourage your kids to watch educational content and then only one episode at a time. At the end of the episode you can then discuss the program. This is an opportunity to bond and build critical thinking and communication skills.
I’m also a fan of using TV as a means to learn a foreign language. Put on a fun cartoon in a foreign language and your kids will have fun and be learning. That’s a win-win!
Internet and Social Media
The internet and social media have been amazing for communication. Like I mentioned at the start these technologies afford families and friends the opportunity to stay in touch around the world. However, excessive use can lead to a break down of in-person communication skills. Using social media in isolation can also expose a child to increased risk of cyber bullying and other online threats.
I’m a supporter of setting technology rules in the household. A defined set of rules can help keep everyone honest and control the amount of time spent online. While I understand coordinating schedules can be tricky I also encourage parents to schedule online play dates with friends. While the pandemic has forced many of us to remain at home we can still allow our kids some fun time with friends. Video conferencing software can also be used for children to see their friends. It won’t replace the in-person experience, but it is a helpful step to ensure your kids still have some form of social interaction with others their own age.
Sharing Personal Information
A final area that has been altered due to technology is the sharing of personal information. As a child I was told to never give a stranger my address or other details. Now we check-in all over town and carry tracking devices in our pockets. I don’t advocate giving up technology. That would put you and your children at a disadvantage in this tech-first world. However, I do believe parents have a responsibility to teach their kids about how to stay safe online.
Communicating clearly how and why your children should stay safe online is important. More often than not this will actually involve telling your children to communicate and share less, not more, information.
While some kids, especially teenagers, may push back sharing less does have some benefits. The primary benefit I’ve found is that in-person conversations are more interesting. If I see a friend’s posts all week long and know ever detail of his family’s life, then when we see each other on the weekend we have less to talk about. What works for me is keeping my photos and videos on my phone and using them as I tell a story in person. This might not work for everyone, but it’s one way I make technology work for me and not the other way around.
It’s no secret that technology affects family communication. Sometimes it’s for the good, like sharing family photos, and other time it isn’t so good. The key is moderation and keep the entire family accountable. It’s not only kids that spend too much time online. Parents must also prevent technology from getting in the way of parenting. By understanding how various devices impact our communication we can identify areas for improvement and make the necessary changes. Remember, it isn’t about perfection. It is about improving where we can.