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There is no doubt about it-the way we communicate with our family members today has changed dramatically in recent years. Just a decade ago, text messaging, blogging, and emails were not methods of family communication. Today, they are widely used by families around the world. For example, parents use text messages to remind children of their curfews. Children send emails to their parents to give them their Christmas lists. College students use Web cameras to say good night to their family member who live hundreds of miles away. These are just a few of the many ways in which technology has changed the way families communicate with one another in today’s modern world.
Some people say that technology is impacting families in a negative way. For example, instead of playing games or eating dinner together, more and more families are instead turning on the television, using the computer, and constantly text messaging on their phones. Some people believe that families are ditching the real world in favor of the cyber world. Other people argue that technology is essential to good family communication in today’s society. As parents and children have different agendas and interests, the widespread use of cell phones and the Internet help them stay in touch and communicate regularly.
Does Technology Improve Family Communication?
A new study by the Pew Internet and American Life Project (2008) suggests that technology improves communication among families. The study revealed that technology, such as cell phones and email, seems to be helping create a new “connectedness” within families, as family members communicate with each other every day via cell phone, texts, and emails.
The survey showed that 70 percent of couples in which both partners have cell phones contact each at least once a day just to say hello and 64 percent contact each other to make plans. In addition, 42 percent of parents call their children at least once a day using a cell phone. The majority of study participants reported that technology has either helped their communication with other family members or made no difference. Few said technology has worsened communication in their families.
Still, the poll showed that technology could have negative effects, as well. Families with many communication devices were less likely than other groups to eat dinner together daily and to feel satisfied that they spent enough time as a family. However, researchers said the heaviest technology users were also those with the heaviest work schedules, which is likely to contribute to these negative reports.
According to the study (Pew Internet and American Life Project, 2008, p.20), “Today’s married couples use a variety of tools-landline phones, cell phones, instant messaging, and email-to manage their schedules and stay connected with each other throughout the day. The adoption of cell phones is a particularly important component of the way today’s families stay in touch and coordinate their lives together. Couples communicate frequently just to say hello and chat (28 percent of couples do this several times a day, and an additional 36 percent do so at least once a day) and also to coordinate daily schedules (20 percent do this several times a day, and 39 percent do so at least once a day). However, many also communicate regularly for weightier reasons: discussing important matters and planning future events.”
The Families Commission Blue Skies Fund recently published a different report, titled New Communication Technologies and Family Life (Weatherall and Ramsay, 2006), which looked at how technology, such as computers and mobile phones, is shaping family life and how families are shaping the use of technology.
The twelve participants in the study overwhelmingly felt that Internet access can improve communication between family members. Families that are geographically separated are especially helped by technology. However, participants felt that there needed to be more family and public discussion about the opportunities and dangers new communications technology brings. For example, parents need to teach their children how to stay safe online, they said.
New technologies, especially those that utilize the Internet, create many new opportunities for communicating with family and friends. The Internet also offers many new avenues for social interaction through social networking sites, online support groups, and chat rooms. Many families find email and chat rooms useful for keeping in touch with family members who live far away or even for keeping better tabs on those who live nearby. But can technology replace face-to-face time? Most experts say no. When it comes to communicating feelings and attitudes, human beings use more than just words. They also use physical gestures, tone of voice, and body language to express themselves (Fitzpatrick, 2008). These are all important elements of communication. Therefore, some people argue that, if you do not regularly communicate face-to-face with family members, you may miss important signs that they are sad, frustrated, or depressed.
Still, others argue that technology does not replace face-to-face interaction. Rather, it complements it. In response to concerns that technology isolates and pulls people apart, the Pew study (2008) found the opposite. It revealed “that couples use their phones to connect and coordinate their lives, especially if they have children at home (p. 14). American spouses often go their separate ways during the day but remain connected by cell phones and to some extent by Internet communications. When they return home, they often have shared moments of exploration and entertainment on the Internet.”
Tools help parents keep kids safe online
The article, Tools help parents keep kids safe online, suggest valuable information regarding parents monitoring their children. There’s also a way for parents to monitor video games online. Facebook is a site where children are at risk. The author mentions a “Family Safety Center” page called facebook.com/safety. Facebook is a social place for families and friends and how important it is too know what your children are doing without violating their privacy. Software developers are focusing on Facebook as their project in finding ways to keep it safe for children (Gallaga, 2011). Gallaga remarks on MinorMonitoring as being a new way for parents to check out Facebook interactions from their child. MinorMonitoring look for signs of cyber bullying or other kinds of misconduct on Facebook. Such monitoring could give out a red flag and alert parents if internet predators are showing up on Facebook. MinorMonitoring is in the process of being a tool for e-mail in the near future as well as for other networks. (Gallaga, 2011).
Bridging Distance Gaps
For families that live far away from one another, technology helps them connect. Many families live far apart and do not see each other on a regular basis. Even when families live under the same roof, it can be challenging to find the time to eat dinner together or sit down to chat. Today’s technologies make it easy to communicate, some people believe that they create interruptions to family time and make it easy to avoid face-to-face time. Communication is extremely important between family members, especially when some of them live far away. For this reason, today’s technological advances are very helpful to families with busy schedules or widely spread families.
Chinese Radio International (2008) provides an example of how families use technology to improve communication. When 70-year-old Li Zhenming and his wife, who live in eastern China, celebrated a Chinese holiday in 2008, they received greetings on their mobile phone from their daughter who lives in Shanghai and chatted on video with their son who lives in Demark. Before computers were widely used, the family relied on letters as their primary form of communication, which meant that several days passed before they received communication from one another. However, once the family invested in computers and webcams, their communication improved dramatically. “Seeing them via the webcam assured me they were doing fine,” said Zhenming. “Now, I don’t worry anymore.”
Young kids and computers a balancing act
Sue McAllister commentates on how monitoring children while they are online is vital. I can’t help but be in disbelief on how young a child is when accessing a computer. According to the author, PBSKids.org is a site for children to play online games. Ellen Wartella comments on how parents find computers as a useful tool but there should be a balance between interacting with friends and playing outside, read a book and do their school work. In addition, the author remarks on how a lot of kids are going past the two-hour point watching TV, playing on the computer, using handheld devices. Furthermore, McAllister acknowledges on how the computer should be out in the open not in a child’s room so parents could keep an eye on their child. This would also encourage children to ask questions. (McAllsiter, 2011).
Technology Fosters Independence
Russell Hampton, president of the Walt Disney Company’s children’s book and magazine publishing unit, recently told a reporter a story that exemplifies just how big the text messaging trend is (Holson, 2008) and also shows how technology can help children feel more independence. His daughter Katie and her friends were sitting in the back seat of his car and he saw his daughter sending a text message on her cell phone. He told her she was being rude to her friends by texting when they were spending time with her. “But, Dad, we’re texting each other,” she replied with a harrumph. “I just don’t want you to hear what I’m saying.” Hampton’s story shows how young people use personal technological devices like cell phones to create social circles apart from their families, changing the way they communicate with their parents.
New Opportunities to Keep Tabs on Family Members
Throughout history, innovation has sparked societal changes and has changed the dynamics of families for years (Holson, 2008). Telephones created a private and easy way for children to communicate with others. Automobiles created a way for children to go on dates far from watchful chaperones. And the computer, along with the Internet, allows children to live virtual lives separate from their parents and other family members.
Experts believe that mobile devices will further accelerate these trends (Holson, 2008). By 2010, 81 percent of Americans between the ages of 5 to 24 will own a cellphone, up from 53 percent in 2005, according to IDC, a research company that tracks technology and consumer research. For this reason, companies are now marketing mobile devices to very young audiences. Firefly Mobile introduced the glowPhone for preschool children, which has a small keypad with two speed-dial buttons depicting an image of a mother and a father.
For many parents, having the ability to reach their children whenever they want is a benefit that outweighs the negative aspects of the mobile technology trends (Holson, 2008). Many parents live in different cities or states than they children do, for reasons such as divorce or kids going off to college. Such parents are especially grateful to have a way to reach their children, anytime, anywhere. And most children feel the same way. In an article, Ben Blanton, a college student, said that he enjoys the ability to text his parents when it suits him (Holson, 2008). “Texting is in between calling and sending and e-mail,” he said. Due to text messaging, he does not need to worry about writing letters. “It’s too time consuming,” he said. “You have to go to the post office. Instead, I can sit and watch television and send a text, which is the same thing.”
Some experts, such as Anita Gurian, a clinical psychologist, are concerned that the prevalence of mobile communications, may cause people to become more alienated from those closest to them-their family members (Holson, 2008). “Cellphones demand parental involvement of a different kind,” she said. “Kids can do a lot of things in front of their parents without them knowing.”
In a survey released 18 months ago, AT&T found that among 1,175 parents the company interviewed, nearly half learned how to text-message from their children (Holson, 2008). More than 60 percent of parents agreed that it helped them communicate, but that sometimes children didn’t want to hear their voice at all. When asked if their children wanted a call or a text message requesting that they be home by curfew, for instance, 58 percent of parents said their children preferred a text.
Improving Family-School Relationships
A study by the Harvard Research Project (Bouffard, 2008) revealed that technology positively impacts families because it promotes more meaningful and frequent communication between families and schools. According to researchers, many families and teachers now use email and websites to communicate. According to the report (Bouffard, 2008): “Internet-based communication methods, including email, websites, and newer social networking technologies such as blogs, present new opportunities for family-school communication. These technologies may reduce scheduling barriers that pose challenges to traditional forms of family-school communication, can convey information to multiple families at once, and can efficiently share and archive information about student progress, school policies and assignments, tips for family involvement, and other topics.”
However, the report cautions that this new type of communication presents new challenges to families and schools, as well. “Websites and email contact can be difficult for schools to maintain, may intimidate some families, and lack visual and nonverbal cues (e.g., tone of voice or body language),” according to the report (Bouffard, 2008). “Most significantly, many families do not have access to Internet technology.” The study’s findings suggest that technology offers many new opportunities for promoting family-school communication. It is especially beneficial during adolescence, a time when family involvement tends to decline. The Internet in particular may represent an opportunity to maintain or even increase communication between schools and families of adolescents.
Digital home technologies and transformation of households.
Alladi Venkatesh, author for Digital home technologies and transformation of households explains how a household is changing because of a growing technology. Also new words in our technology are expanding. The PC was out and about in the 1980s and families had to slowly adjust to the ever going technology. When internet connection was available for the first time it changed the way families communicated with each other. When mobile phones and other wireless forms of communication came about technology has found infinite ways to advance. Families are trying to keep up with technology. As our technology grows our household appliances makes it easier and much more convenient for a family to operate. Now, in this day of age you have options to select cable or satellite instead of black and white TV. Technology is changing the typical household family, in hopes for a stronger connection. (Venkatesh, A., 2008).
Home as Living Space. Venkatesh, A. (2008). Digital home technologies and transformation of households.
In a 2006 study by Yahoo, the majority of participants said that email, instant messaging and mobile devices brought families closer together, whether they be siblings living in different countries or parents of moody teenagers (China Daily, 2006).
“A lot of mums said they had surly teenagers who won’t talk to them in person,” said one researcher (China Daily, 2006). “But over IM (instant messaging) they have much more dialogue than they ever would face-to-face.”
More than half of those surveyed said that without computer technology, they would not be able to stay in touch with their family members. They also said that the Internet helped children overcome shyness and being a homework aid for school children. The studies examined in this research paper suggest that technology has improved family communications for most. While there are some pitfalls to the increased reliance on technology, researchers believe that communication problems stem from other sources, rather than technology. One cannot deny how dependent our society has become on electronic communication devices. The predominance of computers, text messaging, PDA’s, cell phones, video conferencing, web camera, and other devices all demonstrated that people are communicating more than even with each, and that most of that communication is taking place using technology.
In conclusion, technology appears to be an excellent way to communicate with family members. However, it may be important to create guidelines to help ensure that adequate face-to-face communications take place, as well. For example, there are certain situations in which face-to-face communications are important. If someone is delivering bad news, such as the death of a family member, text messaging may not be the right medium in which to deliver the news. In addition, when discussing confidential information, it is important to respect the privacy of others and putting something private out in cyberspace is not the best way to do this. Face-to-face communication would likely work best in these situations because the communicator can use all of his or her communicating skills in the delivery of the message, making it more personal and less likely to come across as insensitive.
In summary, families have a lot to gain from modern technology that allows us to interact virtually and instantly with family members. Without technology such as cell phones, email, text messaging, and blogs, we would have a more difficult time connecting with nearby and long-distance family members on a regular basis. However, while technology supports maintaining relationships, it should not replace face-to-face communication. In order to fully connect with family members, it is important to see them in person regularly.
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