Do you remember when the only TV at home was in the family room? Or when your family looked for license plates from all 50 states when you were traveling? Now, just about everybody has their own personal device. Each person listens to different music in the car. Homes have several screens and family members rarely watch the same shows together. Technology is everywhere. Technology affects families, without a doubt.
In the last 50 years, technology has exploded. It’s no longer in one place with limits and parental supervision. It’s portable and unlimited. And it’s very hard to control.
So, we’ve got a lot to think about when it comes to how technology affects families. Consider these two questions from author and clinical counselor, John Van Epp:
- To what extent will families allow technology to be fused with their relationships?
- Are families unplugging devices to really plug into each other?
Studies suggest that families aren’t doing a great job of connecting.
Consider these examples of technology’s impact on families.
One group from Boston Medical Center watched family interactions in fast-food restaurants. Out of 55 families, 40 parents were doing something with their phones while they were with their children. The researchers call this “absorption with the mobile device.” When a child tried to get a parent’s attention, they got in trouble for interrupting the parent.
UCLA anthropologist Elinor Ochs also conducted an intensive in-home study on this issue. Ochs found a primary theme in these homes: multi-tasking among family members. She cites a common conversation between parent and child: “My parents always tell me that I can’t do homework while listening to music. But they don’t understand that it helps me to concentrate.”
According to David Myers, the director of the University of Michigan’s Brain Cognition Lab, the brain DOES NOT multi-task and students are NOT great multi-taskers. “The bottom line is you CANNOT simultaneously be thinking about your tax return and reading an essay,” he says. The brain may act in parallel functions (touch, sound, vision). But when engaging in different tasks, the brain operates like a toggle switch—jumping from one thing to another.
“This constant multi-tasking that people are doing results in dopamine ‘squirts.’ These lead to an addiction to constant techno-activity,” Van Epp says. “Yet, studies show that downtime for the brain is essential to the development of identity, morals, empathy and creativity.”
Here’s a challenge from Van Epp: Lay your smart phone down. See if you can go for an hour without picking it up.
“Research shows that technology is actually producing higher rates of anxiety among children and adults,” Van Epp says. “Apps are influencing child development and short-circuiting identity formation. They’re also discouraging face-to-face interactions and creating superficial intimacy.”
“We must begin balancing technology and real time with loved ones,” Van Epp says. “We can’t let technology define us. Advances in technology can never replace gains in family interactions.”
So, what about you? Will your family unplug devices so you can really connect with each other?
For more resources, see our Parenting and Families page here.
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