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Technology harming family life? Blame the parents July 15, 2013

Posted by christinefjohnston in Role of the family.
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by Joanne Orlando

(This opinion piece was first published on the 9th July, 2013 in the Age, Sydney Morning Herald and the Canberra Times)

I was out with my children last week and couldn’t help but smile as the voice of a toddler on a swing called out, “Higher, higher.”

Normally a scene like this would conjure up images of a mother and child laughing and bonding together, but as we live in the internet age it wasn’t so idealistic.

As it turned out, mum was so engrossed with an online conversation on her mobile that she didn’t even notice her young son calling out for attention. Needless to say, he never did get that higher push, and he ended up playing on the slide, where he didn’t need his mum to have fun.

Electronic devices are making our lives richer, more accessible and more exciting, but are we now spending more time with technology than we are with our loved ones?

Once upon a time the biggest technological nuisance for the family was the phone ringing during dinner time. It is now common to see our loved ones hunched over their phones or tablets as they take one distracted bite of their food after another.Once the plates are cleared the family might move to the living room for some television, but while the family may have once watched the program together, the new normal is to envelop yourself in a technological cocoon for the night. Each person may catch the occasional glimpse of the show, but their attention is now being split between chatting with friends on the phone, watching YouTube clips and answering work emails.

Our fixation with technology has created new routines that are very different from traditional notions of family time.

The increasing ways we are using technology in isolation from one another is reflected by the latest figures from Britain’s communications regulator, Ofcom. A recent study found that for the first time children aged between 12 and 15 are spending as much time online as they are watching television, about 17 hours a week for each.

Many of these children are now not even bothering to sit in the lounge room with the family when they are online, with 20 per cent of five-year-olds now more likely to be alone in their bedroom when online.

Even special family occasions are now infiltrated by mobile technologies. If you are like me, you are undoubtedly irritated with your family members who spend more time watching sport on their mobiles than they do celebrating Grandma’s 80th birthday party.

It would be easy to blame Generation Y’s overuse of technology for the decline of family communication, but should children really get all the blame?

Parents are the ones who ultimately make the decisions concerning the use of technology at home, and these crucial rules have important implications for the family dynamic.

The home is where children learn their values, specifically what is important in family life. Building a warm and cohesive connections are crucial not only for our own family, but for society as a whole.

I would argue parents must first think about their own use of technology. The internet has irrevocably blurred the boundaries between work and home, meaning many parents are still working in one form or another when they are at home with their family. What message does a child receive when he or she is telling a story about something important that happened at school and mum stops listening to reply to an urgent message from the office?

It doesn’t take long for children to understand that technology takes first place at home, and their needs come second. The behaviour we model is ultimately what we get back in return.

Many parents think technology can make parenting easier, and use technological devices to keep children occupied when they might otherwise become distracted or loud. But we must understand that the child will interpret this as meaning they should use technology to be quiet and disconnected from family activities happening around them.

Children learn by watching us. If we want them to feel connected with the world around them rather than the cyber-world, they need to see us enjoying activities grounded in the real world.

If we want our kids to ignore the lure of answering their friends’ endless online messages as the family sits down for dinner, we have to show them what it looks like to turn our own phones off.

If we want them to grow into adults who value family and meaningful bonds with each other, we need to make time to give them our undivided, technology-free attention. Technology is now an integral part of our lives, for good or for ill, and as parents we need to show our children exactly what it is to move offline to enjoy and value our family life.

Dr Joanne Orlando is a Lecturer in the School of Education at the University of Western Sydney



1. Sue Roffey - July 15, 2013

Great article – used to live next to a children’s playground and saw this happening over and over – and then we wonder why children have impoverished language when they get to school.

2. Bertie Boyle - July 24, 2013

This is becoming a HUGE issue today. I remember back to when I was younger, I would come home from school and do my homework and go out to play with the neighbors. I absolutely loved playing flashlight tag and other games. Now, when I babysit so many of the children are playing Wee or are glued to the television. When I tell them to turn it off, they say “what else is there to do?” Or, “I’m bored.” I say, GO OUTSIDE! One family in particular I babysat frequently for had very overweight children. I began to realize that yes, they did play outside, but did not do nearly enough physical activity. Most of the time they would play Wee or watching Suite Life of Zack and Cody on the Disney Channel. Heaven for bid I would mention a movie in conversation, and they had not already seen it. Because chances are, they had already seen the movie not only once, but twice. Not to mention some were Rated PG-13 and the children were 6 and 7 years old, which is a whole other issue in itself. It truly is sad because I think some parents use technology as babysitters. It is so easy to turn on a movie and have it entertain your child while you do household chores or work. As hard as it may be, it is important that strict rules are put into place and the children know when the TV is allowed on and when the TV is not allowed on. Everything in moderation, is OK. Key is moderation!

3. silver price - August 2, 2013

With the surprising number of apps that are targeted for young children, there is little research that supports them as productive educational tools. However, the research on the negative effects of screen-time is much more evident and compelling. Studies have shown links to a number of problems such as childhood obesity, sleep disturbance, learning/attention/social problems. Yet the data on the numbers of young children using technology is astounding, and continues to increase despite all the warnings against it (the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends NO screen time before the age of 2 years and minimal screen-time for children younger than 8 years of age)—yet in 2011 there were three million downloads just of Fisher Price apps for infants and toddlers! Again, it may seem justifiable to let them play with an educational app (vs. Angry Birds), but with all those bells and whistles, there really are a multitude of distractions that are discouraging your child from building real concentration and focus– instead the screen-time is contributing to his desire to need more and more to feel stimulated, which is why boredom then does become a very real problem when your child cannot sustain his attention to an activity for a prolonged period of time. Here are 2 links that give more data, research and insight into this and I encourage you to give it a read when you have some time: Screen Time Higher Than Ever for Children and Facing the Screen Dilemma: Young Children, Technology, and Early Education.

4. Technology brainwashed zombies or the youth of today? | Connecting Perspectives - February 25, 2014

[…] Technology is now an integral part of our lives, for good or for ill, and as parents we need to show our children exactly what it is to move offline to enjoy and value our family life. – Joanne Orlando […]

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