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How technology is influencing families



Parents are spending nearly the same amount of time consuming media and using various digital technologies as their kids. That’s just one of the findings in a recently completed study by the Barna Group, a California-based research company that focuses on faith and cultural issues.

The Family & Technology Report is the result of nationwide interviews with a representative, random sample of 416 U.S. households. By interviewing both parents and their children (ages 11 to 17), the study was able to compare technology use under the same socio-economic conditions, and also document each group’s perception of the other group’s technology habits.

Highlights from the study include the following:

1. Parents are just as dependent on technology as are teens and tweens.

It’s a common assumption that teenagers are driving the technology gap in families. Yet the research reveals that the gap is much smaller than most people imagine. In reality, parents are using technology and media to nearly the same degree as their 11- to 17-year-olds.

Parents are more likely than their tween and teen offspring to use cell phones and desktop computers, and are just as likely as their teens and tweens to use laptops and tablet-like devices. Furthermore, parents watch just as much television and movies, use the Internet for as many minutes per day, and spend more time on the telephone and e-mailing than do their tweens and teens.

The few technology and media-related tasks that young people do more often than their parents include listening to music, texting, and playing video games. Even in these categories, most parents are surprisingly active.

2. Most family members, including parents, feel that technology has been a positive influence on their families.

While many people assume that families are suffering from technology overload, the reality is very different. As expected, an overwhelmingly higher number of tweens and teens think that devices like computers, cell phones and video game systems make their family life better rather than worse (47% to 6%). But parents also think these devices have more of a positive effect by a nearly two-to-one ratio (32% to 18%).

The conclusion is that most families welcome technology, rather than regard it with suspicion. One of the reasons for this may be that many families use technology, including television, movies and video games, as a shared experience.

3. Very few adults or kids take a break from technology.

Americans’ dependence on—what some might call addiction to—digital technology is apparent in the study’s findings. One out of three parents and nearly half of 11- to 17-year-olds say there are no specific times when they choose to “disconnect from or turn off technology.” Only 10% of parents and 6% of teenagers say they try to take off one day a week from their digital usage.

Nearly half of both parents and teens said they e-mailed, texted or talked on the phone while eating in the last week. Two out of five kids and one-third of parents have used two or more screens simultaneously during this time period. And half of students and one-fifth of parents have checked e-mail or text messages while in bed in the last seven days.

4. Families experience conflict about technology, but not in predictable ways.

Only about one in every four parents said they had “strong disagreements about the limits on media and technology” on a weekly basis. About the same proportion says that “technology causes tension between me and my parents / kids.”

Despite the apparent harmony on technology use, half of parents (49%) worry about technology and media wasting their children’s time. For their part, one-fifth of teens and tweens (21%) say their parents have a “double standard when it comes to technology.” And one-sixth of these kids (17%) say their parents “bring their work home with them too much,” a habit that’s certainly enabled by technology.

The report goes on to suggest that technology appears to amplify the relational patterns and problems already in place: families that have healthy and frequent conversations find technology aiding that process, while families without such healthy interactions find that technology exacerbates the isolation of its members.

Is technology having a positive influence on your family life? Share your thoughts with The Online Mom!



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