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The Online Mom provides internet technology advice and information to help parents protect their kids, encourage responsible behavior and safely harness the power of technology in the new digital world. Social networking, photo sharing, video games, IM & texting, internet security, cyberbullying, educational resources, the latest on tech hardware, gadgets and software for kids 3-8, tweens and teens, and more.

Five Ways Tech Can Bring Families Together

By Stacey Ross

Family members around the world are finding ways to keep in touch with each other in real time, and the increasing accessibility of this technology helps strengthen and enhance families in a variety of different ways.

This rings true for me in some very personal terms. It is very important to take some time and appreciate some of the vehicles for keeping or making ties stronger with family members. I decided to share the five ways that have been most significant in my household!

1. Keeping ties with long-distance relatives

Skype's free video calling has played a large part in how my kids have kept in touch with their grandparents who live miles away. We have taken our phones and devices to ballgames and stores, and the kids have even been able to share their instrument playing, dancing, games and other passions. The most novel experience for me was the time I woke up to the sound of my father's voice playing with the kids downstairs. Grandpa chatting with his grandson as they played virtual checkers on a Sunday morning – surreal! I call him my virtual sitter.

Google+ Hangouts have been just what the doctor ordered for my girl. She and her friends meet online to update one another on their musical instrument skills, then take their tablets into their rooms to share which outfits would work best for their dance classes. Sometimes they bring in other friends to join the party, which is just adorable. BTW: This method beats cleaning up after a slumber party!

2. Building closer ties

The past couple of years have brought some opportunities to me that otherwise would have been next to impossible. One family member found an estranged relative on Tree.com and months after had a family party to meet her. (An event straight out of a commercial!) Another family member found our first cousin, who had been adopted as a baby! Facebook provided a marvelous platform for slowly building what I hope will be a long-lasting friendship. A piece of the puzzle I had waited for years to find!

3. Embracing the entrepreneurial lifestyle

My husband and I are both self-employed and between the four of us we juggle our two family businesses, five athletic teams, and two dance classes. Our plates are full, but man does modern technology provide a way for us to stay engaged and connected. I have a hard time trying to grasp how we did it in the past without smartphones and texting!

4. Chronicling milestones and hobbies

I love how the kids have learned so much from YouTube. My girl has literally choreographed dances and my son has built elaborate origami art merely by watching tutorials online.

Their next steps were creating tutorials of their own, which I share in snapshots on Instagram for kicks. We have come to the realization that limiting the segments to 1-2 minutes per tutorial will keep viewers engaged, but building those "skilz" will come in time. (Soon, I hope!)

5. Home/School connection!

I participate in a school/parenting application called School Loop, which has been nothing short of a godsend! Parents are regularly emailed with their kids' workload, and updated grades and assignments are accessible too, along with school notes/files that help parents see what their kids are up to in class. I love that the students are also encouraged to use this as a communication system and can email any of their teachers directly from the application. It also serves as a wonderful tool for parents to keep in touch with the teachers.

It seems like these five items just scratch the surface! In what ways has technology helped your family thrive? Do share and tweet me at @sdbargainmama!

Stacey Ross is an online consultant, social media enthusiast, freelancer and owner of SanDiegoBargainMama.com. A former teacher and middle school counselor, she is now a mom of two who researches and freelances about lifestyle topics involving family and well-being.

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