Fiachra Johnston discusses the increasingly difficult issue of balancing technology with family time.
Go back 15 years and the idea of every member of your family owning a phone with access to the internet and a camera that could take HD pictures would have been laughed at. Yet in 2017, the idea that someone in your family doesn't own one is even more surprising. According to PewResearch, in 2015 95% of U.S citizen surveyed said they owned a cellphone of some kind, with 74% of these saying they owned a smartphone. Also, 43% of all surveyed individuals globally said they owned a smartphone. This is a time where people are more connected than ever before, but as the benefits stack up, so too do the dangers.
The effects of phone usage in young kids has already been well documented, with overuse, social pressures, bullying and now privacy issues already quite well known. However, this is the first generation of children that will grow up with their parents owning smartphones on a large scale, and new issues are popping up now thanks to this. It's now the parents who are in danger of creating problems for their children down the line.
The 80's and 90's were fraught with warnings of how dinner in front of the TV would lead to a decrease in social behavior within the family. A study by Digital Awareness UK said that out of 2000 young people aged 11-18's interviewed, a fifth of them believed that use of phones in the family stopped each other enjoying their company, especially during mealtimes. The TV Dinner problem hasn't gone away, it's simply evolved into a more pocket sized form. Does this mean that the problem isn’t nearly as bad as we think? It is hard to tell. Seeing as how TV is now such an ingrained part of our lives, smartphones may simply follow the same route and become part of the family routine. But given how important a phone is to a person nowadays, for work, for pleasure, for managing daily tasks, the problem of interaction with family and children becomes more drastic. Think how often you check your phone on a daily basis compared to how often you sit down to watch TV.
Similar issues can arise when parents ignore a crying baby for long enough, where symptoms of detachment issues can arise from a child's feeling of isolation between them and the parent. Growing children take after their parents, and a lot of their own personality reflects how the interacted with their parents growing up. So to be denied interaction and time spent with an adult during a crucial time in development can lead to stunted growth.
So what can be done? The obvious solution at first glance is to stop using your phone and spend more time with your children as a parent. Cutting down and going cold turkey on a phone is practically impossible these days, however. Failing that then, the idea shouldn't be to cut phones out of the equation entirely, but to change how we perceive phones in the family. Many times entertainment in my house was playing video games with parents who didn't fully understand, but were eager to enjoy things I enjoyed. This is no different. Parents learning what apps and games their kids use on their phones and bonding over them, staying connected while they are away over messenger services, using multiplayer games that both parent and child can play can all help to stay connected with family. If you have to be on your phone a lot as a parent, make some time to share it with your kid.
It's hard to believe but phones are now an extension of our personality more than ever. We hardly spend any time apart from them and, much as we don't want to admit it, they have, in some ways, affected our inter-personal skills. It can't be something we choose to cut out entirely, but it is something we must learn to prevent letting it take over our lives. Whether we choose to let it affect our relationship with our kids is something entirely up to us.