A New Kind of Family Time

Sam Rainer

October 21, 2008

I do not know of a formal study supporting the claim, but it’s no secret that Twitter and Facebook are addictive. I utilize both. And why most people care to hear about my random, 140-character-life-snippets is baffling to me. When I started Twittering, however, I had no idea how much fun I would have tracking my family and close friends. What began as an attempt at networking morphed into an unexpected daily connection to my mom, dad, brother, cousin, and uncle. It’s a new kind of family time.

A new study by Pew Research reveals how families are using Internet and cell technology to stay connected. Below are a few of the findings:

Although families often have the means to retreat to their technological “neutral corners” and engage in screen time in isolation, many go online with others. Some 52% of internet users who live with a spouse and one or more children go online with another person at least a few times a week. Another 34% of such families have shared screen moments at least occasionally.

Additionally, families that own large numbers of televisions and computers are no less likely to share screen time with other family members than those families that have lower levels of technology ownership.

A majority of adults say technology allows their family life today to be as close, or closer, than their families were when they grew up.

While new communication technologies have increased the amount of time some people spend at the office or working from home, few people see them as having a negative impact on family closeness.

Indeed, 25% of our survey respondents feel that their family today is now closer than their family when they were growing up thanks to the use of the internet and cell phones, while just 11% say their family today is not as close as families in the past. A majority of adults downplay the impact of technology entirely: 60% feel that new technologies have not made their family any more or less close than families in the past.

People say that new communication tools help them stay connected with friends and family, although their use has blurred traditional lines between “work” and “home.”

Overall, respondents in this survey see much upside and little downside in the way new communication technologies, such as the internet and cell phones, have impacted the quality of their communications with others.

Interactions with my family on Twitter are little highlights of my day. But these electronic exchanges are nothing like giving a big hug or conversing late into the night around the fireplace during Christmas time. While Twitter and Facebook work great for families with adult children, all in different cities, such as my parents, it concerns me that families might be using technology like cell phones as a replacement for important face-to-face conversations.

What my research has shown is that the less connected parents are to their student-age children, the more likely their children are to drop out of church. In fact, parent involvement is one of the keys to the spiritual health of a student. This quality involvement is difficult through electronic means. So while the text messages are convenient, they should not count for quality family time.

In short, I enjoy my Dad’s tweets, but it’s just not the same as our Starbuck’s conversations.

3 comments on “A New Kind of Family Time”

  1. Thom Rainer says:

    I was going to tweet a response, but I think I’ll fly to Sarasota instead and take you to Starbucks.

  2. kdb1411 says:

    Sam –

    You’ve had many great posts, but this one is among your bests. Thanks for sharing your mind and your heart.

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