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Together, but Separate: How Technology affects Family Time

Technology can be both a blessing and curse to families.

The scene has become all too common: a family sitting in a restaurant close together but not talking. Instead, each member is on a gadget, engrossed and “spending time” with someone who is not there, possibly not even a member of the family.

Whenever I see a scene like this, it makes me sad, especially when there is a young child or a senior who are left out in the cold while the rest of the family is busy in cyberspace. The intention of eating together is to experience it together, not apart.

Seeing a scene like this also makes me glad that, as a 36-year-old, I have lived more than half my life without technology. I was present in every moment I have gone through, from heartbreak to graduation, to the notice that I got my first job.

I completely experienced every feeling, and shared moments with a person who was physically present. A handshake, a hug, a kiss could not be replicated by a text message or social media post with emojis, no matter how many you use.

“Mommy, look at me when you talk to me.”

In 2011, I transitioned from being a print journalist to an online journalist. I was with a news organization that paved the way for “social news websites.” My tools were my smartphone, wi-fi dongle, and laptop. Anywhere I went, they went.

I did not realize that, because of the new nature of my work, I was bringing my work with me everywhere, all the time, even to family moments or dates with my son. I am a single parent and was always hands on.

When things started changing and I was getting more and more attached to my gadgets, my son was the first to notice. I’m glad he called me out and reminded me that when you talk to someone, you look at them, not your gadget.

Technology has had such a big impact on families, and I am sure all of us feel it.

Before we criticize it, let us take acknowledge the positive effects on technology on family life:

1. Safety and security

Family members having their own mobile phone means that each one of them is just a call away, in case help is needed. It is also a way for parents to monitor where their kids are, especially when Location Services of the phone is switched on.

2. Easy coordination

In case plans change or someone will be late, it’s easy to message the whole family so that everyone will immediately know. No more waiting or cancelled plans or disappointed family members. Changes are easily cascaded.

3. New way of communicating

There are things kids would be shy to tell their parents face to face which they may find easier to do through a text or a message. This “distance” and not immediately seeing their parents’ expression allows them to be more open about certain things.

Manage technology as a family

Much has been written about the negative effects on technology on children and family life: poor grades, loss of quality time, less sensitivity on the part of the children, less respect for personal time, and less physical activity, paving the way for illnesses at an early age.

We don’t want any of these — not for ourselves or any member of our family, especially our kids. It’s up to us parents to do something about it.

1. Teach your kids about Internet safety

Enticing free newsletters and promos might encourage them to share personal information without completely understanding its repercussions. Teach them how this can be dangerous.

2. Be a great role model

Kids turn to their gadgets when they see that Mom or Dad is busy with their own gadgets, too, and not listening to what they have to say. Show them that you, too, can go offline and that you enjoy being with them more.

3. Have a spot where you can deposit your gadgets

Place a basket or box in areas of the home where the family gathers to spend time together, from dining room to living room. No one should be exempted from depositing their gadgets.

4. Learn the tech “language” the children are speaking

Today’s children are called “digital natives” because they have grown up with the kind of quickly advancing technology we have today. Be active on Facebook if your child is active there. Learn how to use Snapchat if they use it all the time.

5. Adjust connection settings and access

There are sites your children may come across that are not appropriate for their age. Make sure this doesn’t happen by blocking those sites out, with the assistance of your Internet service provider.

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