One of the characteristics of a strong family is the ability to maintain positive communication with each other.
Technology can bridge distances and keep mobile families connected. Cell phones, email, Skype and text messages help families compensate for the increased stress of modern life by allowing them to communicate with family members while they are apart. In addition, mobile communication allows for some new logistical problem solving that was not available to us previously. These include:
• Coordination of busy schedules: No more stranding a child at school or a parent at the airport. Text, phone or e-mail lets someone know plans have changed.
• Safety: In a crazy world, you want to know where your family is and that they have a way to reach you when in trouble.
• A "new connectedness:" Texting has opened doors between parents and teens. Dr. Gene Beresin, a child psychiatrist at Massachusetts General Hospital, said texting gives teens "optimal distance" from parents, allowing for communication that wouldn't happen otherwise.
However, there's no doubt technology within family life has its conflicts. And the conflicts have only increased as the Internet and social media have joined distractions such as TV, the cell phone and the computer. There are some negative effects of communication and the technology revolution that we as people trying to create more healthy and connected families need to be aware of.
1. Academic Performance; Declining Reading Skills
Kids who get too much "screen time" -- through watching lots of TV, surfing the Internet and playing video games -- tend to perform poorly at school. Researchers have found the brain releases dopamine, a chemical related to attention and focus, when kids watch TV or play video games -- something that gives the child a "stimulus surge." With too much screen time, kids get desensitized and can't focus on something like a book without that super-stimulating effect.
So, what's a parent to do, especially with computers a part of school curriculum these days?
• Limit screen time, especially if computer homework is a part of their evening. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends one to two hours per day for children over two, and none for kids younger.
• Talk with and read to your children -- along with the quality time spent, this puts your kids in a language-rich environment.
• Be involved in their academics, even on the computer. Watching your child do his math online lets you encourage him, help him and see his problem-solving skills in action.
2. Decreased Face to Face Quality Time
Between responding to e-mails during kids' activities, texting at meals, and constant phone time while driving, parents use technology almost as much as teens. This dynamic can create feelings of jealousy and distress in children since they now have to compete for both their parents' time and focus.
So what's the answer? Schedule one-on-one time with children and take family dinner hour seriously. One mother insists that all family members put their electronic devices in a basket when they come through the door and retrieve them only after dinner is over.
3. A Less Actively Communicative and Empathetic Dynamic
A benefit of a family is that children learn the give and take of society -- how to interact with other people, the importance of the individual and the group, and how to communicate. However, with the inundation of technology in all facets of life, parents run the risk of raising a generation who can't relate to other people.
Children with unlimited gaming, computer and TV time may not get enough interpersonal face-to-face interaction needed to develop proper social skills. E-mail and texts don't convey empathy, tone or subtext the way face-to-face or phone conversations do.
So, if your child seems to spend most of her time on social media or texting, encourage her to talk to or make plans with friends - or at least with you.
4. The Never Ending Day
Once upon a time, a family's biggest technological nuisance was the phone ringing during dinner or late at night. Twenty-four hour TV programming, the Internet and cell phones didn't permeate the inner sanctum of the home. School stayed at school, work stayed at work, and those boundaries weren't crossed except in an emergency.
That was then; this is now. For adults, work doesn't end just because you leave the office; in fact, companies equip their people with smart phones and laptops so employees are accessible 24/7.
Likewise, schools send out e-mails – announcements about homework and events -- so kids are getting "business" as well as social messages when they're at home. It goes back to setting limits; your child's social life won't implode if she doesn't answer 50 texts that night. Also, minimize the double standard. If you limit screen time for kids, do the same for yourself. You don't want to lose your job over it, but consider how much work you do at home because you "have to" versus what you do because you can and your computer's right there.
5. Not Enough Time Outside/Outdoors
More than ever before, parents have to encourage, coax or even force their children to get outside and play. Kids spend more time inside because of school, homework, working parents and other factors dictating their schedules, but when they have free time, how do they spend it?
However, parents can manage their kids' "inside" time much like their screen time. Schedule outdoor time, and stick to it. If it's pretty, get them outside. And from time to time, go with them for a bike ride or a walk. Sending your kids outside while you sit inside and text or send e-mails just "sends" the wrong message.