The digital age is affecting more than how America communicates. It is also shaping parent-child relationships in striking new ways.  Barna Group recently completed a study about the influence of technology in families, releasing the findings in a new digital report, “The Family & Technology Report.” 

PARENTS ARE JUST AS DEPENDENT ON TECHNOLOGY AS TEENS, TWEENS

Most people assume that teenagers are driving the technology gap in families. Yet the research points out that the gap is much smaller than most imagine. In reality, parents are using technology and media to nearly the same degree as their 11- to 17-year-olds.

  • Parents are more likely than their tween and teen offspring to report regular use of cell phones and desktop computers. They are just likely as their teens and tweens to use laptop computers and tablet-like devices.
  • Parents watch just as much television and movies, use the Internet for as many minutes per day, and spend more time on the telephone and emailing than do their tween- and teen-aged children.
  • The technology and media-related tasks that young people do more often than their parents are listening to music, texting, and playing video games. Even in these categories, most parents are surprisingly active.

Like other national studies have shown, parents are spending nearly the same amount of time per day as their tween and teen-aged kids consuming media and using various digital technologies. The gap was even smaller among families with parents who are still in their thirties or early forties. In other words, younger parents are even more technology- and media-dependent than older parents. All of this points to the fact that the digital world has influenced all members of the family, not just teens.

MOST FAMILY MEMBERS FEEL THAT TECHNOLOGY HAS BEEN A POSITIVE INFLUENCE ON THEIR FAMILIES

While many assume that families are fed up with technology, by nearly a two-to-one ratio parents think of technology like computers, cell phones and video game systems as making their family life better rather than worse (32% to 18%). Most describe the influence as neutral (51%). Interestingly, parents are actually even more favorable toward entertainment like music, movies and television than toward technology, saying its influence is more positive than negative by a five-to-one ratio (38% versus 7%). A slim majority of parents feel entertainment is neither good nor bad (55%).

As relatively unconcerned as parents are about technology and media, the students in their home are even more positive about these elements of modern life. Tweens and teens are substantially more likely to describe technology’s influence as positive rather than negative (47% to 6%); similar ratings hold true for young people’s view toward entertainment (56% to 2%).

The conclusion is that most families welcome technology and media with open arms, rather than with suspicion. One of the reasons for this may be that many families use technology, including television, movies and video games, as a shared experience.

VERY FEW ADULTS, YOUTH TAKE SUBSTANTIAL BREAKS FROM TECHNOLOGY

Americans’ dependence on – what some might call addiction to- digital technology is apparent in the study’s findings. One out of three parents and nearly half of 11- to 17-year-olds say there are not any specific times when they “make the choice to disconnect from or turn off technology so they can have a break from it.” And those who take such breaks tend to be driven by convenience rather than intentionality. For example, only 10% of parents and 6% of teenagers say they try to take off one day a week from their digital usage.

This reliance translates into some interesting behaviors and habits. Nearly half of both parents and teens said they emailed, texted or talked on the phone while eating in the last week. Two out of five youth and one-third of parents have used two or more screens simultaneously during this time period. And half of students and one-fifth of parents have checked email or text messages in bed in the last seven days. The question arises whether families are in control of their technology or being controlled by it.

[Source:  “The Family & Technology Report.”  Barna Group.  23 May 2011.  Web.  21 June 2011.]