Technology and Family Matters

You don’t have to be up to date on the latest technological trends to know that technology is changing family dynamics.

A recent article in the New Yorker entitled “Stop Googling. Let’s Talk” voices concerns about how the next generation– through years of practice– is adept at splitting their attention between conversations happening in real life (IRL) and those happening over text.

This author recently experienced the phenomenon at dinner with my 18 year old younger brother. I noticed he was able to make eye-contact with me while simultaneously texting his friend under the table. He said he honed the skill in school; this skill set allowed him to answer questions in class AND pass notes!

Many psychiatrists worry that this signals a breakdown in communication, altering a child’s ability to focus on one thing for a prolonged period of time.

In many ways, the ubiquity of smartphones and digital devices do make family life more complicated–kids are distracted, making “quality time” a little harder to cultivate.

No doubt about it, technology is changing the way we communicate. But the great majority of innovations actually seek to enhance and strengthen how we connect with others.

In today’s ever-changing world, many families are dispersed geographically. Grandparents, parents and children may be spread across multiple provinces or states. Keeping in touch is a lot easier with tools like Skype and social media.

Even within the family unit, applications like Foursquare use GPS tracking to allow families to track each other’s movements–making keeping tabs on those notoriously rebellious teenagers a lot easier.

Beyond staying in touch, technology also has the ability to change the quality of our communication by changing how and what we are comfortable sharing. The added distance of a keyboard made Alyson Shafer’s 15 year old daughter more comfortable starting a difficult conversation about a friend’s struggle with an eating disorder. Shafer told the Toronto Star that this was simply not a conversation she could start face-to-face. She still needed to talk to her mom, but without scrutiny.

The important thing is to stay safe while using digital devices to connect. No matter what generation you belong to, education is key. New users need to remain wary of online threats to make the most of their experience–and we’re here to help.

skype-icon-logo-62e333bbba-seeklogo-comOne of the most popular applications families use to stay in touch is a piece of software called Skype. Skype allows users to make audio and video calls for free– typically by connecting to the user’s webcam. Skype is a great tool especially for users who do not want to incur costly long-distance charges when calling internationally.

However, Skype has not been overlooked by scammers and hackers. In the past, Skype has been the vehicle for distributing the Dorkbot malware and is a popular choice for distributing phishing links. When in doubt, never click on links sent to you unless you confirm the source.  

As the holiday season approaches, many will look forward to seeing their loved ones in person. But why not increase that time spent together? Being able to safely navigate new technological tools can help to enrich, rather than take away from, family relationships.

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