Is communication technology bringing families closer together?


Words: Precious Nkabinde

There’s more communication, but less talk and more text. And your kids want more face-to-face time with you. If you’ve ever wondered about the impact that communication technology is having on the modern family, then a new report from Ericsson ConsumerLab will make interesting reading.

The report, entitled Bringing Families Closer Together, provides a snapshot of the impact of communication technology on families in the US. It looks at how families communicate among themselves, whether in person or using various technologies, and asks how family life has been transformed by technology. The data has been gathered from family-based focus groups and during at-home interviews with parents in the San Francisco area, and supported by online studies with a further 1005 families across the US.

To the busy family, stressed by work schedules, commuting and multiple after-school activities, the mobile phone seems like the perfect tool to knit the family together during the day. The majority of families claim they communicate more using such technology, know each other better and find that it makes practicalities and logistics much easier during the week. Mobile communication means – in theory at least – that children and their parents can contact each other at any time when apart.

Family meals and time spent ferrying children to school or activities are felt to be valuable face-to-face occasions. But the use of voice in mobile communications between family members has been surpassed by text, and has been increasing over the past year, according to Ann-Charlotte Kornblad, Senior Advisor Consumer Insights at Ericsson ConsumerLab. Text ensures that messages can be passed easily and quickly to all family members.

Some families use more recent services such as WhatsApp and Kik to communicate. Figures show that parents with these services communicate five times more with each other, and eight times more with their children. However, children are also adept at using communication platforms such as Instagram and SnapChat specifically for communicating with friends.

Not surprisingly, new communication services have created new worries for parents. The report shows that parents now set more rules and practice more active device management for their children. Of the families interviewed, 72 percent said that use of mobile phones was restricted as a punishment.

However, even if communication technology has an overall positive impact on families, there are still some drawbacks. Kornblad, says: “The study shows that we should be aware that our obsession with our phones and our tablets is eating into our valuable family time. Children want more face-to-face communication with their parents during the week, and communication technology will not solve this.”

Read the Bringing Families Closer report here

Ericsson ConsumerLab gains its knowledge through a global consumer research program based on interviews with 100,000 individuals each year, in more than 40 countries and 15 megacities – statistically representing the views of 1.1 billion people. Both quantitative and qualitative methods are used, and hundreds of hours are spent with consumers from different cultures.