Protecting Quality Family Time in an age of Digital Disruption

Those of us who were teenagers in the 70s and 80s, grew up without technology as we know it today. We had a vastly different experience to the age of digital and technological disruption that we all find ourselves living in today.

I grew up in a family of five siblings in a small town in Co Cavan. We had no telephone in the house. We had one colour television and the act of watching television was mostly a family affair. We had a small black & white television for when Top of the Pops clashed with something my parents wanted to watch.

I had the opportunity recently to reflect a little bit on just how disruptive technology has been when I was invited to speak to 600 teenagers about social media and technology.

When I described my teenage experience of technology and the lack of a landline many of the young people told me that they just could not imagine a house like that.

Then I described the list of technology in my home today and most of the young people said they had the same sort of list and some had even more technology. The list in our house includes a landline, smart TVs, game consoles, smartphones, Apple TV and Netflix. We even have a washing machine that plays music to announce when a cycle is finished.

There are also smart vacuums that you can programme to clean the floor by themselves and apps that allow you to ‘communicate’ with your pets when you are out of the house and to use technology to release a doggie treat for them! [I feel I should clarify here that I don’t have a smart vacuum or a dog!]

I do believe that our technological advances are positive but I also believe that the way many of us are using technology has impacted negatively on quality family time.

Take the television – everyone wants their own screen, or to sit and watch something when it suits them. In many cases we no longer sit down to watch TV together. Then there’s the arguments between husband and wife when one person goes ahead in a box set or Netflix show without the other!

Look at social media – I do believe that it has been and can be a positive tool for communication and networking. But, as a parent, I can’t ignore the headlines about children and young people being bullied or children as young as 11 taking their own lives because they are not seeing in their mirrors what is being reflected back at them from the ‘perfect’ lives of their idols on social media.

The example that many of us adults and parents give in our own consumption of technology is less than perfect. I see so many couples out for a meal together looking at their phones instead of each other. I see parents ignoring their kids because they are too attached to their smartphones.

A recent survey showed that Irish adults who have smartphones check their phone a minimum of 10 times a day and that 34% of men and 17% of women smartphone owners check their phone up to 40 times a day.

Pope Francis has spoken often about the many benefits of technology and social media, he uses it well himself! But, he recognises that over-reliance on its way of managing our lives can lead to an expectation that human relationships can be managed in the same way as social media, and can be switched off and reconnected at a whim.

He has also spoken about how young people are bombarded by social media messages that are not beneficial for their growth and maturity. He has said that young people, in particular, need to be educated to recognise the values of social media for what they are.

The family home is where children first learn about God. Parents hand on faith and life lessons to their children not only by what they say but, more importantly, by what they do and how they treat others both inside and outside of the home.

This includes their example and stewardship of technology in the home. This also includes the online spaces we inhabit.

The family is precious. Technology is everywhere, so let’s use it well and do all we can to protect our quality family time.


This article is courtesy of Intercom Magazine, in which I write the monthly Get Connected column. This article was first published in the April 2018 issue of the magazine.



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