Texting, Emails, Social Networking: Are They Destroying Family Life?

13/07/2011 13:43 | Updated 22 May 2015
Texting, emails, social networking: Are they destroying family life?Rex

New technology is having a huge impact on family life, according to a new study sponsored by BT, and carried out by the University of Cambridge.

One in three of us feels overwhelmed by texting, emails and social networking.

A third of parents feel that technology sometimes disrupts family life, and over half said they felt their family would benefit from some technology-free time.

So what's the answer? Balance, says BT, who have come up with a 'five-a-day' plan to help us develop a Balanced Communications Diet.

'It's like a fridge full of ice-cream,' says one of the study's authors, Anna Mieczakowski. 'If you put it in the children's room and give them free rein, then of course they will eat lots of it. You need to create rules about when the ice-cream can be eaten.'

One of the problems families face when trying to set rules and boundaries is that technology is moving incredibly fast. (Think how quickly Bebo and MySpace lost out to Facebook.) So you can set up a whole load of family rules about a particular device – and then find it's gone out of fashion.

Parents sometimes feel they're floundering. Susannah Rolfe, 45, who took part in the study, started off thinking that her three children – aged 16, 14 and 10 – were using computers too much. But then she realised the problem was that she didn't really understand the way they were using them.

'Teenagers are good at multi-tasking,' she said. 'My 16-year-old was revising for GCSEs by looking at past papers, but also having practical interactions with his friends – saying, "Meet me in the park at three." Once I realised that when he was looking at his laptop he was genuinely revising, I felt much more relaxed.'

Are schools doing enough to help parents and children understand the benefits and pitfalls of communications technology?

'Things could be done even better,' says Anna Mieczakowski. 'In schools, the use of technology is still treated as some sort of science rather than part of everyday life.'

So here is BT's five-a-day plan:

1. Be aware

Keep a diary of how your family uses technology to help you work out good and bad habits, and what you might need to change.

2. Location, location, location

Think about where technology lives – keeping computers and consoles in a central location can allow your family to share what they're doing online.

3. Have rules

Whatever works for you as a family - for example, not allowing texting during family meals.

4. Education

Set a good example. Are you constantly checking your phone for messages when you're with your family? Are you talking about safe and responsible use of social networking sites?

5. Find your balance

Every family is different. Give yourself control of communication technology and find a healthy balance.

Mariella Frostrup talks about trying to find a family balance here.

Suggest a correction