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Family Relations Strained by Mobile Technology's Great Leap Forward

Posted: 02/06/2012 20:59

Technological advances bring with them many benefits, including the promise of a life which is simpler, quicker and better connected.

Things which, not so many years ago, seemed more the stuff of science fiction shows like 'Star Trek' or the hi-tech crystal ball-gazing of 'Tomorrow's World' have become hard - and very sellable - fact.

Within 30 years, the mobile 'phone has been reduced from an expensive, uncommon and rather unreliable object the size of a large house brick to a device which fits in the palm of our hand and allows us to talk, shop, work and photograph wherever we like.

That sense of convenience has been accelerated in the last couple of years by applications such as Skype or Apple's Facetime which allow us not only to speak with friends, family and colleagues wherever they may be but to see them as we do so.

Such programs have been regarded as time and money-savers for businesses. However, they have started to develop real significance for families too.

Partners forced to spend periods of time apart can now keep closer in touch than a telephone had previously allowed. For divorced or separated parents, especially those who don't live with their children after a break-up, video calls mean being able to maintain a better quality of contact.

Most, it seems, do so positively, taking an interest in their children's life, interests and education. Some, however, stand accused of using smartphones and tablet PCs in a manner which generates friction with their former partners.

Over the last six months, I and my colleagues at Pannone have noticed a steady stream of a new type of case, one in which estranged parents are being accused of using mobile video calls to their children as an opportunity to spy on their exes.

It has been claimed that some have been encouraging their children to wander around former partners' homes during video calls on smartphones and tablet computers which they may have been given as Christmas or birthday presents.

As making a call to a mobile or an iPad doesn't mean ringing a home landline, as might have been the case for parental contact in previous generations, it doesn't need the input of both parents. That, it has been suggested, reduces the control parents have over what children are doing and when.

Some residing parents have complained about the time, length or frequency of the calls while others have said that, because these devices are handheld, children are being prompted to walk around their house, showing former partners what's there.

Such behaviour, they say, amounts to snooping and has left them feeling uncomfortable, almost as if their ex has been wandering uninvited around their home.

It is a very modern problem created by very modern technology and one which illustrates how popular the Android, iPhone and BlackBerry have become in the UK. Recent figures (http://www.3g.co.uk/PR/April2012/android-dominating-uk-smartphone-market-while-over-50s-drive-growth.html) suggested that more 52.2 per cent of the British population now own a smartphone.

As such, everyone is eager to find ways in which separated or divorced families can use it to maintain positive relations while tackling difficulties it may pose for children and parents alike.

Certainly, if not handled carefully, efforts by parents to curb what they view as intrusion can, in turn, fuelled complaints by their former partners about contact with children being unfairly limited.

In some of the cases which we have dealt with, compromises have been reached in which limits have been set both on the times, locations and duration of these video calls.

Our best advice would be that while some people believe it's okay to allow children to capitalise on technology's latest great leap forward, it might be as well for parents who no longer live together to agree how a smartphone, laptop or other device might be used before it is bought.

It is far better, in our opinion, for both parents and children to have rules in place at the start than to have unpleasantness added to what might already be strained family relations.

 

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