2021-05-15 GENERAL HOUSE

The International Day of Families

A reflection on the impact of innovative technologies on the well-being of families

The United Nations (UN) General Assembly instituted the International Day of Families in 1993 and urged families to observe it on May 15 every year. This celebration is always an occasion to reflect on the trends affecting families. The focus, this time round, is on the impact of technology on the well-being of families.

Technological devices have become inevitable tools. More and more people are finding it hard to live without using them. Their presence in homes is conspicuous. They are used for domestic chores, entertainment, games, education, and communication. Computers and cell phones help families to connect to the World Wide Web to access information and to stay in touch with the networks of friends and family members on the social media. Similarly, access to the internet helps working mothers to spend more time with their families by allowing them to plan their workday better, figure out ways to minimize time away from family, and take care of business remotely rather than in person. Unfortunately, the use of technology has extended the average workday beyond the usual eight hours. Company-issued laptops, cell phones, and other communication devices keep employees connected and working indefinitely. This extended workday can create stress by taking family time to continue the connection with work issues.

The question about the use of technology in the home encourages debate about whether computer use is appropriate for children and at what age? What technology and how often should it be used, and how can it impact families? These are not easy questions to answer. The use of social networking, particularly popular with adolescents and children, challenges parents to determine when to allow their children to have access and when to restrict their access to the computers and cell phones.

Experts in the field of communication point out that the daily use of technological devices has become an intrusion in face-to-face family interactions. They call this situation, ‘technoference’. Their studies estimate that parents use television, computers, tablets, and smartphones for nine hours per day on average; a third of which is spent on smartphones, which, due to their portability are often used during important family activities. This situation is an invitation to reflect on the appropriate use of communication technological devices vis-à-vis family values before they contribute to completely disrupt face-to-face family interaction and extinguish the light of love and solidarity and care for one another.

The amount of time parents and their children spend on the couch watching TV or playing video games or lying on bed chatting online with friends certainly reduces the time they spend staying active at home. Such a passive way of being at home decreases feelings of family closeness. Even though incorporating technology into family time is a difficult task, parents could use the occasion of Families Day to remind themselves not to relent in seeking ways to maximize the use of technology as a tool to draw the family together. To mark Families Day, they could organize activities that have nothing to do with the use of technological devices or that oblige the family to put technology aside such as having a special family meal, decorating the family house, organizing a family photo album, playing board games, going on a picnic, or enjoying time together in the countryside.

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Brother Francis Lukong – Secretariat of Solidarity

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