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Modern Parenting Dilemmas – Is Technology Killing the American Family?

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Scene from the ABC Show, Modern Family

Russian novelist Leo Tolstoy once famously wrote “Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.” It may sometimes seem to us that modern families have more stresses and problems than families from “the good old days”, but Tolstoy wrote those words in 1874, and their poignancy suggests that family life was just as difficult then in Russia as it is America in 2012.

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How technology takes a part

It may be that we are currently dealing with the same basic issues that plagued Tolstoy’s fictional characters over 150 years ago, but they certainly come in some modern packaging! Let’s take the obvious example of the use of cell phones, computers, and social media sites like Facebook. We know that our one-to-one face time with many loved ones has diminished since we have come to rely on technology to meet our basic communication needs. The increase in TV watching, followed by video gaming, emailing and texting is well documented and has many experts predicting dire outcomes for our social welfare.

How technology keeps families connected

But let’s not be too hasty. We have all seen the look on a grandfather’s face when he watches his granddaughter take her first steps in real time, thanks to the laptop his son bought him last year. My siblings and I, long separated by geographic distance, now check in regularly to the private Facebook group we set up just for ourselves. The tension that built last night when my teenager was later than expected was eased in a moment with the “On my way” text that pinged on my phone.

Is technology tearing us apart? Like all tools, it depends on how you use it. Before you pine too much for the old days, take a minute to reflect how technology lets you tell the people you love how you feel about them. In fact, tweet about it.

By Nancy Heath, PhD, LMFT
Director, Child & Family Development Programs at American Public University

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