This is the first blog post in a series of articles on the impact of technology in families. This post will address the impact upon relationships caused by technology and pose important questions for families to consider.

Did your child or spouse receive an iPod, smartphone, or video game system for Christmas? Then I have something I would like for you to ponder as you look forward to a new year: what impact will that gift be allowed to have on your family in this upcoming year?

A while back, I came across a photo in my Facebook news feed that I have had a hard time erasing from my mind. (Of course when I went back to look for it, I couldn’t find it.) The picture showed a couple lying in bed both using different devices. In between them was a picture of a giant iPad essentially acting like a wall between them. That picture got me thinking about the impact of technology upon families and relationships. I admit that I am guilty of using my phone or checking e-mails when I should be spending quality time with my husband, but since seeing that picture, I have found myself questioning just how much of a divide technology has created.

Technology has infiltrated our world. There is almost always an e-mail waiting for a response, a call that needs to be answered, or a text to check. Add in playing games, updating a twitter page, checking Instagram, and all of the other things that technology can do, and we are left with an overwhelming pull towards the digital world. I challenge you to go out to any restaurant and pay attention to the surrounding families or couples. Watch their interactions for a little while. It will not take long before one starts to notice the large amount of tables where there is no interaction taking place simply because everyone is on a phone or device.

Children today are growing up in a world far different from the world their parents grew up in because of the growth of digital devices. While there are several great benefits of technology, some are also starting to recognize several problems caused by technology. Kids today are growing up in a world where there are lot of online connections but few, if any, deep relational connections. Relational connections start in the home, and it is the job of a parent to provide the foundation for those connections. Children who are unable to make relational connections will have problems later on in life. While the surge of technology and the digital world are not solely responsible for straining relationships, I would argue that they do impact a person’s ability to be present and engaged in conversation. Over time, technology has seemed to reduce, if not replace, one’s ability to spend quality time (undistracted, intentional time) with loved ones.

Catherine Steiner-Adair in her book The Big Disconnect writes the following:
Parents who have long-prided themselves in protecting, providing, and promoting a values-rich childhood for their children are feeling increasingly irrelevant in their children’s technology-driven lives. And they are right. Parents have lost their job—sometimes unwittingly abdicated it—at a time when they are most desperately needed by kids who are not only growing up faster but growing into a world that no longer protects children.

When I read books like The Big Disconnect, I feel overwhelmed with the rapid shift that has taken place in our society. I still remember wondering why in the world my friends would want to be able to check their e-mails on their phone when smart phones first came onto the scene, and now I cannot imagine being unable to access my e-mail on the go. Do not get me wrong, I think technology has a lot of benefits, but I wonder if we have really taken the time to consider the impact on the family. What are children learning if they have to compete with a phone for their parent’s attention? What is the impact upon marriages and families when spouses are more concerned with scrolling through their Facebook feed rather than connecting with one another? Are you willing to allow a disconnect to happen in your family?

Parents, it is time to take your job back. I urge you to not be the parent who willingly gives up his or her job of protecting and connecting with the child in your home because of the work emails that need to be answered or the levels of Candy Crush that need to be conquered. Technology is causing great division in families and relationships, and if families are not careful, it will eventually cause a complete disconnect. Are you willing to let that happen?

Stay tuned for my next post which will address some strategies to bridging the gap between relationships and technology.

By: Amanda Paben, LPC