Technology and Family: Which Devices Does Your Family Actually Need?

Topics: Parenting, Technology

There’s no denying the fact that technology and family have intermingled to arguably too far of an extent. Computers were only in 51 percent of American households at the turn of the century, according to U.S. Census Bureau data. 

That number accelerated over the past decade and now 89 percent of households have at least one type of computer. But it’s not the same computers you used in the early 2000s. The technology of today’s age is far more advanced than you probably imagined it would be. While this adds a lot of value in so many ways, we're seeing meaningful negative effects of technology, as well. 

Technology in homes ranges from computers to smartphones and tablets to smart home gadgets. Devices like Apple’s iPad and Amazon’s Alexa made themselves household names throughout the United States.

The tech of today exists to streamline everyday processes to save time and make life easier. But at what cost? In a previous post we provided some inspiration with family bonding quotes to keep you off your phone. The battle rages on between maximizing convenience and maintaining limitations on tech in the house. 

It’s a fine line balancing technology and family. How do you know where that line lies? Which devices does your family need?

Technology and Family in the Past

Families 30 years ago likely couldn’t have imagined just how deeply technology would soon infiltrate their homes. Kids ran around outside playing games with their friends until the street lights came on. They had no cell phones to call a parent and check-in during the day.

The impact of technology on family time was little to none. Parents didn’t sit at the dinner table with their phone next to their plate checking emails. No one called out to an in-home speaker device to ask for recipes while cooking or request that it play a certain song.

While things might have moved a bit slower, people existed and life moved on with the limited technology available at the time. There was no concept of what technology was truly capable of. A few decades ago, no one had any inkling that they were missing out on anything.

Technology and Family in the Present

Flash forward to today and those times of simple living are a distant memory. Although there were things that competed for attention in the family unit, those distractions were nothing like they are now. It seems kids receive higher-powered devices at younger ages each year. Now toddlers can swipe through a simple touch screen interface as easily as most adults can.

You can’t go to a restaurant without seeing at least one child plopped in a high chair and mesmerized by the glowing screen of an iPad. Some larger chain restaurants today install touch screen devices on each table. Diners can play games, watch videos, and even pay their tab without involving a server. 

Schools also operate on the assumption that their students are part of the 89 percent of households with a computer. The majority expect that their students can conduct online research at home. Others require students to submit portions of classwork online.

Amazon Alexa and Google Home speakers find their way into increasing numbers of living rooms each year. And users find they interact with these devices like they are another human being or a friend

It’s almost impossible to escape technology with the way it has embedded itself so deeply into everyday life. How do these ever-present devices and the impact of technology on family time play a role today?

Impact of Technology on Family Time

It isn’t easy to be a parent raising children in the 21st century. Raise your hand if you’ve placed your child in front of a television, iPad, or smartphone in exchange for a few minutes of solitude. It’s difficult not to do so as computers and other advanced devices firmly wedge their way into your everyday life.

Don’t feel guilty if you have, though, because you aren’t alone. The average 8-year-old in the United States spends 8 hours or more per day in front of some type of screen. Even worse? Average teenagers spend upwards of 11 or more hours consuming digital media every day. Meanwhile, researchers recommend no more than 1 or 2 hours of combined screen time daily.

Families often spend much of their hours separated by their handheld devices. Families used to gather around the dinner table at home or perhaps have a game night. Today most families are lucky if they can even pull everyone from their phones or computers to watch a movie on the couch together. There is an extensive impact of technology on family time across the country.

The need for instant gratification, whether it’s checking a notification or looking up a quick fact, continues getting worse. If you don’t take steps to limit the number of devices in your house or the influence of tech, your family will succumb to the pressure as well.

Which Types of Tech are Necessary?

Which tech devices do you need to keep in your house and which can you leave behind? Do you need to fit your home with an Amazon Alexa speaker in the living room? Does every child in your household need an iPad? Is one family computer enough to get by on nowadays?

Ultimately, you’re the only one who can make these decisions for your family. To get an idea of the extent of the impact of technology on family time and home life, make a list of every device you own. Start with cell phones, laptops, and computers then expand from there. How many televisions are in your house? Does your family use any smart home speakers?

Once you have your list, arrange them in order of priority from most to least necessary. Cell phones or computers will most likely take the top spots on your list. Which devices do you consider second- and third-most important in your life? Did you realize you had a larger collection of gadgets than you thought?

Include your kids in this exercise to make it more interesting. Find out which devices they value the most and which they feel you can do without. The decision rests on you as the parent but your children will appreciate the opportunity to give their input. 

Limit the Impact of Technology on Family Time Together

If you involve your kids in the process of deciding on necessary devices, you can work together to limit their impact. Take some time to decide as a family how you can spend more quality time with each other, without the distraction of devices.

In the same way they listed out the importance of each device, have each member create a list of activities they want to do together. Compile each list and set aside some family time on either a weekly or bi-weekly basis. Start working through each activity and look at the way your family comes together when you limit the impact of technology on family time.

Although devices continue battling for your time and attention you still can to push back. Continue paying attention to how often you and your family members use technology. As long as you maintain a healthy balance of screen time and real-life time, you can ensure a better outcome for your family unit. 

Elliott Redwine

Author: Elliott Redwine

Elliott is a communications manager with Digital Detox with expertise on substance abuse and addiction recovery.