Technology and the Family

Drew Colbert, MA, LPC, LLMFT
Drew is a fully licensed professional counselor as well as a limited licensed marriage and family therapist.
In addition to his focus with couples and families, his counseling expertise includes existential therapy; multicultural counseling; issues related to coping with loss and grief; integrated care; mindfulness maintenance; patterns of depression; concerns of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender community (LGBT); phase of life changes; and Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT).


Question: My husband and I have tried to set limits on how often and in what ways our children interact with technology. It has been a constant battle with social media and trying to set boundaries on time spent online. This new “Pokemon Go” craze is just another in a long line of difficult sources of contention for our family. What is normal and how do we, as parents, decide what is acceptable technology use and what is not for our children and as a couple?
Answer: Your question touches on one of the most difficult topics facing our society today. A 2014 Nielson survey, for example, found that the average American adult spends 11 hours per day with some form of electronic media. As we continue to hurdle headlong into a new era that is increasingly more intertwined with technology as a necessity, rather than a luxury, we all are struggling to answer these questions.
There are some warning signs that you may be experiencing the more negative side of technology:
1. If you find yourself or your children being verbally assaulted or bullied.
2. If you find it is easier to engage with or express your personal experiences to others via texting or social networking than it is to have a face-to-face interaction.
3. If you find that you can no longer complete tasks or meet deadlines with the same proficiency and speed you once did because of technological distraction.
4. If you honestly and authentically look at your relationships with people in real life (IRL, as they say) and identify that online-only relationships feel more “real” than your IRL ones, it is definitely time to cut back on your usage or at least spend time coming to terms with how your online behavior might be affecting your personal life or the lives of individuals in your family.
That having been said, there are indeed a host of benefits to our current technologically-inclined society. For adolescents, whether you agree with daily socializing online or not, this is the most common mode by which adolescents come of age in our society. While no one would encourage online interaction that leads to exploitation, bullying or other harmful experience for young people, it is via online interactions that today’s youth begin to come to terms with the normal struggle of reconciling parental lessons with peer pressure and beginning to formulate the foundations of adult identity. Social media changes the way in which grief occurs; memories of places and times with live words of encouragement and shared memories that last forever as data streams for immediate recall, provide a new framework for understanding death and meaning in our personal lives.
Certainly, relationships can suffer from technology, as mentioned above, many key scholarly studies are finding that in fact, both intimate relationships and relationships between members of family units are not only developing faster, but are more mutually understood, leading to increased empathy, understanding and open communication between partners and the members of their families.