Is technology good or bad for family relationships? Recently a new study found kids are spending more time than ever online, while Comcast debuted a new featured aimed to help families bond.
Cable’s digital phone and broadband have revolutionized staying in touch with far-flung family members. Compared to the old days of snail mail, pricey long distance phone calls or infrequent in-person visit, cable today keeps families connected and closer than ever.
Has that all that connectivity hurt face-to-face communication? A recent survey by Comcast finds that two of every five parents couldn’t recall their family’s last device-free meal. It’s not just kids – more than half of the parents surveyed said they’ve been asked to put their own devices away at the dinner table by their children.
Regarding children, a new report by Common Sense Media, a nonprofit group that reviews media and digital products for children, found the following;
- Children spend two hours and 19 minutes a day with “screen media,” which includes mobile devices, television, DVDs and videos, video game players, computers and small digital devices such as iPods and virtual reality headsets.
- Children 8 years old and younger spend an average of 48 minutes per day on a mobile device, compared to 15 minutes per day in 2013 and 5 minutes in 2011.
- Forty-two percent of children ages 8 and younger have their own tablet device, an increase from 7 percent in 2013 and 1 percent in 2011.
Back to the Comcast survey: Parents almost unanimously said that disconnecting from devices during mealtimes is key to bonding as a family.
As a result, in addition to promoting connectivity, Comcast has introduced a function on its Xfinity xFi platform that helps families disconnect for a time. The “pause device” feature is now the most popular function on that platform – it allows users to “pause” Wi-Fi access over a home network during specific times, like dinner or bedtimes, by either user or device. So far the feature has been used about five million times, most frequently between 6-9 p.m.
As a senior vice president for Comcast said, with the feature “parents have the power to decide when it’s time for family members to connect with each other, rather than their devices.”
Just as cable companies are making it easier to connect, they are innovating solutions to make those connections smarter. Features, including parental control tools, are giving parents and others more ability to define when and how online connections happen, striking a balance with the personal connections so important for family bonding.