Technology and Its Impact on the Modern Family
The traditional iconic family unit depicted by Norman Rockwell in the middle of the last century, is a product of a bygone era, along with the all-American Walton family saying grace around the table, and the popular series of ‘Father Knows Best’. These images had broad popular appeal and were reflections of American culture that sadly have gone out of fashion.
The family of today is non-traditional and appears to be quite dysfunctional. Social, economic, and political trends witnessed since the late 1960’s have greatly altered our conception of what the traditional family really is. Today’s family tends to be very mobile, never staying long enough in one place to put down deep roots within a sustainable community framework. We have a family unit that appears to hardly resemble the one of yesteryear.
The Pandora’s Box of technology has been opened, and there is no going back. The Digital Age has been transformative and extensive, and has brought in its wake enormous sweeping changes in how we view the contemporary family. Psychologists and various studies have indicated that eating together regularly has benefits for kids and parents alike. The traditional family meal has largely been replaced by TV dinners, McDonald’s, Jack-in the-Box, and solo eating frenzies.
Unlike the Boomer Generation, today’s young people belonging to Generation Y and Z aren’t familiar with life apart from today’s interconnected mediascape-be it Facebook or Twitter. Today’s language interchange between parent and teenager consists of curt and concise abbreviated cyberslang such as CU(see you), or BTW(by the way). Young people seem to be very much disengaged from their parents, but very connected to their peers-at least online. They tend to send over 100 text messages per day to their friends-either real or virtual. Unfortunately, they seem unable to forge real and meaningful relationships with their peers or family members.
Eating together as a family unit involves much more than good nutrition; it is an invaluable aid in socializing children. Kids who eat with their family members tend to perform better scholastically than their peers who live apart from their families. Not eating together has a measurable negative impact on children’s health-both psychological and physical. Students who do not partake in sharing meals regularly with their families have much higher truancy rates than those who do. There are also the issues of substance abuse and problems of overweight. Meals eaten on the run, or at fast-food outlets, are far less nutritious, and only provide empty calories. Check out Miriam Weinsteins book: The Surprising Power of Family Meals, for some interesting insight as to how to alleviate much of the alienation evident in our society today.
The Digital Age does indeed have its merits as to connectivity between parents and their distracted progeny. Kids today will often rather text message their parents than speak to them, as this communication mode will provide them with ‘optimal distance’ and privacy. According to Dr. Gene Beresin, a child psychologist at Massachusetts General Hospital, the text message provides for communication that otherwise would not happen. It also gives the parents an instant heads-up, so as to allay any fears as to their children’s whereabouts.
Shared time together preparing meals and cleaning up afterwards serves as an ideal environment for compromise, pleasant table banter, and learning. The family meal serves as the template for community building and has an important socializing influence. The family should prioritize to have at least one day per week to share a meal together. Not only is this a money-saving proposal, but it can truly be an event to look forward to. So disengage- at least for the period of the meal-from all digital devices, and enjoy the company of real rather than ‘virtual’people.