Are Our Tech Habits Helping or Harming Our Family Relationships?

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Are Our Tech Habits Helping or Harming Our Family Relationships?

Growing together, online and offline

By Mark Lim | 17 November 2020

Celebrated entrepreneur Steve Jobs once said:

“I have looked at myself in the mirror every morning and asked myself, ‘If today were the last day of my life, would I want to do what I am about to do today?’ and whenever the answer is ‘no’ for too many days in a row, I know I need to change something.”

When most people wake up each morning, they inevitably turn to the nearest item by their bedside – their smart phones. And before they go to bed each night, this digital device would likely be the last thing that they look at.

When Steve Jobs first introduced the iPhone 13 years ago, he probably did not expect that his product would revolutionise the technological world. With the advent of the COVID-19 pandemic, technology has been propelled further into our daily lives, with smart phones and other devices occupying a major role in our modus operandi.

For instance, virtual meetings have become a norm, with Zoom or Microsoft Teams taking centrestage. And should we get hungry or need to travel to another location, we click on the Foodpanda or Grab app to hire a car or get food delivered.

Children, too, have turned into digital natives overnight, due mainly to the increase in home-based learning and reduction in social activities.

How have parents been coping with the use of gadgets and screens at home?

Setting limits and encouraging togetherness

For mother-of-two Jacqueline Lim, it’s all about setting limits for her children. She limits iPad use to an hour daily, after which her boy and girl would spend time playing together, away from the screen. Jacqueline also purchased glasses from Taobao to filter out the blue light from the screens.

According to her, this has helped to reduce her daughter’s screen-related meltdowns, as most of her child’s work was done on the iPad, and the girl used to get headaches from using the device for too long. The lenses have helped to stop the headaches.

For Tan Wan Ling, mother of two girls, what’s important is for screen time to be a communal activity during her children’s waking hours. “I find Zoom meetings particularly invasive when they are scheduled during the usual family time or when the host tries to restrict the movement of my children or requests that my child attends the online session alone.”

Wan Ling gave away her TV and connected her laptop and the Fire TV stick to a projector. Now, whether it’s the children’s Sunday School service or video clips, the family would watch the content together. The family now starts the day with memory work video clips and a short Mandarin cartoon.

While it may not be possible to keep up with every piece of online content as the children grow, Wan Ling’s effort speaks of the importance of consuming technology together as a family, and using it to promote family bonding wherever we can.

“I found my resolve to enforce screen limits eroding by the day. It was too convenient to let everyone into their personal, digital spaces, so that I could focus on my thoughts, my moods, and manage the constraints of living in a small home.”

Cutting down excess screen time

Mother-of-three Dawn Fung shared that she loves the convenience of the digital world and how affordable devices are. She shared that she sees the benefits of online programmes that have given her children freedom to learn as she managed her other household responsibilities.

However, the increasing use of technology is not without its challenges. As Dawn explained, “I found my resolve to enforce screen limits eroding by the day. It was too convenient to let everyone into their personal, digital spaces, so that I could focus on my thoughts, my moods, and manage the constraints of living in a small home.”

Dawn soon discovered that she had to re-draw the boundaries. “We have to keep negotiating what is needful for us each season and be courageous to make it happen even if it is unpleasant. For me, this means thinking of creative ways to help my children wean off their long hours of screen time, which I permitted in the first place, and adjusting my own living habits,” she revealed.

“Parents need to keep up with technology and be in the know rather than try to enforce rules and strain the relationship.”

Letting consequences teach

Connie Chua, whose four children are now teenagers, also faced initial challenges due to the COVID-induced increase in technology use. She said she struggled initially to give her children freedom to manage their own screen time, but over time she has learnt to take a step back and “let consequences be the teachers”.

Because Connie had always been guiding them in their usage of technology, the advent of the pandemic was like any other change and its impact was relatively muted.

Said Connie, "It’s all about helping children manage the changes in their lives, whatever these may be. Whenever there's anything new, adults especially parents tend to be apprehensive, which is normal. The question would be whether we choose to be fearful and try to control or use this opportunity to learn together with our children and fellow parents, and allow the children some freedom to manage their time.”

At the end of the day, it’s all about guiding our children to master the use of technology without allowing it to master them. Perhaps this is best achieved by keeping our own tech habits in check and demonstrating that family relationships take priority over gadgets and entertainment in our homes.

© 2020 Focus on the Family Singapore. All rights reserved.


Mark Lim is Consultant & Counsellor at The Social Factor, a consultancy and counselling agency which conducts training on life skills such as parenting, mentoring and special needs. He and his wife Sue co-write a parenting blog Parenting on Purpose, where they chronicle the life lessons from parenting two young boys aged 10 and 8.

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