It is not unusual to hear parents complain about how much their teenagers over engage in the use of media. From mobile phones to video games, it seems that teenage culture is saturated in digital media. While there are researchers who propose that media is a culprit that pulls families apart, the researchers at Brigham Young University recently published a study supporting the premise that various forms of digital media may in fact be associated positively with family connectedness. So, don't put those game controllers away quite yet; there may, in fact, be ways to use them to enhance family connectedness.
Increasing (and Multitasking) Use of Media by Teens
The researchers first highlight the changing use of media among children and teenagers in the last decade. A decade ago, the average amount of time a child spent using various forms of media was about 5.75 hours per day. A study completed in 2010 indicated that media use among children and teenagers averaged about 7.5 hours per day. But since many of those children and teenagers are consuming multiple forms of media concurrently, they actually take in an equivalent of 11 hours in that 7.5 hours.
Media Use within the Family System
While most studies conducted on media use among teenagers focus on individual outcomes, the research by the BYU team focused on the use of media by the family. The researchers looked particularly at the shared use of media by family members. This includes such things as parents engaging in a text message conversation with their child, watching a movie together, or playing a video game together. The premise the authors build their research upon is that when families participate in media use together, they gain opportunity to experience a shared reality and thus promote shared values.
The authors did find uniqueness in how fathers and mothers differ in shared media use with children. Mothers tended to engage more frequently in cell phone calls and texting, while fathers tended to engage more frequently in playing video games and watching movies. All of these activities (cell phone calls, texting, watching movies, and playing video games) had a positive relationship with teens in regard to family connectedness. The only form of media studied that generated a negative association with family connection was the shared use of social networking sites (i.e. Facebook, Twitter, etc.). The authors believe that the negative correlation is due to the feeling teens may have of it being too intrusive.
The Enhancement of Family Connectedness by Shared Media Use
The authors do not overstate their case. They do not say that media use causes higher instances of family connection, but they do allude to the possibility that the appropriately shared use of media by parents and teenagers may enhance the family connectedness shared by them.
So, it may be time to invest in a shared unlimited texting plan, pop some corn and subscribe to Netflix, or perhaps schedule a family video game night. (By the way, if it has been a while since you've played video games and you are thinking PAC-Man or Mario Brothers, you may want to visit a local electronics store and ask about game guides and walkthroughs. A game guide, or walkthrough, will get you up to speed with today's technology and give you an edge in facing your teenage challenger. Of course if you get one of the game guides, do not share it with your teen; it's for your advantage--a benefit you deserve for arriving at adulthood and having a full time job!)
What are you doing today to connect to your teen with media they already are using and enjoy?
Padilla-Walker, L. M., Coyne, S. M. and Fraser, A. M. (2012). Getting a high-speed connection: Associations between family media use and family connection. Family Relations 61(3), 426-440. doi: 10.1111/j.1741-3729.2012.00710.x
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