Mobile Devices Haven't Destroyed This One Value We Hold Most Dear - BRIGID Magazine

Sunday, April 28, 2019

Mobile Devices Haven't Destroyed This One Value We Hold Most Dear

Researchers in the UK find that mobile devices may not be so bad after all.
Image: Alexander Dummer
Mobile devices, such as cell phones and tablets, often come under fire for their apparent ability to destroy our most beloved values. Big screens and little screens alike have been blamed for deleterious changes in the way we think, the way we experience the world, how we socialize, and the amount of time we spend on physical fitness — to name just a few.

One of the most bemoaned values is quality time with the ones we love, which time on mobile devices surely erodes. Or does it? New research from the UK challenges the popular assumption that time spent on mobile devices damages or depletes quality family time.

Researchers at Oxford and Warwick completed the first study of its kind to determine how family time has changed since the adoption of smartphones, tablets, and other mobile devices. The study included 2,500 children aged eight to 16 and their parents, and found that family time spent at home increased by 30 minutes per day between 2000 and 2015, while time spent in shared activities — like eating together or watching TV — remained unchanged during the same time period.

Quality family time can be defined as "time spent in shared meals or leisure activities deliberately aimed to foster a sense of family togetherness."

Those 30 extra minutes of time together per day were usually spent in what the researchers called "alone-together" time, when the use of mobile devices was heaviest. There was no evidence to support the idea that mobile devices have displaced shared activities such as eating together or watching television together. The amount of time that UK parents spent with their children aged eight to 16 per day continued to be about 90 minutes each day.

Use of mobile devices, like smartphones and tablets, may be complementing
family time, not eroding it. | Image: Tim Gouw
Key findings include:

  • In 2000, children and parents spent an average of 347 minutes each day in the same location; and 95 of those minutes were spent alone-together, while 84 minutes were spent partaking in shared activities. 
  • In 2015, children and parents spent an average of 379 minutes each day in the same location; and 136 of those minutes were spent alone-together, while 87 minutes were spent partaking in shared activities. 
  • Older children, aged 14 to 16, spent less time in shared family activities and more time on their devices, which was most concentrated during alone-together time.
  • Device use is now embedded in family life, including during shared family activities. 

"Our analysis has found that the overall family space has expanded, but it's this alone-together time, when children and parents are in the same location but children are reporting that they are alone, which has made up the increase," said Killian Mullan, of the Centre for Time Use Research. 

"Given this large increase in alone-together time, it is perhaps reassuring that we also found no decline in the amount of time families spent in shared activities between 2000 and 2015. This suggests that parents still value key aspects of traditional family life, such as family meals or shared hobbies, and seek to prioritize them in the face of pressure from technological change."

Since devices are now embedded into almost every aspect of family life, some believe they must be distracting family members and thus reducing the quality and amount of family time. However, the evidence does not support this idea. "It is worth noting that mobile device use may be complementing family activities and also help children and young people build and maintain friendships outside of the home," said Stella Chatzitheochari of the University of Warwick's Sociology department. 

The research article, published on March 11, 2019 in the Journal of Marriage and Family, is available for free by clicking here

Please note that additional research will be necessary to validate and strengthen the findings from the research described above. 

by Kristen Hovet

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