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Pew: Internet Helps Make Some Families Closer

Parents trading leisure time for family time

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For years, the Internet lifestyle has been blamed for detrimental effects on personal and family life: bloggers dropping dead from heart attacks; vacation and leisure time diminished because of employees always being connected to work; less physical activity; and disconnectedness among family members at home.

Well, scratch that last one. According to a Pew Internet and American Life study (PDF), it looks like Internet-and-technology-savvy families—or at least the heads of them—have learned to prioritize. While face time at dinner is markedly less, even nearly nonexistent, and while parents work more, the survey suggests that leisure activities, hobbies, and TV viewing are being sacrificed instead of family time.

Instead of wirelessly pulling families apart, the survey showed that married-with-children households were more likely to have a couple of networked computers in the house in addition to multiple cell phones among parents and kids, and that these families put that technology to work. They check in with each other more often and have more shared experiences—what Pew calls “Hey, look at this!” experiences.

Pew: Internet Helps Make Some Families Closer

Despite that, because of the Internet, parents are working longer hours and the family is less likely to eat dinner at the same time, a quarter of respondents said they felt their families were closer than their pre-Internet families, thanks to interconnectivity the Internet and mobile phones allow. About 60 percent said there has been no affect on closeness while 11 percent reported feeling less close.

What they’re sacrificing instead appears to be leisure time. While 49 percent of employed adults are very satisfied with the amount of time they spend with their families, only a third are very satisfied with time available for hobbies, clubs, relaxing, or other free time activities. They’re also watching less TV; about 25 percent of Internet-connected families say the Internet has decreased the amount of time they watch TV.

You can bet the amount of TV watched will continue to decline. While 89 percent of those over 65 watch TV almost every day, only 58 percent of those 18-29 do so. Just 12 percent of senior citizens attribute less TV watching to the Internet, compared to 29 percent of their younger counterparts.

A lot of that may ring true for you, if you’re in a married-with-children situation like me. More often than not, my wife pings me via Gmail chat requesting I stop by the store to pick something up; the teenager disappears to his room for hours at a time but eventually plops down at the home office computer to share his latest online discovery (usually a game or some monster he’s created). TV? Well, “watching” is a flexible word. Let’s just say the set is usually on.

We still manage to eat dinner together, though.

 

Some more statistics from Pew’s study on how the Internet affects families:

  • 58% of those living in married-with-children households own two or more desktop or laptop computers.
  • Nearly two-thirds of those living in multiple-computer households (63%) link those computers in a home network.
  • Both spouses use the internet in 76% of married-with-children households, as do 84% of their children aged 7-17.
  • 65% of married-with-children households with a child between the ages of 7-17 contain a husband, wife, and child who all use the internet.
  • 89% of married-with-children households own multiple cell phones, and nearly half (47%) own three or more mobile devices. Children in these households are somewhat less likely to own a cell phone than they are to go online: 57% of these children (aged 7-17) have their own cell phone.
  • 64% of couples who both own a cell phone contact each other at least once a day to coordinate their schedules
  • 47% of couples who have one or no cell phones do this at least once a day
  • 42% of parents contact their child/children daily using a cell phone, and 35% do so using a landline telephone

 
 

Pew: Internet Helps Make Some Families Closer
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