How to Build Family Bonds Through Technology
How screens can enhance relationships
The desire for children to fit in and develop a healthy social life is rooted in the basic universal, human need to belong. Many parents work hard to make sure that their kids are well ahead of the curve when it comes to collecting friends. But while you focus on setting up their social media accounts and Fortnite playdates, you may be neglecting the area that matters more: building strong family relationships.
Science tells us that deepening a child’s connection to his family (family attachment) is more vital than strengthening his attachment to his peers (peer attachment). Not to be confused with overprotective parenting, healthy family attachment means that parents, not peers, remain the dominant influence throughout childhood and adolescence as your child’s personality and identity develops.
Research by international authority on child development Gordon Neufeld, Ph.D, and Dr. Gabor Maté indicates that children who grow up with strong family attachments than peer attachments have an advantage. They exhibit less violent behavior, less early sexual behavior, less stress and overall better emotional health.
Enhancing Family Attachment
Screens can be a bonding tool when used wisely. The key is to intentionally use screens — and with limits — toward the end goal of creating healthy memories.
Watch movies together. Carefully selected films can enrich family relationships by providing a shared entertainment experience. Whether it’s family dinner and a movie, enjoying home movies together, or going to the movie theater, movies can build traditions and enrich time together. If the movie is based on a book you’ve read aloud, all the better.
Work on a digital scrapbook together. As you prioritize the preservation of family memories and special stories, you can enhance your child’s sense of belonging to the family. Work on a project together to make it more meaningful.
Learn a new skill together. Use an online tutorial to learn to cook, play the guitar, knit, or any other do-it-yourself project.
Video chat with family together as a family. Make it a regular time to build a tradition and a memory.
Screens can quickly derail even the closest family if not kept in check. Here are things to keep in check:
Watch for excessive virtual relationships. Your child’s preference and dependence on virtual relationships via video games and social media can easily weaken family attachment. The shift from time spent with family also erodes sibling relationships.
Keep a check on your own screen attachment. Parents screen use during off-work hours, family outings or dinnertime lowers face-to-face communication and undermines family attachment.
Lack of time to connect as a family. According to the American College of Pediatrics, teens that have frequent family dinners are more likely to get better grades in school and are more likely to report having excellent relationships with their family. When every member of the family eats at a different time, often in front of a screen, these critical opportunities to increase family attachment disappear. Excessive screen use also can cause kids to feel lonely because virtual friends are not the same as in-person friends.
Imbalanced screen use comes at a high cost. Will your children have fond memories of all the hours they spend on Instagram and Fortnite? Or will they grow up with a strong sense of belonging to your family?
Melanie Hempe is the founder of Families Managing Media. Learn more at familiesmanagingmedia.com.