Different structures, ages and history.
One thing in common. Media.
Firstly I would like to acknowledge and extend my gratitude and thanks to each family who participated in this research. It has been a pleasant experience and I hope to offer them some insight with the completion of this project.
The purpose of the family interviews was to identity the media usage of each member and ultimately identify any similarities or differences between them and the impact that media has on their family relations and engagement. Australian lives are exposed to media everyday whether we like it or not. It was interesting to see how families are embracing this media domination (or trying not to). Based on this sample of 8 families, here are the main findings:
- Families who had subjects aged between 15 – 22 tended to have more devices within the household, in particular the Brooks, Johnsons and the housemates.
- Families with middle age members tended to have fewer devices used mainly for work purposes.
- Smaller families overall had fewer media devices such as the Prices.
- Media usage has fostered family relations to an extent, particularly during meal time when they congregate in front of the TV, such as the housemates, the Brooks and the Watsons as well as the Moncadas, where media allowed them to communicate with overseas relatives.
- However, engagement and communication between younger members in the family and older members has consequently been hindered by media usage as illustrated in the Johnson family, the James‘, Brooks, Watsons.
- Parents with younger children had expressed their concerns about their children growing up surrounded by such media, (Cardwells, Watsons) and prefer to interact with them personally then give them a device to play with.
- Older members in families (50+) tend to use less media as they traditionally prefer physical activities and communication such as the Prices and illustrated with subject 3 from the Moncadas.
- Younger subjects (15-22) largely used their personal devices for social media, entertainment and study, there was a commonality between younger subjects and students to be the biggest media users in the households.
It is clear that each family embraces the media usage norm within the household on varying levels and for individual reasons. Families with younger individuals experience higher media usage due to the fact that many of these members have no experienced a world without such technologies, whereas members who are older can go without extensive use of media as they feel they don’t have the same dependence on it as younger generations.
Surprisingly, every family apart from the Prices, own a number of devices that is above the Australian average – 6 devices per household or 7 with children under the age of 15 (ABS 2014-2015). This reiterates that emerging technologies are increasing the power and the want for consumers to access a variety of devices at will for work, social and entertainment purposes. The impact of this within the household has benefits and consequences as illustrated in the family profiles. To further explain these, an article written by Alessondra Villegas, The Influence of Technology in Family Dynamics offers some depth and explanation into my primary research.
Villegas similarly looked at the effects of computers, the Internet, mobile media and television on the way a family interacts, however on nuclear American families. She concluded:
- Children between 8 – 18 years spend an average of 71/2 hours a day with media. Not surprising due to the ever expanding opportunities for them to do so due to more TVs and computers and media-ready cell phones and iPods (Rideout et al. 2010 as cited in Villegas 2013).
- The number of TVs in the home has increased over the past 10 years with 71% of children containing TVs in their bedrooms (Rideout et al. 2010 as cited in Villegas 2013) potentially shaping the way in which families socialise.
- Findings conclude that watching TV at mealtime is a distraction and makes it difficult for family members to engage in conversation, therefore hindering effective communication ( Villegas 2013 pp. 7-8)
- Overall children and parents television viewing is different, often undertaken in non-common areas such as bedrooms.
A relationship was identified between greater use of the Internet and declines in communication between family members within the household resulting from a reduction of face-to-face social interaction (Kraut et al. 1998 as cited in Villegas 2013).
“Overall, the results demonstrated that media, cannot be tucked into a precise group of positive or negative since different media devices serve diverse purposes within family life as well as within individual families”. (Villegas 2013 p.13)
One last point I wanted to mention is that according to Villegas (2013 p.4), “it is feasible to propose that a key component of children’s media practices could be observed and mimicked by the media habits and the example their parents set.” This is particularly relevant for most of my interviewed families as they all had children aside from the Prices and the housemates. It is obvious that parents make decisions about their children’s media environment, as particularly depicted by the Cardwells, in that they don’t want their children to be surrounded by media all day. It is also the parents decision whether TV is on during meal times, for example it is for the Brooks, but is not for the Johnsons.
HealthyChildren.org offer some media use plan tips aimed at parents who want to regulate the media use by their children in the household, however I believe this can be applied to all members in the family to help balance out their online and off-line lives.
Thus, to conclude, as suggested by my findings and supported by existing studies such as Villegas’, there is strong correlation between media and family relationships within the home, however I cannot conclude that there is a causation, simply because families use media for a variety of different reasons and each individual is different. It is important to note that there are specific measures that individuals can undertake to ensure such as turning off media during family meal times to ensure that connections between members still exist.
Villegas, A 2013 ‘The Influence of Technology on Family Dynamics,’ Proceedings of the New York State Communication Association Vol. 2012 no. 10 <http://docs.rwu.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1062&context=nyscaproceedings>