With communication technologies permeating nearly every aspect of people’s daily lives, it is no wonder that mass media have been found to have a profound impact on the way in which family members interact and communicate with each other. As Vangelisti (2012) observed, there are a number of variables that need to be considered when analyzing the effects of mass media on family communication, the most important ones being where media technologies are placed within the household, how much time family members spend with each technology and what kind of content they consume. It is only by examining these variables that researchers can determine whether communication technologies are hindering or stimulating effective communication within a certain household.
Available data indicates that while most U.S. households own a television set, a computer, a video game console and a recording device (usually a DVD player), it is usually higher-income families who provide their children with free, unrestricted Internet access and mobile devices (e.g. smartphones, tablet computers, notebooks) to surf the Internet from an early age (Vangelisti, 2012) As a result, many children in higher income homes have a television set, a DVD player and either a computer or smartphone in their bedrooms. As one can easily imagine, children who have their own media devices would rather spend their free time watching films, listening to music and surfing the Internet in the privacy of their own rooms than interact with their parents and siblings, hence the reason why many scholars and practitioners believe that parents should limit their children’s screen time in order to prevent technology from diving their families.

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As Taylor (2013) observed, over the past two decades mass media have completely redefined the traditional roles that children and parents have always played, teaching children that their parents are selfish, incompetent, arrogant and clueless. While children and adolescents tend to see technology as a form of protection from their parents’ involvement in their private lives, most adults have mixed feelings about technology: one the one hand, media technologies such as television and the Internet are causing them to lose control over the children, who are becoming increasingly detached and alienated; on the other hand, children’s growing reliance on technology means that adults don’t have to worry about keeping their little ones entertained, which can be a relief in today’s fast-paced world (Taylor, 2013). In an attempt to determine whether and to what extent the proliferation of information and communication technologies has affected modern families, Piedrahita et al. (2017) conducted a qualitative study involving various Colombian families. Interestingly, their findings revealed that while mass media technologies have resulted in a large flow of information that has strengthened the average nuclear family, their constant presence has also triggered feelings of distance and detachment among family members, harming their communication processes and relationships (Piedrahita et al., 2017).

With that being said, it is important to keep in mind that when used in a sensible and responsible manner, mass media technologies can also play a key role in bringing families closer by stimulating and facilitating communication. For instance, parents may establish a weekly movie night to spend some quality time with their children and discuss their reactions to what they have just watched. Films also represent an excellent way for parents to entertain and educate their children without having to leave the house. Even the Internet – which is widely criticized for its devastating impact on users’ mental health and social relations – can support and stimulate family communication by helping family members keep in touch when they are not physically together. For example, instant messaging apps and social media networks have made it possible for family members to text, call and video call one another at any time of the day, thus enhancing the quality of their communications and enabling them to bond regardless of where they are.

With regards to the impact of mass media on modern families, McLaughlin (2012, p. 28) noted that while excessive use of media technologies has been found to erode morals, prevent knowledge acquisition and hinder communication, the effects of mass media depend greatly on families’ communication patterns – e.g. some families prefer engaging in socio-oriented communication whereas some others prefer engaging in concept-oriented communication. Available data indicates that socio-oriented families tend to watch more television but are not particularly interested in the news; in contrary, concept-oriented families tend to use media technologies primarily for news consumption (Lull, 2014, p. 51). Based on these findings, it is not unreasonable to assume that socio-oriented families must spend a considerable amount of time bonding over entertaining content, whereas concept-oriented families probably prefer discussing the news, exchanging ideas and opinions about the latest events and stories.

The different perspectives analyzed in this paper clearly suggest that mass media can either hinder or facilitate family communication, depending on their location within the household as well as family members’ media consumption patterns. On the one hand, media technologies have divided families by allowing both adults and children to stay in touch with their friends, feel independent and access large amounts of information in an easy and convenient manner, thus leaving very little time for face-to-face communication. On the other hand, media technologies have made it possible for families to stay in touch 24/7, regardless of where they are. After all, if it weren’t for the Internet, many people who are far away from their families wouldn’t be able to communicate with their loved ones on a regular basis.

    References
  • Lull, J. (2014). Inside Family Viewing (Routledge Revivals): Ethnographic Research on
    Television’s Audiences. New York: Routledge.
  • McLaughlin, M.L. (2012). Communication Yearbook 9. New York: Routledge.
  • Piedrahita, L.B. et al. (2017). Information and Communication Technologies Influence on Family
    Relationship. Global Journal of Health Science, 9(6), 204-213.
  • Taylor, J. (2013). Is Technology Creating a Family Divide?. Retrieved from
    https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/the-power-prime/201303/is-technology-creating-family-divide
  • Vangelisti, A.L. (2012). The Routledge Handbook of Family Communication. New York:
    Routledge.