The Social Family


Last week, Minnow and I attended a session put on as part of Social Media Week Toronto entitled The Social Family: How Social Media is Changing Family. Hosted by BMO Bank of Montreal’s VP of Customer Communications and Marketing, Su McVey, the panel of experts included Rebecca Brown from Bunch Family, parenting expert and SavvyMom contributor Alyson Schafer, a team from Kiwi Commons, a very cool new resource on Internet safety, and blogger Catherine Connor of Her Bad Mother fame.
The session addressed how social media is changing the shape of family life as we know it. This panel of experts discussed what those changes were as well as “how, why and whether or not we should do something about them.”

You would think since I earn my living, and have created many jobs for others through a business that operates solely on the World Wide Web, that I would embrace technology willingly for my family, but I must confess to being somewhat of a Luddite in that regard. After all, I didn’t learn to use a computer until I was almost finished university (but I clearly figured it out). So why do my kids need to use computers for their homework in grade school? And what’s wrong with catching up with friends in the playground? Do 10 year-olds need to Skype each other on their iPod Touch from their bedrooms in the evening, chatting with acronyms and spelling mistakes that are enough to shock any grammar teacher?

But listening to the experts share their thinking definitely helped me break down a few of my personal barriers. Alyson shared stories of her own family’s use of text and instant messaging that was actually serving to deepen her relationship with her girls and provide them with ways to share more of their day-to-day experiences with her.

Rebecca from Bunch pointed out that access to web-enabled devices around the Friday night family dinner table allowed people to find facts and figures to embellish their conversations (saving the run for the encyclopedia to settle family arguments that other families have done over the years). Of course, this is not the same as burying yourself in your screen avoiding that very same family dinner…it was agreed that families need to make up their own etiquette rules about devices at home. And two high school students from Kiwi Commons pointed out that parents trying to limit screen time just makes kids want more screen time (nothing new there really I guess—I was the same when it came to junk food when I was a kid!) and that’s what really needs to happen—kids need to learn their own limits and the consequences of spending too much time playing online games to the detriment of homework.

But what struck me the most from all the great insights that were shared was Alyson’s point that limiting screen time today is not as clean-cut or black and white as we might want it to be, because screen time is everywhere—beyond the video games, she pointed out her kids use their computers to keep in touch via Skype with relatives, to check their homework assignments at school and to create works of art, all worthy activities whether they are done in the old-fashioned way or the high-tech way.

One of my friends recently told me she now texts up to the 3rd floor of their house to get her 11 year-old son to come down for dinner. As a video-game loving little guy, this method of communication seems to get his attention better than just yelling up the stairs. And that’s keeping their household happier.

As for me, I plan to help keep my kids engaged in all the sports and activities they love to do as I still do believe that keeping active is paramount over any screen time for any purpose (even educational games). And when they are playing games or downloading apps, I will ask them to share them and explain them to me so they know that I know what they are playing with and feel that I am engaged with what they are doing.

Minnow tells me her kids are using the computer for homework more and more and she knows they spend time communicating with friends, downloading music or Skype-ing with cousins overseas (a very popular activity in her house). The issue for her is more around limiting game time than screen time. She doesn’t like the kids playing futile games online when they could be playing real games—with humans (aka their friends) outside. Now they can text them and invite them over. They don’t even have to walk down the street and knock on the door.

So maybe the experts are right and we shouldn’t be limiting screen time. Perhaps to Minnow’s point, it’s what they are doing on the screen that we need to be more in touch with.

How do you manage screen time and the ever-present Internet with your family?


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