Benefits and detriments of social media on families

April 25, 2013

Our story is mostly on how there are new ways for families separated (eg kids studying overseas, or kids working overseas, or have migrated, etc) to keep in touch such as Skype, or Whatsapp, or Facebook. I would just like a few comments on:

How does communicating with these methods affect family dynamics?
What are the pros and cons of these methods?
Do the benefits outweigh the detriments?
Are these methods good for family relationships?

In 2012, Singapore had a mobile phone penetration rate of 151.8%. Smart phones are ubiquitous and with extensive high speed connectivity, it is plain to see that using social media and technological tools can be a simple, fast and cost effective way for families to connect in an increasingly globalized society.

In the past, you’d only be able to rely on letters which are received about 2 weeks later, and IDD calls were expensive. With video chat tools like Skype, communication is immediate and even face-to-face. Wikipedia puts it this way – social media “transform and broadcast media monologues into social media dialogues… and transform people from content consumers to content producers.” Social media allows family members to get “involved” in each other’s lives on a daily, even minute-by-minute basis.

Social media and technology can be a useful tool and means for families separated by physical distance to stay in touch and connect with each other. Family dynamics is affected not by these tools per se, but rather how they are used.

We lose an important personal connection if we are solely dependent on it as a means of communication. In these modes of communication, we lose tone and touch, leading to a higher chance of misunderstanding or miscommunication. Social media also allows the content publisher to decide on and paint a certain picture of the life he or she wants to portray. It becomes difficult to have deep, meaningful conversations as the nature of social media is that of short, fast blasts which tend to be superficial.

What do counsellors recommend/what tips do counsellors have for families who are separated in different countries? How to best keep in contact?

While technology can help us stay connected over distance, we should never sacrifice or replace our ability to relate in person for more time chatting online. Use technology as a tool for sending and receiving important information, but don’t slip into building and maintaining relationships with it. Use a combination of video calls, letters, emails and social media but it is also important to intentionally set a routine and time for connecting with each other in person – for example, a weekly call or an annual visit. As with all things, keep moderation in mind. By all means be high tech, but remember to keep the high “touch”.

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