Although digital technologies are an integral part of all areas of life, children and young people use ICT most frequently at home. The omnipresence of digital technologies affects the social interactions in their homes and thus influences the family dynamics. The European research project DigiGen is developing significant knowledge about how children and young people use and are affected by the technological transformations in their everyday lives. One of the research areas of the project is on the home. The first working paper of the project has now been published, called Children’s ICT use and its impact on family life, which reviews the existing literature on the effect of new technologies on family life from the perspective of the individual family members, but also looks at families as a whole.
The review shows that the use of digital devices is becoming increasingly privatized and mobile. Still, families enjoy the joint use of digital technologies by actively engaging in ICT activities together or by appreciating the passive co-presence of other family members during their digital experiences.
Individual ICT activities are a primary source for entertainment and a way to relax but are also a root cause of family conflicts. Unlike solitary ICT use, joint digital family activities can create a strong sense of ‘we-ness’ among family members which promotes family cohesion. As a result, digital technologies are part of the daily act of reproducing family and can thus be understood as a central element of the concept of ‘doing family’.
The existing evidence suggests that the ways families engage with digital technologies are complex, and so are their consequences. On the one hand, ICT offers unique opportunities for families and their diverse individual members. On the other hand, children – and also adults – face online risks and challenges. Adequate parental mediation and essential digital competencies can help to mitigate the adverse effects of children’s and young people’s online activities. Hence, whether the overall impact on family life is positive or negative highly depends on the combination of digital behaviours families implement in their daily lives. In addition to families, the society – including its multiple institutions – is also essential to promote digital competencies and strengthen the resilience of children and young people.
This literature reviews serves as the basis for further DigiGen research into the impact of digitalisation on children and young people at home. For more information on the project you can go to www.digigen.eu and read Olaf Kapella’s digital generation blog European family dynamics are impacted by the omnipresence of ICT in children’s lives.
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