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How are mobile phones affecting our family life?

It’s an unavoidable part of spending time with your family – as you’re sat in your living room watching yet another episode of ‘Gogglebox’, you get your phone out of your pocket only to hear your parents in unison tell you that you’re always on your phone and never spend any time with them. This can finally come to an end thanks to a study carried out by researchers at the Universities of Warwick and Oxford. This is the first study which investigated the impact of mobile devices on various aspects of family time – the results of which reveal that mobile devices are most heavily used during alone-together time.

The study, led by Dr Stella Chatzitheochari and Dr Killian Mullan, found that there was an increase in the amount of time children spend at home with their parents, but not an increase in shared activities such as watching television or eating meals between 2000 and 2015. The increase was seen in alone-together time, which the researchers described as time when children are at home with their parents but say they are alone.

This is the first study which investigated the impact of mobile devices on various aspects of family time – the results of which reveal that mobile devices are most heavily used during alone-together time

The results of the study, published in the Journal of Marriage and Family, revealed that mobile device use was prevalent at all times in 2015, but the use was most concentrated during alone-together time. The impact of mobile phones on our lives is one heavily discussed in the media, but this study highlights that the amount of time families in the UK with children aged eight to 16 spend on shared activities remained unchanged at around 90 minutes each day.

In 2015, the results, obtained from daily diaries of 5,000 families, showed children and parents used mobile devices for 38% of total family time, 47% of alone-together time, and 27% of shared activity time. Older children, aged 14-16, spent less time in shared activities with their parents and more time using devices, which was concentrated during alone-together time.

This study highlights that the amount of time families in the UK with children aged eight to 16 spend on shared activities remained unchanged at around 90 minutes each day

Dr Chatzitheochari, of the Department of Sociology at Warwick, said: “Our study is the first to measure the rapid spread of mobile devices across family life, revealing that children and parents will spend time on devices such as smartphones and tablets even while watching TV or eating together.”

“The research shows that device use is now embedded into family life. While we did not find any significant changes in the time family members spend interacting and doing things together, it is certainly possible that mobile devices distract people’s attention during family activities, leading to feelings that the quality of family relationships is under threat,” she added.

The research shows that device use is now embedded into family life

Dr Mullan, of the ESRC Centre for Time Use Research, explained that while the data from their study “can’t tell us what has caused the change, a stronger focus on the home has long been predicted by previous work into the potential of technology to make the home environment a more attractive place to spend time.”

This study comes at a time when many of us are proactively trying to be more present when with our families and peers, with many challenging themselves to a phone detox. But, if anything, this study reveals that technology does not necessarily have to have a negative impact on family life, as families continue to prioritise key aspects of traditional family life.

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