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Sonia Livingstone

July 11th, 2018

Teens and parents in Japan and US agree: Mobile devices are an ever-present distraction

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Estimated reading time: 10 minutes

Sonia Livingstone

July 11th, 2018

Teens and parents in Japan and US agree: Mobile devices are an ever-present distraction

0 comments

Estimated reading time: 10 minutes

How is the saturation of mobile phones playing out in homes and child-parent relationships? Willow Bay led a research project investigating the effects of digital devices on family life in Japan, and compared the results to studies asking similar questions of US families. In this post, she explores her findings and the ways in which Japanese and US families are similarly struggling using online media for long periods every day, causing family stress and arguments. Willow Bay is Dean and Walter H. Annenberg Chair in Communication at University of Southern California, Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism [Header image credit: B. Flickinger, CC BY 2.0 (image 6)]

As a university professor and a mother of teen boys, I am immersed in a world of young faces buried in their phones. To be fair, adults, too, are enamored with the tiny, powerful computing devices in the palms of their hands. The patterns of daily life have been forever altered by the ubiquity of digital devices. The world has been rewired. And nobody wrote a user’s manual.

Advances in digital media and mobile devices, and the rising power of social media, are changing the way people engage not only with the world but also with close friends and family. This generation of parents faces rapidly emerging and unprecedented challenges in managing digital devices and the activities they enable – and must simultaneously wrestle with these issues in their own lives and in the lives of their children.

I recently led a research project investigating the effects of digital devices on family life in Japan. As part of that work, we compared our results from Japan to studies asking similar questions of US families, conducted by our collaborator Common Sense Media, a nonprofit organisation focusing on children and technology. We found Japanese and US families struggling in very similar ways with the impact of technology on their lives, their relationships and each other.

Parents and teens in both societies use online media for long periods every day, which at times causes family stress and arguments. Some feel addicted to their devices, and many worry about family members’ apparent addictions to technology. And in both countries, there are children who feel their parents neglect them in favour of digital devices.

Shared feelings of anxiety

We polled 1,200 Japanese parents and teens to find out how the saturation of cellphones and other devices in family life is playing out in homes and child-parent relationships. We compared their answers to Common Sense’s existing research on US teens and parents.

The findings are clear: parents and teens in the high-tech societies of Japan and the US find it hard to imagine life without mobile phones and tablets. And they share similar struggles with the role of technology in their lives. In both countries, the ‘always-on’ media environment leads a great many teens and parents to feel the need to check their devices frequently, often several times an hour.

And large numbers of parents and teens feel the need to ‘respond immediately’ to texts, social networking messages and notifications.

Feelings of distraction

We also took a closer look at how parents and teens perceive their own, and each others’, dependency on mobile phones. In both the US and Japan, the answers were surprisingly consistent: Roughly half of teens reported feeling “addicted” to their mobile devices, and so did more than a quarter of parents.

Many parents and teens surveyed in both countries feel that the always-available mobile devices have interfered with their family connections. More than half of parents in both the US and Japan think their teens spend too much time on their mobile devices. More than half of American teens think the same about their parents, though far fewer Japanese teens share that view.

Both parents and teens often feel the other is frequently distracted and not able to be fully present when they’re spending time together.

These conflicts play out in frequent disagreements – roughly one-third of US parents and teens argue about device use every day. The numbers are lower in Japan, but families there are having the same fight.

And some parents and teens in both countries say mobile device use has hurt the relationship between parents and children. In particular, one in four Japanese parents expressed concern about the damaging effects of digital device use.

Teenagers voiced concerns of their own. In both countries, teens watch their parents engage with their own devices and it’s not always a comfortable experience: 6 percent of US teens, and more than three times as many Japanese teens, say they have sometimes felt that a parent thinks their mobile device is more important than their child.

A complex relationship

While these results highlight the ways in which mobile devices have become a source of tension in family life, they also reveal a common belief that using them prepares teens for jobs in the 21st century. It’s not just teens who see the benefits of digital device use: 25 percent of Japanese and 88 percent of US parents feel it helps their children acquire new skills.

The ConversationThis study focused on patterns of use and exposure to digital media, but leads to further questions about what content families engage with and their reasons for using media. For instance, what do people mean when they use the term ‘addicted‘ in reference to mobile technology? What drives people’s need for digital connection? How might social and cultural differences alter the effects of digital devices on family life? And, of course, expanding these questions beyond just two countries will help inform a global conversation about how families can integrate technology into their lives in thoughtful and productive ways.

Notes


This article was originally published on The Conversation and has been republished with permission.

This post gives the views of the authors and does not represent the position of the LSE Parenting for a Digital Future blog, nor of the London School of Economics and Political Science.

About the author

Sonia Livingstone

Sonia Livingstone OBE is Professor of Social Psychology in the Department of Media and Communications at LSE. Taking a comparative, critical and contextual approach, her research examines how the changing conditions of mediation are reshaping everyday practices and possibilities for action. She has published twenty books on media audiences, media literacy and media regulation, with a particular focus on the opportunities and risks of digital media use in the everyday lives of children and young people. Her most recent book is The class: living and learning in the digital age (2016, with Julian Sefton-Green). Sonia has advised the UK government, European Commission, European Parliament, Council of Europe and other national and international organisations on children’s rights, risks and safety in the digital age. She was awarded the title of Officer of the Order of the British Empire (OBE) in 2014 'for services to children and child internet safety.' Sonia Livingstone is a fellow of the Academy of Social Sciences, the British Psychological Society, the Royal Society for the Arts and fellow and past President of the International Communication Association (ICA). She has been visiting professor at the Universities of Bergen, Copenhagen, Harvard, Illinois, Milan, Oslo, Paris II, Pennsylvania, and Stockholm, and is on the editorial board of several leading journals. She is on the Executive Board of the UK Council for Child Internet Safety, is a member of the Internet Watch Foundation’s Ethics Committee, is an Expert Advisor to the Council of Europe, and was recently Special Advisor to the House of Lords’ Select Committee on Communications, among other roles. Sonia has received many awards and honours, including honorary doctorates from the University of Montreal, Université Panthéon Assas, the Erasmus University of Rotterdam, the University of the Basque Country, and the University of Copenhagen. She is currently leading the project Global Kids Online (with UNICEF Office of Research-Innocenti and EU Kids Online), researching children’s understanding of digital privacy (funded by the Information Commissioner’s Office) and writing a book with Alicia Blum-Ross called ‘Parenting for a Digital Future (Oxford University Press), among other research, impact and writing projects. Sonia is chairing LSE’s Truth, Trust and Technology Commission in 2017-2018, and participates in the European Commission-funded research networks, DigiLitEY and MakEY. She runs a blog called www.parenting.digital and contributes to the LSE’s Media Policy Project blog. Follow her on Twitter @Livingstone_S

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