Teens and parents in Japan and US agree – mobile devices are an ever-present distraction

How does technology affect family relationships? Syda Productions/Shutterstock.com

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 U.S. families, conducted by our collaborator Common Sense Media, a nonprofit organization focusing on children and technology. We found Japanese and U.S. 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 favor 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 U.S. teens and parents.

The findings are clear: Parents and teens in the high-tech societies of Japan and the U.S. 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.