How technology has benefited families in times of social isolation

By Dan Donahoo, Senior Advisor, Alannah & Madeline Foundation

October 28th, 2020

Recently, new research from the Alannah & Madeline Foundation revealed how families used technology during COVID-19 and subsequent lockdowns and social isolation.

This Digital Home saw families around Australia exploring how their use of technology has changed this year as a result of the global pandemic.

The research showed that while technology use was definitely increasing, the way families were using it had changed. Additionally, while use was increasing , families were continuing to make sure that the way it was used benefited their children.

The research included many examples of families learning about and participating in community art activities, which involved people’s daily walks. Some communities put bears in windows for children to check out, while others sketched rainbows and placed them on front doors or drew with chalk on the pavement (rainbow walks). In some places there was a large volume of wooden spoons creating “Spoonville” communities.

Although these activities were very much offline, they were shared and stimulated by people’s online connections. Many children took photos and shared the discoveries they made on their walks with family and friends on social media.

In a similar way, there were examples of children decorating their bedrooms, performing music or creating videos to share with extended families. Technology allowed for the creation and capturing of our lives in lockdown to share with others when they couldn’t be with us.

One father shared that “technology allows minor, frequent touchpoints (like messages, emojis, pics) that allow us to reinforce our connection”.

Some families with connections overseas said that they contacted them more using video and messaging, while others with older, unwell relatives said they valued the video calls because they could see people’s faces and get a better read on how they were going.

Children observed this and responded in kind because they learn from their parents’ role modelling. Some parents reported children video calling friends and organising to do sophisticated games, while others identified that they felt comfortable with apps – like Messenger Kids – that gave them the ability to monitor and check their children’s interactions online.

Families used technology to play together through video games and to share funny YouTube videos. Mostly, they began to understand how to use technology in positive ways. Of course, there were still concerns about excessive use and how technology is imposing itself on family life. But, This Digital Home has taught us that we should not let the technology dictate our family relationships – it is a tool for us to use and we should make sure we are using it for good things that benefit us and our children.