Australian Families Embrace Technology to Improve Wellbeing and Relationships

Western Sydney University logo, Young and Well CRC logo and Google logo.

Far from bemoaning new technologies, a new report has found that Australian families are embracing the digital world and even using it to improve their families' wellbeing and their relationships.

The research—undertaken by the Young and Well Cooperative Research Centre and Western Sydney University, with support from Google Australia—notes that in contrast to the widely held attitudes of the nineties where internet technology would create a 'doomsday scenario', increased online interaction between parent and child can, in fact, cement the family unit.

The report shows that digital media has become an increasingly normal and embedded part of everyday life, and that families are finding unique ways to use digital tools and devices—extending our social world with many new opportunities.

CEO of the Young and Well CRC, Associate Professor Jane Burns, says that 'Australian families are developing sophisticated and critical understandings of the risks and opportunities associated with the digital world, and are enthusiastically integrating it into their lives.'

Australian families understand that technology and social media now play an important part in both our social and family relationships, and can help to improve them. The report shows that different kinds of families are working together to creatively adapt to deal with any digital challenges they encounter.

'People are using the internet to improve their families' wellbeing, for information on parenting, for social and political knowledge and activism, and to follow cultural and artistic interests,' says Associate Professor Amanda Third, Institute for Culture and Society researcher, and Research Program Leader at the Young and Well CRC.

'Families increasingly understand that navigating risk is part of the digital age, and that parents and children need to work together to minimise those risks through digital literacy and shared learning – they understand that blocking content or not allowing children online is not the solution. Children themselves are an important resource for us all to learn from.'

There are also a number of Google tools like SafeSearch, Safety Mode in YouTube, two-factor authentication and the YouTube for Kids app that can be set up for kids to help them stay safe online. In particular, the YouTube Kids app offers family-focused content with a number of parental controls – including a timer, the ability to turn off search, and more – to provide a safer version of YouTube for younger children.

Samantha Yorke, Public Policy and Government Relations Counsel, Google Australia explains: 'The web is a great place for families to learn, be creative and stay connected. It's important that we understand how parents and children are using digital technologies to ensure that Australian families are smart, confident and capable digital citizens who understand how to use technology responsibly.'

The study shows that older generations are also embracing technology – seeing the value it provides in creating further social connections in maintaining relationships with the young people in their lives, and opportunities for intergenerational learning.

The findings have been released just in time for Safer Internet Day 2016. With the theme 'Play your part for a better internet', Safer Internet Day encourages safe and positive use of the internet and digital technologies, encouraging us to think about safety online as a form of resilience, and recognise that social interactions on- and offline help shape our responses in the digital world.

Cultivating Digital Capacities Project

The first phase of the Cultivating Digital Capacities project has developed a conceptual framework around the concept of digital capacities, and an index that measures the digital capacities of Australian families—to provide snapshot-in-time or longitudinal analyses of the digital capacities of diverse communities at national, regional and/or local levels.

The report focuses in on the key findings of in-depth qualitative household case studies conducted with eight Australian families between November 2015 and February 2016. The sample comprised a mix of families from diverse socio-economic and cultural backgrounds, including one Indigenous family; a mix of family circumstances, including married, partnered, shared custody and single parent families; and families from urban and regional locations with children between the ages of 12 and 17.

The qualitative interviews were conducted separately with individual family members in the family home, including a technology 'show and tell', whereby family members showed researchers what digital technologies they had, how they use them and why.

Quantitative survey results from the study are expected to be publicly available in March.

Posted: 9 February 2016.