National Edition

Creating meaningful family moments in a plugged-in world

Published: Tuesday, Jan. 29 2013 3:20 p.m. MST

Updated: Wednesday, Feb. 19 2014 7:40 p.m. MST

Michele McGraw and her husband sit down with their children, ages 8, 9, 13 and 16, while on vacation. While Michele McGraw usually prohibits her children from using technology at the dinner table back at home in Chantilly, Va., this exception on vacation has enhanced their time together and is one she does not regret.

Michele McGraw

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Against the vibrant sunset of a warm Hawaiian evening, the six-member McGraw family sits around the dinner table, engaged in discussion between bites of pizza. As the kids ask about the composition of volcanic rock, or the hour of the Pearl Harbor attack, iPhones are whipped out and additional information triggers further questions.

While Michele McGraw usually prohibits her children from using technology at the dinner table back at home in Chantilly, Va., this exception on vacation has enhanced their time together and is one she does not regret.

Technology presents more and more opportunities and challenges for millennial moms worldwide working to create meaningful family moments, new research conducted by Yahoo! and Starcom MediaVest Group found. While 52 percent of global moms said technology is a distraction to family time, 71 percent said their family engages with technology together daily. As technology reframes the way families interact, mothers face new challenges in embracing this advancement to create meaningful family time in a plugged-in world.

"Technology may change what we do when we are together as a family, but it is not changing the way we need quality family time together," McGraw said.

A narrowing gap

The survey, which involved research in France, Colombia, China, Argentina, India, the United Kingdom, Mexico, Russia and the United States, revealed that 84 percent of mothers globally said planning family activities is worthwhile as long as a special moment is involved. In planning these family activities, 69 percent say, they turn to search engines for inspiration.

The brain gap is narrowing as older people use technology more and more, Gary Small, professor of psychiatry and director of the UCLA Longevity Center at the Semel Institute for Neuroscience and Human Behavior, wrote in the book he co-authored, "iBrian: Surviving the Technological Alteration of the Modern Mind." This can have positive and negative implications, according to Small.

As older adults are becoming more and more familiar with technology, the entire family can be living in its own virtual world. "The traditional family would get together and all watch TV together, but now everybody is on their own computer doing their own thing. It separates us."

Being plugged in, however, can allow family members to connect in ways they couldn't before, Small said. When he and his wife go away to other continents, they like to connect with their kids on Skype. "We can see them, so it has a more emotional content for me than email or texting."

For Small, technology is neither all bad nor all good, but contingent on the content and the context. "There are a lot of technologies that can help train our brains. We can take these programs and really improves our lives, rather than being slave to them."

Plugging in together

Back in Chantilly, Michele McGraw, mother of four, said she is teaching her family to use technology to enhance their lives, rather than detract from it.

"We have family game nights and instead of playing cards, we play dance games on our Wii," McGraw wrote on scrapsofmygeeklife.com. "When taking road trips, instead of belting out a John Denver tune on our cassette player in the car, we are enjoying a Disney comedy on our car DVD player."

McGraw encourages her children to use technology as a tool for creativity and discovery.

"When my children are curious, technology can be a powerful instrument," she said. "It makes almost anything possible."

Her kids love to create movies on the family video camera, create chairs and houses for their dolls based upon online pictures, and browse the Internet to learn how to sew.

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