This Digital Home, supported by Facebook, is a social research program examining the changing aspect of technology for Australian families in staying connected, informed and healthy through social isolation. Over June and July, we gathered more than 450 multimedia responses from 21 Australian families addressing areas such as relationships, health and learning.
Despite the advent of all manner of phones, computers and smart devices, television still holds a significant place in the family home. Across all the responses, the presence of TV in family life was obvious, whether that was shared family viewing, parents checking in with their latest binge watch at the end of the day or as a central household screen upon which all manner of activities were screencast or tapped into by members of the household.
While the issue of “screentime” may have evolved out of an '80s and '90s interest in how much television children were watching, the term does not seem to be as strongly connected to television in today's context.
Parents across households reported challenges and tension in managing their children’s use of technology like phones and computers, but not the same issues in relation to TV. While we did not explicitly ask families to define or explain what they regarded as “screentime”, what is clear is that TV is not presenting the same issues for families as our devices, computers video games and social media do. Television, it seems, does not cause the same levels of conflict, guilt or stress in families that more recent devices do.
Television, of course, benefits from a long-standing, non-threatening place in the family home for generations, bringing with it a non-threatening familiarity that is not as apparent in newer devices.
When it comes to entertainment, TV is still the main player, with the medium appearing to be considered by participants as more about a family activity than an individual activity.
While television has evolved in recent times, it’s ongoing transformation to becoming “smarter”, and providing access to streaming and on-demand services, are seen as beneficial by families.
The impact of isolation and spending more time together during periods of lockdown has shown the value of modern TV and its role in family life. One regional Victorian family noticed, “iView on TV has allowed us to ALL watch Bluey together – including Nick [Dad]. Also movie nights have happened more spontaneously.”
As noted in a previous insight, dancing video games were a point of enjoyment. And, screencasting provided similar experiences. People shared the screencasting of iso-dancing lessons that the whole family became a part of as one mother identified, “It can create moments where we do fun things together – I have been able to ‘cast’ my daughter’s iso-dance tutorials up onto the TV and the kids have had fun dancing together. ”
Other families would push content from devices or computers so they could watch live concerts and events from their lounge room or participate in church services being broadcast live on Facebook. The physical TV still has a strong presence.
This is significant because the impact of screentime guidelines has meant that we have still spent very little time exploring and working out the best way to use TV to support children’s development, to foster relationships and to use it in positive ways. The Joan Ganz Cooney Centre put a focus on 'co-viewing' a few years ago, and there would be value in that thinking being revisited and further explored if we want to help families make positive use of the technology in their lives.
Children understand this, as Charlotte (aged eight) told us, “[Technology] has helped me because I watch the BTN, which stands for Behind the News, and in the BTN we find out basically what's happening around the world during COVID-19, during lockdown and during all other things happening around the world at this time.”
Not all screens are equal. And, our familiarity with the TV as a part of our lives and the way families have adapted to using it means it is not viewed the same as screens we hold in our hands and carry in our pockets.
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