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New Communication Technologies and Family Life

Media release
31 May 2006

New Communication Technologies and Family Life

A panel of communications technology experts has told a Families Commission study that families need to talk more about the opportunity and dangers that new information communications technology (ICT) brings.

As part of the study 12 key people including academics, consultants, government advisors and researchers were asked for their views on the impact of ICT on families.

They were asked about opportunities and risks, issues unique to New Zealand families and for suggestions on directions for future research.

The report was funded by the Families Commission Blue Skies Fund (which provides grants for innovative research on family issues) and was conducted by Victoria University’s Dr Ann Weatherall and Annabel Ramsay.

Dr Weatherall says with more and more families jumping on the ICT bandwagon it’s a good time to look at its effect on family relationships.

“As computers and mobile phones drop in price and many families go online, we need to ask important questions about how the technology is shaping family life and how families are shaping the use of technology,” she said.

One participant, Liz Butterfield from NetSafe commented “I can’t think of a bigger change to the family than these technologies.”

The twelve participants in the study identified several key themes.

Family communications and relationships

Research shows that internet access can improve communication between family members. Migrant families and iwi particularly benefit because they are likely to be geographically separated.

Participants thought however that there needed to be more family and public discussion about the opportunities and dangers new communications technology brings.

They said parents should talk to children about the dangers of the internet. And they should encourage children to look at the information they find on the internet and television critically.

They said that if used in an appropriate way, new ICT offer benefits to families, but it is important that children are encouraged to find a balance between computer use and other activities.

They also thought it extremely important to get culturally relevant and appropriate New Zealand content online.

Digital divide

There was widespread concern among participants that families who cannot afford a computer or internet connection are likely to lag behind other families in terms of computer skills and knowledge. There was a fear that low-income families would become more marginalised in an increasingly digital society.

Cyber safety

This was a big issue for the group of experts. They said the best way to protect children from accessing offensive material was to keep computers in public spaces, monitor internet usage and most importantly for families to discuss appropriate use of the internet.

Participants said every family needs to have an adult who is internet-savvy and willing to take on the role of monitoring and advising on internet use in their household.


Chief censor Bill Hastings was part of the interview panel and says gaming was a particularly concerning area for New Zealand because of the relaxed gaming classification system in this country. He says families need to make sure that their children are only playing games appropriate to their age group.

The report New Communication Technologies and Family Life, Dr Ann Weatherall and Annabel Ramsay, School of Psychology, Victoria University, is available on the Families Commission website www.nzfamilies.org.nz


See... New Communication Technologies and Family Life (PDF)

(see following pages for more information on current Blue Skies studies)

05/06 Blue Skies Studies underway:

The Families Commission research programme includes funding for small studies on family-related issues through our Blue Skies Fund.

This fund allocates a total of $100,000 each year for dynamic new work on topical family issues. Researchers were granted up to $10,000 for each study and new studies are approved in September and April each year.

In the first year, 11 studies were funded. New Communication Technologies and Family Life is one of those studies. All completed Blue Skies reports are published on our website www.nzfamilies.org.nz

In the current financial year, five studies were funded in the first round, with the successful studies from the second round due to be announced shortly.

The five studies funded from the first round of 2005/06 are:

New Zealand’s cultural norms of parenting and childcare and how these relate to labour force participation decisions and requirements. Meryl McPherson, Social, Demographic and Evaluation Research, Auckland.

The role of whānau in the lives of Māori with a disability – literature review. Adelaide Collins, Director Māori Development Research Centre, Hamilton.

A statistical typology of New Zealand households and families. Professor Charles Crothers, Auckland University of Technology, Auckland.

The adjustment to parenting for ethnic women and the implications for health policy and service delivery. Ruth DeSouza, Centre coordinator/senior research fellow, Centre for Asian and Migrant Health, Auckland.

New migrant families and the church. Dr Carolyn Morris, Dr Richard Vokes, Suzana Chang, Department of Sociology and Anthropology, University of Canterbury, Christchurch.

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