7 Reasons the Smartphone Is the Modern Family Hearth

Where once it was the firepit, the hearth, the Victrola, and the radio, the smartphone has surpassed the television as the glowing focal point families gather round. Families love them for the ways they bring people together and the ways they make life easier. They simultaneously provide families access to information and possibilities that culminate in the creative use of the technology, as well as more freedom out in the real world.

Smartphones Make Us Talk More

It’s true, their myriad functions are eternally distracting, but overwhelmingly the greatest use families have for smartphones is communication. Through video calling, text, social media, and even the old-fashioned telephone function, families are in better touch than ever before. The immersive experience of seeing loved ones’ faces, and to a certain extent, the worlds of long-distance relatives while talking is bringing families much closer. This is something grandparents, as well as parents who frequently travel, absolutely love.

No one could have foreseen the way that smartphone messaging supports families’ emotional growth. Given two boons that messaging allows, people are finding they’re more likely to communicate vulnerable feelings towards their loved ones. For one, it’s easier now to whip out a fleeting sentiment, too small to warrant a phone call, and share it (i.e., “Thinking of you!”) than it was in the days before people traveled with handheld communicators, so families are seizing these opportunities more.

Also, the little bit of distance messaging allows can embolden loved ones to share feelings over messaging they might hesitate to communicate in person. Parents and kids alike are more likely now to actually hear an “I’m sorry,” or “I really appreciate you,” from the other. Parents are finding they’re more privy to the inner workings of their teenagers because of the smartphone; they might never have known how much kids actually do reflect on their relationships.

Smartphones Enhancing Parent, Teen Relationships

Even when kids aren’t sharing their most private feelings, sharing silly things like emojis and cute pictures actually do help families navigate around communication breakdowns that often arise in this stage of development; often helping families get closer or start a deeper conversation.

Smartphones have opened up a world of image-sharing to families, a language that 21st-century kids speak inherently. This kind of collaborative communication builds ease and understanding between the generations and has become a window into the world of the other. For Adam Savage, it is a shared love between himself and his kids.

Families love the ability to be in contact, the kind that smartphones allow. Not only do they make all the myriad details of coordinating family life infinitely easier, but they are also aiding kids in building autonomy and trust. Kids can keep in touch when their plans change, or they’re in a sticky situation, which contributes to their parent’s trust in them.

Smartphone apps make parents comfortable in letting kids range farther. Many parents love being able to track their kids’ location and activities. Apps make public transportation and ride-hailing a cinch for kids. They can explore more and parents can feel safer letting them do it, building confidence and serious life-skills as they build autonomy.

Getting Smarter

Families are finding themselves better informed with the quick access to information smartphones offer. It takes teaching moments to the next level, as there is now access to visual aids and facts to support the lessons (very handy when your preschooler won’t eat her veggies). Not to mention, when relying on the smartphone as a distraction, or babysitter as the case may be, educational apps engage us interactively, a significant improvement over the boob tube. Families are also DIYing it more than ever, as there is a video for almost anything you may want to learn on YouTube. Even when education is not the goal, there are countless creative ways families use smartphones that still do make them smarter, like chatting with Siri in a second language or simply following one’s curiosity on the internet.

Smartphones Bring Families to Life Through Images


The inauguration of the smartphone brought about the documenting of family life like never before. Families do it through sound using smartphone tech to record a child’s voice or the music they’re writing. Parents are able to document the day-to-day and moment-to-moment, and all members of the family can share their unique perspective when the take a turn with the phone. But, they’re not just for portraits. Parents can cut back on the clutter by taking snaps of kids art and important flyers from school, and recycle the actual hard copies.

Smartphones Make the World More Accessible to Families


It used to be that only those with access to a computer had internet access, a fact that left huge numbers of families with very little time on the web. As the world around became increasingly digitized, this fact left many families behind. But, smartphones level the playing field, giving lower-income families better access to the digital world even in the absence of a computer.

Smartphones bring the world into the palm of our hands, making many experiences that were once for the very few available to the many. Families can find and hear any music they want, and see video images of places and things they’d otherwise not be able to, again leveling the playing field and also opening worlds and creating a sense of belonging.

Smartphones Are Keeping Families On Track

Smartphones also remove all kinds of obstacles, making moving around in the easier. Parents can, and forever do, send money to kids for pizza emergencies and other kid mishaps. They allow families to operate their smart homes, so no more lockouts! All kinds of tedious tasks that used to require most families hours of errands are now figure-outable from the palm of their hands. And, this kind of ease gives smartphone families a sense of greater possibility and freedom in their daily lives.

People are using their phones to track family data streams with ease, so families actually operate a little smarter than they did before the tech. Almost anything is trackable with smartphone apps; stuff you’d either not have bothered to track because it was too effortful to do well (think breastfeedings, and diaper changes when you’re sleep deprived) or stuff you might not have even thought to do, like how many lightbulbs you use per year. Thanks to smartphone apps, families are now better at budgets, lists, chores, schedules and everything else that is trackable.

It’s a Thin Line Between Love and Hate

Parents have long joked about using the TV for babysitting. The smartphone is used the same way, only now there’s the option for creative, interactive, educational play – beyond the passive and the mesmerizing. Smartphones entertain kids with games and foster creativity at times when kids might otherwise be wingey and whiney. Families are collaborating around the hand-held screens, engaging with each other in ways that are fun and creative, and doing a lot more of it now that smartphone technology is available. Overwhelmingly, smartphones are making family life freer, easier, and brighter.
Jenny Kepler, MA, LMFT is a licensed marriage and family therapist and writer who has been helping families navigate parenthood for over 10 years. Her office is in downtown Portland, OR where she does in person therapy with adults, couples and families. She also offers parent coaching over the phone for people who can’t see her in Portland. http://jennykepler.com/

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