Due to the global nature of our world, many more people than ever before life far away from close family members, including their parents. On top of that, technological advances have completely transformed the way people communicate and maintain relationships – easier and cheaper air travel, widespread use of computers and cell phones, reduced rates for international calls, and more. This reality is what triggered Dr. Sayali S. Amarapurkar, who has her Ph.D. in Family Social Science, to conduct a small informal experiment among long-distance families about how they maintain contact with one another, specifically adults and their aging parents whom they live far away from – about how they communicate and how it affects their relationship. She published her findings in an article called “Unique intergenerational interactions: long distance relationships of adult children and aging parents” with the National Council on Family Relations.
What she found was that indeed technology plays a large part in helping these families keep in touch on a very regular basis. Some participants said there was a transition period where the parents “would have a hard time learning the technology. But now, they are relatively fluent and excited to talk to us every week.” Indeed it is both possible and life-changing for older individuals to learn to use technology to connect with family. What was most interesting however, was the fact that these sets of adult children and their aging parents seemed to utilize different types of technology and devices for different types of communication. As opposed to a certain preferred way to communicate, each channel has its place and function. For example, as pictured in the infographic above, email and Facebook were found to be used mainly for sharing news, updates and photos. And the phone and video chat were used for longer conversations, and to include other family members who they wouldn’t usually get to connect with on other channels, or to speak to several people at the same time.
Dr. Amarapurkar noted that up until now, research about intergenerational communication has focused on the functions that the communication serves – the reasons that the generations are connecting, mainly: giving and receiving advice, help and information; conflict resolution; and of course the most important – expressing love and care for one another.
In fact, Amarapurkar notes that one of the proven ways that parents and children can maintain family solidarity for many decades, is, among other things, to show high levels of affection to one another. Generally, it seemed that the participants clearly grasped the nuances of each form of communication and how each one could serve them best. One participant for example, said that verbal communication by phone was best for elderly parents and relatives to share stories and get advice. And one elderly parent said that in online chat she uses emoticons to express her feelings and checks Facebook for updates on her son’s life but wouldn’t ever comment on his wall, she emails her special recipes and sends e-cards to congratulate and inspire. Indeed there is a vast world of ways to communicate, and each generation is finding its way to best use it to bring them closer with their loved ones.