October 20, 2008

Text Messaging Taps Out a Family-Friendly Result

By Janet Kornblum

A family that texts together, stays together. Or at least it stays in touch better.

Today's families with minor children are much more likely than any other household types to have cellphones and use the Internet, a study by the Pew Internet & American Life Project reports today.

The phone survey of 2,252 adults, between Dec. 13, 2007, and Jan. 13, 2008, also shows that families use those technologies to stay in touch with each other throughout the day.

"It used to be in the old Dick and Jane days, husbands went off to work, wives went off to a different job or else stayed home ... and the kids went off to school," says study co-author Barry Wellman, professor at the University of Toronto. "And not until 5:30, 6 o'clock did they ever connect."

But now husbands e-mail wives. Daughters call moms. Sons e-mail parents.

"There's a new kind of connectedness being built inside of families with these technologies," says Lee Rainey, director of the project.

When Jim Daly, an editor for a Web company who lives in Alameda, Calif., wanted to call his teenage daughter down to dinner, he called her on her cellphone.

He knew she'd answer because "text message and cellphone messages are much more important" to her, says Daly, 48.

Daly is in constant contact with his wife, a freelance editor who works from home, during the day via e-mail and cellphone.

So are millions of other Americans. According to the survey:

*About 89% of married (or partnered) parents with children own multiple cellphones.

*66% have high-speed broadband Internet connections in their homes (compared with a national average of 52%).

*70% of couples in which both partners have cellphones contact each other daily just to say hello, 64% contact each other to coordinate schedules, and 42% of parents contact their children daily using a cellphone.

When the Internet arose, some worried that it would pull families apart, Rainie said. But for perhaps the first time, this study indicates fairly definitely that technology is bringing them together by allowing them to have constant contact, Rainie says.

Most families say technology has either helped their communication with other family members or made no difference. Very few say it has made communication worse.

For some kids, that might become a double-edged sword, but Emily Wilson, 15, of New York City loves it. "For me, it's really easy and it's been a big benefit. I can always get in contact with (her parents) no matter what. I'm never out of touch with them."

For instance, when Emily was shopping for sunglasses in Manhattan, she became concerned what her mother, who was in the Hamptons, would think of them. So Emily sent a picture -- via BlackBerry -- of her modeling the new shades. Within seconds, her mom sent a message back: Approval granted.

Now she says she knows "I can go shopping without my mom and have her approve what I'm buying."

Her mom, a longtime techie, loves it, too. Her husband, Fred, likes to Twitter. Her whole family stays in touch electronically.

"We're a very close-knit family," says Joanne Wilson. "But it takes the connection to a whole other level. There's a constant connection." (c) Copyright 2008 USA TODAY, a division of Gannett Co. Inc. <>