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Several years ago, while teaching a course at Kennesaw State University, I engaged my students in a discussion about social media, technology and the impact on relationships. One of my students related this incident from her family. She and a friend went to a restaurant for dinner and discovered that her 16-year-old brother was also there on a blind date. She decided to watch from afar to see how his date was going.

While she watched, both her brother and his date were using their cell phones and clearly texting. This went on for more than five minutes and she was concerned. She told her friend she would be right back and went over to his table. After greeting the young lady, she asked her brother to step away from the table so she could speak to him.

She told her brother who was new to dating that he needed to put his phone away and talk to his date. He replied, “But we ARE talking.” Both were texting each other while sitting right across the table from each other!

I myself have witnessed entire families at restaurants sitting around the table and all were texting on their smartphones. Clearly, technology and social media have kidnapped our relationships.

On one hand, social media and technology have allowed relationships to be established and sustained from a physical distance. On the other hand, social media may have “ruined dating,” in the sense that the courtship process can now occur almost entirely over the internet and decrease the incentive to make a commitment.

Research gathered by the Pew Research Center suggests that among adults:

♦ 24 percent of individuals think technology has either a negative or less-than-positive impact on their relationships.

♦ 25% of married or partnered adults have texted their partner when they were both home together.

♦ 25% of adults in a marriage or partnership have felt their spouse or partner was distracted by their cell phone when they were together.

At the same time, young adults are more likely to report tension in their relationships over technology use.

♦ 42% of 18 to 29-year-olds in serious relationships say their partner has been distracted by their mobile phone while they were together.

♦ 18% of online 18 to 29-year-olds have argued with a partner about the amount of time one of them spent online.

♦ 45% of internet users ages 18 to 29 in serious relationships say the internet has had an impact on their relationship, while just one in 10 online adults 65 and older say the same.

When we are constantly tied to our phones checking work emails, news alerts, or simply scrolling through Instagram, it’s imperative that we learn to balance this with offline time with our loved ones. “The hold our devices have on us is invisible until someone actively calls to our attention the fact that we are paying more attention to the device than the person with whom we are conversing,” says Leslie Shore, a communication expert who has worked with governmental organizations, corporations, and civic groups, and teaches at several universities in the Minneapolis area.

Social scientists already know there’s a link between social media use and mental health disorders, such as depression, anxiety and low self-esteem. The good news is that social media use (and abuse) doesn’t have to spell doom for a relationship.

The best way to foster a healthy relationship is to balance the use of social media. Put the smartphones away for 30-45 minutes at first and just have a conversation. Make eye contact and really listen to the other person. This will certainly feel awkward at first, but you will gradually get better at it over time.

Is your relationship worth it? I hope so!

Mary Migliaro is an educator, parenting mentor and consultant who lives in Cherokee County.

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