Editor’s note: Alisha Snow is an executive vice president at Smarty Pants, a U.S.-based strategic research and consulting firm.

With nearly half of all waking hours being spent on screens, and a heightened awareness of the mental health crises afflicting young people, we are seeing a proliferation of headlines about the negative impact of screen time, video games, social media and device usage on families. The news stories reflect the reality of parenting attitudes: over three quarters of parents are at least somewhat worried about their child struggling with anxiety or depression. And, technology is most commonly cited by parents as the core reason why some feel parenting is harder today than it used to be. 

We also know that the integration of technology in families’ lives is pervasive and here to stay. Since 2005, Smarty Pants has been observing families in their homes, as they go about their daily lives. From being a fly-on-the-wall during family game night to tagging along for trips to the grocery store, we have witnessed a remarkable evolution in how people of all ages spend time with and connect with their spouses, parents, grandchildren, siblings and kids. Screen time is no longer simply for entertainment, work or school. Families have embraced their smartphones and tablets as key tools for communication and connection. 

So, how has digital engagement affected family interactions including individual roles and identities and interpersonal communication styles? Who is digital engagement impacting the most? And how are new family dynamics shaping how we conduct research with families?

“My Nana is always asking Google. No matter what we are talking about, she loves to look it up.” – 9-year-old.

With approximately half of 0- to 2-year-olds interacting with smartphones at some point during each day and 80% of those 60 years+ doing the same, digital consumption is no longer restricted ...