Technology has potential to disrupt holiday gatherings

Angelica A. Morrison

The glow of cell phone screens and other technological gadgets just might disrupt your holiday celebrations this year.

Seventy percent of young adults have answered their cell phones or made calls during holiday family gatherings, according to a 2006 T-Mobile survey of holiday cell phone use.

And the cell phone calls, text messaging and use of other gadgets can lead to tension among generations. Teenagers and young adults want to stay connected with friends, while their parents and grandparents want family to spend time together.

“It’s like forwarding your calls to someone else’s house,” said Chris Urban, lecturer in computer science at SUNY IT. “It’s an interesting thing that I’m not sure is going to go away anytime soon.”

Berto Boehlert, 16, of Utica not only finds time to text message during holiday gatherings, but he checks his MySpace page, too.

“Not during dinner — right after dinner,” he said.

And, yes, his parents can get annoyed, he said.

“If I’m on it too long at one time, then yeah, they’ll get mad and tell me not to,” he said.

Feeling popular

One reason why youths and some adults can’t seem to put their cell phones away even during holiday gatherings is because of the “personal value” associated with it, Urban said.

Cell phones, social networking sites and other devices can make people feel popular or important.

“In particular, the BlackBerry, that has been nicknamed ‘crack berry,’” he said.

Using technology during family gatherings is unacceptable to Herkimer grandparents Tony and Shirley Scarparo.  Even though their grandchildren don’t have cell phones yet, the Scarparos feel as though the focus should be on family during holiday gatherings.

“They should be visiting, talking about family times,” Tony Scarparo said. “You see kids 8, 9 years old with cell phones, growing up too fast. They should be visiting with grandma and grandpa, mom and dad.”

Distractions from family

Family therapist Judy Owens-Manley, who is also a lecturer at Hamilton College, said technological devices allow teens, and sometimes adults, to avoid their families while still spending time with them.

“Look at the television,” she said. “How many times do families avoid being together by sitting and watching television?”

Owens-Manley said many teenagers actually want to be involved in family gatherings even though “it often may not look that way,” she said.

Alysha Mann, 16, of Utica said she makes a point to be included and doesn’t text or talk on her cell phone while celebrating the holidays with her family.

“I normally don’t talk to anybody during the holiday,” she said. “I’d rather spend the time with my family.”

Under the table

Sometimes youths are a little sneaky when it comes to using their cell phones.

The T-Mobile survey stated that 35 percent of young adults said they’ve read, sent e-mails or text messaged under the dinner table during holiday gatherings.

“Not in my house,” said Colleen Backer, a Boonville mother of four. “It’s rude.”

Backer, who has a 7-year-old and three teenagers, said she tells her kids to turn their cell phones off or on vibrate while at holiday gatherings.

And when it comes to texting, a favorite hobby of many teenagers and young adults?

“I block the text messaging,” she said.

Margaret Ann Cucharale of Utica is a mother of two daughters — one is 5 and the other is 3.

Although her daughters don’t have cell phones, she said her teenaged nephew is often distracted by the PlayStation Portable.

“They’re just like this nonstop,” she said while bouncing her thumbs up and down as if playing a video game. “He doesn’t know anyone else around him. It’s like no one else exists.”

To get teens interested in family gatherings and less focused on communicating with their friends, Owens-Manley suggests crafting an agreement between the parents and the children instead of forming rules.

“The context is that family matters, and you matter because you’re a part of the family,” she said.