The Digital Divide among Parents and Their Emerging Adult Children: Intergenerational Accounts of Technologically Assisted Family Communication




Barrie, Courtney K.
Bartkowski, John P.
Haverda, Timothy

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A great deal of previous research has examined the profound influence of digital communication technology (e.g., texting, videoconferencing, social media usage) on family life. However, few inquiries have explored the contours of technologically assisted communication using qualitative data collected from various family members. Our study breaks new ground by using interview data collected from a split sample of parents and their emerging adult children (interviewed separately) to investigate intergenerational accounts of technologically assisted family communication. Using insights from various theoretical perspectives, we analyze thirty in-depth interviews with middle-aged parents (ages 39–62) and their corresponding emerging adult children (ages 18–29) who use technology as a significant means of communicating with one another. Our analyses reveal two overarching patterns. Discordant accounts reflect disparate intergenerational views of technologically assisted family communication. By contrast, concordant accounts provide evidence of shared intergenerational reflections on technology's role in family life. These patterns are explained by family life complexities, technology use experiences, and intergenerational norms of communication. Our study confirms that communication technology plays a multifarious role in family life across generational lines. Implications of these findings and promising avenues for future research are discussed.



new media, technology, family, communication, emerging adults, parents


Social Sciences 8 (3): 83 (2019)