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    Aug 04, 2014

    The digital link to a happy family

    SALES manager Quentin Foon is no digerati, but he was not going to shield himself or his stepchildren from social media.

    The 36-year-old even helped his stepdaughter and stepson set up Facebook accounts when they were barely teenagers, just so they could play online games.

    Mr Foon thus became more than a father. He became a "Facebook friend". He told My Paper: "At that age, they didn't really update statuses, so it wasn't like we wanted to monitor them. Even now, we don't do that. I don't think it's very healthy. If they know you track their updates, it creates an invisible wall and they might avoid posting things."

    The family of four also communicate in a family group chat on WhatsApp, exchanging messages daily - a move that has helped Mr Foon stay in touch with the rest even when he goes overseas for work at least once a month.

    He said: "The children like using this form of communication, since they use it with their friends too. It's useful in helping to keep each other connected."

    And staying connected is perhaps the key to staying together as a family.

    In this digital age, it is easier for families to make use of technology to "stay in touch and get closer as a family", noted Parliamentary Secretary for Social and Family Development Low Yen Ling, especially since the Internet is the "new playground" for children.

    But face time also matters, added Ms Low, who says she writes "love notes" for her sons. "Face-to-face interactions...form the building blocks of a child's emotional, social and cognitive growth," she pointed out.

    She was speaking as the Ministry of Social and Family Development released a poll yesterday which showed that eight in 10 parents with children aged between seven and 18 years said they were satisfied with their relationship with their children.

    The findings were based on a sample of some 633 respondents in a survey last year.

    Ms Low said the statistic was heartening, though there is still "room for improvement".

    She explained: "It's also about making sure that we do not apply the strict parenting style that our parents used on us on our children. It's also about being flexible enough in terms of our communication style with our children, but yet being very firm when it comes to imbuing the right values."

    Sarojini Padmanathan, a member of the Families for Life council, said the survey result is a good sign but there is still "a long, long way to go" to close the gap in issues pertaining to families and marriages breaking down, and children going wayward.

    She added that technology does not necessarily "pull people away".

    She said: "If we talk about group chats, (we say) let's meet for a meal at 6pm, and everybody gets the message at the same time, everybody replies, that participation itself is communication.

    "When we don't understand what the children are doing with technology and we are left behind...that's when the problem comes."

    Chong Ee Jay, assistant manager at Touch Cyber Wellness, a centre which educates students and parents on online safety, said it is also important for parents to know the children's "virtual playground" so that they can keep a lookout for them.

    Mr Chong said: "But even if the parents are not tech-savvy, what is more important is that they try to learn. They may get their children to teach them to use it, so they can have parent-child bonding.

    "I don't think that every parent must be super tech-savvy, but they should do things that will promote communication, and that is more critical."