The Doha International Family Institute (DIFI) has commemorated this year’s International Day of Families with a virtual discussion to better understand how new technologies have impacted relationships – both in-person and within the digital sphere – following the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The event titled Technology and Familial Relationships amid COVID-19 was led by DIFI Executive Director Dr Sharifa Noman Al Emadi, who said that technology has reshaped relationships with our families, paving the way for us to connect with loved ones we cannot see.

It has also allowed us to spend more time with our children and adolescents, especially as organisations around the world have introduced flexible working arrangements and steps to work from home.

The panellists in the virtual discussion included World Family Organization President Dr Deisi Kusztra; HBKU Professor Raian Ali; HBKU Assistant Professor Dr Dena Al Thani; OECD Directorate for Education and Skills Analyst Francesca Gottschalk; and UNICEF Early Childhood Development Specialist Ana Nieto. The session was moderated by DIFI Planning and Content Manager Ahmed Aref.

DIFI virtual discussion

Discussions covered the challenges that families are currently facing, to advocating for necessary policy changes to the effects of digital inequalities.

Dr Al Thani said that the development of technology has always had great potential in supporting family dynamics. And today – with the challenges that the entire world is facing in the form of the COVID-19 pandemic and the consequent isolation family members are experiencing, especially the older generations – we have no choice but to support the use of technology in all facets of life.

Digital inequality is now a major factor in the vulnerability of family members, both in terms of accessing important health information and maintaining daily activities online. Digital inclusion has become a necessity rather than a luxury option that we all need to work towards.

International Day of Families

As part of its commemoration of the International Day of Families, DIFI also participated in an event organised by the Group of the Friends of the Family (a coalition of United Nations member states) titled Protection of the Family and Family-Oriented Policies in the Time of COVID-19.

The event provided a platform for the exchange of views from civil society and academia on the importance of the protection of the family and ways of strengthening policies.

Dr Al Emadi’s presentation compared familial relationships and adolescent well-being before and during COVID-19, focusing on family factors. She also explored the protective and risk factors of behavioural deviations among adolescents in Qatar, based on a local pilot study conducted by DIFI.

Among other findings, the study showed a decrease in arguments among family members in Qatar, prompting further studies on the difference in results found locally in comparison to global percentages. These additional studies will examine the impact of the pandemic on the family unit from different perspectives, including one in Qatar, in partnership with Qatar University; and one in Sudan, in partnership with Ahfad University for Women.

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