Chapter 4: Results and Discussion
The importance of women in the family cannot be overemphasized. They are a key to better quality of life for the entire family. The variant roles that women play in the family include those of leadership, administration, management, income generation, and one of steering the entire family towards societal and personal gains (Yunjuan & Xiaoming, 2007). In all of these roles, communication remains to be a critical aspect that must be understood both from a research point of view and from other angles that intend to explain how people interact at the family level. As such, the focus of this section will be exploring the results on the relationship between social media and family interactions in China. As a major consumer of social media in the world in recent years (Sullivan, 2012), the impact of social media on the Chinese people will steadily increase as the adoption rate grows. It is also expected that the increasing use of social media in China will significantly impact the social and economic life of social media users. Despite a wealth of information from extant literature on impact of social media on families, only a handful of studies have managed to carefully dissect the relationship between social media usage in families with teenagers and ways to bridge the social divide in China. The methodology section introduced the purpose of this study as a study of whether there is a correlation between the use of social media and the interpersonal relationship of family members in China. It also established a need to investigate how social media use by women of different ages affects family relationship. Following the qualitative methodology introduced, this section presents the results and a discussion of the same applying a deductive strategy to a thematic analysis approach to analyze and discuss the data from the interviews.
The overarching theme in answering the interviews was that the current levels of digital technology development and its absorption in the Chinese society is very high and has turned out to be both a positive as well as a negative factor in relation to family relationships. Table 1 below displays the main themes and sub themes, their definition, and what they represent in the study.
Main Topics and Mentions Definition in the Research Context Emergent Themes Sub themes
Social media Applications and websites that allow users to identify, create, or share various types of content and to participate in social networking activities. Family relationship building
Information sharing Idea sharing
Relationships The way people connect and associate Family relationships
Disconnect in communication Good relations
Technology The effect of scientific knowledge evidenced through machines and equipment, as well as applications, that makes work easier. Ease of use
Faster and easier communication Social media applications
Familial relationships A connection between people in the same family Disconnect
Authentic communication Children
Communication Exchange of information through writing, speaking, and the use of medium such as social media Traditional communication Empathy
Benefits of social media The advantages or positive effects of using applications on social media Comparison to traditional communication between families
Family practices and culture Relationship building
Keeping family ties close
Sense of belonging
Drawbacks of using social media Problems or disadvantages associated with the use of social media Comparison to traditional communication between families
Family practices Poor emotional connection
Easy to be hurtful/offensive
Conveys inauthentic feelings
Criminality on social media
Table 1: Data Analysis Themes and Sub Themes
The thematic analysis from table 1 above suggested three overarching themes with a number of sub themes for each:
Theme 1: An important factor of relationship building when using social media
Theme 2: A sense of loss of traditional familial connections
Theme 3: Perceived inability by older women to authentically connect to the younger generations
4.2.1 Theme 1: Social Media Use and Relationship Building
In the present study, the results addressed the question of social media use by women and how this affects relationships with their families, how women of different ages use it to communicate with families, and how women with children apply it as a communication tool. Different reasons and explanations were presented by the participants. The sample size made of 12 women of different ages revealed some gaps in the way they perceive, use, interpret, and present the use of social media.
The theme of relationship building on social media as a tool for families to relate was a consistent and predominant theme. The main reasons provided were the penetration and ease of use of technologies relating to the internet. The role of social media as a relationship building tool was attributed to the ease of idea sharing, the availability of information online, and community creation. These factors also formed the main subthemes.
188.8.131.52 Idea Sharing and Community Creation
Platforms such as WeChat and QQ are used by a majority of respondents to share ideas, communicate, and to maintain a sense of belonging. The easy access to people and content has led to parents and children speaking more often compared to past days when children got older and only spoke with their parents when they visit physically. As described by one daughter:
“Compared with my family, I communicate more with my friends. There is basically no difference in the way I communicate with them. At home, I mostly communicate face-to-face with my family members. Unless I’m not in a space, I will use WeChat or make a phone call. After I have WeChat, I don’t think the time of our face-to-face communication has changed.”
Social media allows various participants to be present in the livesof others, at a time where they would other wise be absent. For example, a respondent noted that the presence of a family group on WeChat helps her family to retain a community feeling and to share different ideas relating to family life:
“There are three groups about the family, my father, mother, and me, and some uncles and aunts. There is also a WeChat group with only me, my dad and my mom, this group does not have my brother, but only me and my parents. These groups are about the same level of activity, and sometimes what parents post is not interesting. I don’t know how to get involved. Or sometimes post some videos or moments, of course I don’t want to watch it.”
184.108.40.206 The Availability of Information Online
The availability of information on social media and related platforms is also a major reason why people build relationships. It also explains the how part of creating and retaining relationships for young people and their parents and vice versa. WeChat is mentioned by one of the respondents as being a very important tool for relationship building and retention because of the availability of avenues and information online. The respondent asserts that:
“WeChat is very important to my life. It’s basically how I keep in touch with my family and friends back home. I use WeChat to contact almost everyone around me every day, including my Chinese friends in the UK. I may open WeChat dozens of times a day, and it is normal to get hundreds of messages. I must use WeChat every day, it has become my daily habit. I mainly use WeChat communicate with others, I used to read the official account articles, but now it may be less.”
WeChat has ease of information reaching and sharing. It is very easy to maintain relationships and to build new ones that would otherwise be non-existent without social media. In response to a question regarding whether she uses WeChat to communicate with family members, older people, and the frequency of this communication, one respondent answered:
“I use WeChat to communicate with my family…My parents and I basically talk in WeChat group every day, and then sometimes I will have WeChat video and voice message. Other family members, such as uncles and aunts, who are not very close relatives, will have WeChat group, and then I may communicate with them regularly in the group. If there is nothing wrong, I will rarely talk with my family members who are not close to me…I can only get in touch with the older members of my family through other people, but without the platform, I probably wouldn’t have had the opportunity to video chat with my grandma.”
Therefore, the availability of information, including WeChat groups and other special features on social media have helped to retain relationships in families, even where communication with older relatives is fairly difficult. Technology has enabled more relationships to exist as even the older people are able to communicate with the younger relatives using other people.
4.2.2 Theme 2: A Sense of Loss of Traditional Familial Connections
The use of social media, specifically the proliferation of WeChat use in Chinese families has led to a sense of loss of the traditional familial connections. The theme of a sense of loss os traditional familial ties and connections is a consistent and predominant theme mentioned throughout the interviews. The main reasons for the scenario is also attributed to the rise of internet use and the increase in the number of people who prefer to use online means to communicate. Social media, in this case WeChat, highlighted the loss of traditional expectations regarding how people are expected to relate and to communicate, especially with the elderly. Subordinate themes emerging from the sense of loss of traditional familial ties and connections include poor relationships between family members, a disconnect from the traditional family, and a sense of emotional detachment and physical unavailability.
220.127.116.11 Poor Relationships Between Family Members
A major sub theme that was mentioned by a number of respondents was a notable lack of enthusiasm when communicating with family members, especially those from the extended family tree. Participants noted that they sometimes ignored messages or outright blocked relatives to avoid having to display their lifestyles when at work or in college.
“Sometimes I don’t need to reply to message from my family, but my friends will basically reply. Because most family members don’t ask you any questions, they all state what they want to express, such as when the rice is cooked and come back for dinner, or what is going on at home today, it is similar to the message board, not like you ask questions. The friends themselves are a bit like asking, for example, are you free or not? I just think that this kind of notification-like message sent by my family, I don’t need to answer.”
As a result, it is clear that WeChat, while facilitating communication on the go, has created a sense of estranged relations that can be interpreted as poor relationships between family members. In another perspective, some respondents prefer to block family members to maintain the “face” they have created online without necessarily offending family members. One respondent noted that:
“I will post. If I am studying, I will post a moment to them. If I hang out with my friends, my family will be blocked. Because I just want them to know that I am studying hard, not playing. I will not block friends, only my family.”
In relation to a question on whether after use of WeChat, the face-to-face communication between family members has become less or more, respondents noted that to certain degree it has reduced. There is no need for people to meet physically to have conversations and therefore face-to-face communication has been drastically reduced. A respondent asserted that:
“With WeChat, we have less time for face-to-face communication. For example, we may use WeChat to communicate between upstairs and downstairs, so there is no need to run downstairs and talk in person.”
Further, respondents noted having different attitudes relating to friend groups and family groups
“We usually share food in the group, or share some new gossip at this group. But in the big family group, I just watched it silently, occasionally making a sound, and I didn’t get involved much. In our big family group, the older generation will be more active, they will post some videos, and some official account articles. The younger ones don’t participate much. I don’t send messages in this group at all, but I sometimes send messages in small family groups. But if I chat with a single window of my family, I might be more active.”
Here, WeChat and social media in general becomes an enemy of relationships because it causes strains and a fake lifestyle for a majority of participants.
18.104.22.168 Disconnect from the Traditional Family
Another major sub theme that is consistent amongst all participants is the acknowledgement of how much WeChat has led to a disconnect from the traditional family expectations and structure. WeChat allows people to block others, ignore messages, and remain hidden in group chats. This is contrary to how a traditional family would behave in a physical setting. When asked if respondents turn on voice reminders when they receive WeChat messages from family and friends, and the difference between online and offline communication, a respondent issued that:
“Online communication can’t control the other’s emotions and tone of speech in a timely manner, and you can’t feel the true mood of the other person. Through text, you may misunderstand the other person’s current mood or tone. Face-to-face communication can more intuitively feel the mood and tone of the other party’s words. When I communicate with my family, I think offline is more effective. Because I am more indifferent to my family online, and sometimes I find my family members very annoying, so I sometimes don’t even reply to their message. But online and offline I treat my friends the same.”
Additionally, other respondents noted how WeChat has led to a loss of communication because having no access to social media leaves communication to when people meet face to face.
“Other relatives, uncles and aunts, don’t know how to chat…usually greet each other during New Years and holidays, but not at other times. And during the New Year, everyone is together again, and you can communicate offline, and meet every year during the New Year, but usually don’t see each other. On WeChat, follow a friend who is still closer. The family is like this.”
22.214.171.124 Emotional Detachment and Physical Unavailability
Due to the poor relations between family members and the disconnect experienced because of the proliferation of the internet and the increased use of WeChat as a basic communication tool, respondents also note that there is evidence of emotional detachment and physical unavailability from their own experiences. Family ties have changed significantly, including a notable deviation from how people communicated in the past. For example, a respondent expressed that when communicating with family members there is a reduction on traditional communication even where parents are involved:
“It depends on the situation. It is average. Sometimes I don’t go to my parents specially. My dad contacts me more often. My mom has a personality that doesn’t like contacts very much. My dad would send me a WeChat video when he was free, and I would also send a WeChat video to my dad when I remembered it.”
4.2.3 Theme 3: Perceived Inability by Older Women to Authentically Connect to the Younger Generations
Another overarching theme that emerged from the interviews is the perception by older women of an inability to authentically connect to the younger generations. For the older generation of women, social media has limited advantages and myriad of drawbacks, including its ability to kill connections between different generations. To this end, respondents record feelings of disconnect and inability to authentically connect with the younger generations because of social media usage. The following subthemes also emerged: a reduction in social connections and conveyance of inauthentic feelings.
126.96.36.199 Reduces Physical and Social Connections
Older generation of women, including those aged above 45 and those with families and daughters have been forced to change from the traditional communication models to include WeChat as a part of daily communication tools. However, many respondents expressed dissatisfaction on the use of social media for communication because it has killed the element of physical and social connection, especially with the younger generations who only chat or communicate on WeChat whenever they need something and not for any other reasons. A respondent expressed the following on the question of whether she likes using WeChat:
“I have to use it, because now most of the communication is done on WeChat, including most of the work. But I don’t think that WeChat is my important social media platform, I only use it when I need it. Because we have reached a certain age, unlike young people, we hold our mobile phones to chat with others every day. In fact, I prefer a group of people to sit together and chat face-to-face.”
Respondents asked whether they use WeChat for communication and how they use it said that
“…whoever has problems will contact the other party, without saying who is more.”
This reveals the lack of a physical and social bond that leads to authentic conversations between mothers and daughters or other close family relations.
188.8.131.52 Conveys Inauthentic Feelings
For some users, WeChat is a very reliable platform that facilitates communication, especially where family and friends are not in the same location for face-to-face interactions:
“Face-to-face communication can be more direct and intuitive, but online communication is more convenient. You can contact people at any time, especially family and friends who are far away.”
However, others feel that social media, and especially WeChat increased use has led to conveyance of fake or inauthentic feelings. Because of the convenience of using WeChat, people have resulted to messaging online, even where emotions and feelings cannot be seen or felt. Traditional calling or meeting physically has been abandoned, leading to an increase of inauthentic feelings. Fake laughter emoticons and other modern ways of communications are used to react to messages. A respondent noted that:
“…when I want to contact my family, I will choose WeChat first, because WeChat is very convenient. You can send a WeChat message. If the other party is not free to reply now, he can reply when he is free, but if you call, if the other party is busy, He has no way to answer the phone, so sometimes it is very inconvenient to make a call. It is more convenient to leave a WeChat and be careful. But if I am particularly anxious to find someone, of course I still choose to call.”
4.3 Discussion Section
In this section, a discussion will follow regarding whether the results met the expectations of the study. The findings will be contextualized within previous theory and research. Unexpected results will be thoroughly explained and their significance evaluated. Lastly, possible alternatives explanations will be considered and an argument made for the position of the study.
4.3.1 How does Chinese women’s use of social media affect relationships with their families?
The use of social media by Chinese women affects their relationships with their families different. In line with the family practices theory, the use of social media deviates families from the normal communication path. Family practices focus on a sense of the regular, fluidity, and emphasis on doing (Morgan, 2020). Social media interrupts these expectations by creating its own practices. No matter the condition, the results suggest that social media use has both positively and negatively affected relationship of Chinese women with their families. This is in line with Wang and Sandner (2019) study who found a link between increased social media use and poor family relations. Additionally, some researchers including Caplan (2006) found social media to positively affect relationships by allowing more communication in a family that would otherwise not be in talking terms. From the results of the study, WeChat facilitates better and on the go communication. However, it has also led to inauthentic communication, disconnect, and a deviation from the traditional patterns of face-to-face communication. Other studies recorded the same results, finding a link between increased social media with more effective communication and a hint of disadvantages such as physical unavailability, disconnect, and inauthentic connections (Grace et al., 2014). The results and findings remain congruent with extant literature observing both positive and negative effects with the use of social media and family relationships for Chinese women.
4.3.2 Why and how do women of different ages use social media to communicate with their families?
The findings indicate that women of different ages use social media to communicate with their families because it is both convenient, easy, and what the modern society demands. Specifically, WeChat emerges as a favorite among all participant categories for communication with families. A study by Shi, Wang, & Zou (2017) found that the increased use of the internet and the available technologies in the Chinese societies have led to more use of social media even where family communication is involved. From the socio-technological family conceptual model, new technology influences the lives of individuals, families, and communities in ways that cannot be regarded as traditional (Lanigan, 2009). Technological characteristics, individual qualities, and family features have all been merged into one as individuals choose to use social media as the main communication tool with families. In the networked individualism model, the use of social media by women of different ages to communicate with family members is explained as a social model promoted by the Internet and mobile technology. According to Christensen and Foss (2021), the use of social media creates a sense of co-presence, meaning that one is present despite being physically absent. The findings of this study are aligned to previous research as it shows that women of different ages use social media for convenience purposes as well as the issue of trying to remain present in the lives of their families.
4.3.3 How and why do younger women and older women with children use social media to communicate with their families?
Younger women have typically different interests on social media compared to older women. Andreassen, Pallesen, & Griffiths (2017) found that younger women use social media for more than communication purposes, including keeping up with trends, for business transactions, and other roles, while older women almost entirely use social media for communication. In a different perspective, younger women with children use social media to keep up with their families, by using groups, videos, video conferencing, voice notes, and texting. They prefer to use social media because they are already accustomed to using it from other areas of their lives. For older women with children, social media is a tool to maintain connection with their children. They only use it for purposes of communication. For most older women with children, social media is only purposefully used for family-related communication. Other aspects of communication are handled using traditional means of communication. From this analysis, there are differences created by age and stage of life. The findings of the current study align to these past findings, noting that social media is used by women of different ages as a medium of covering the communication gaps between generations. Ultimately, the use of social media and related technologies has brought a balance to communication as younger women are more confident online while creating a sense of presence for the older generation who value face-to-face communication and a connection.
Women of different ages are likely to use social media for different reasons. For younger women with children, social media is a convenient way of communicating with their family. For older women with children, social media only works as a complementary tool to traditional communication. In relation to how and why women (both old and young) with children use social media to communicate with families, the reasoning is similar to the above section. Women choose to use social media because of the need to remain present. According to the theory of TechnoFeminism, technology, in this case social media, is a source and consequence of relations between genders (Clinnin & Manthey, 2019). In this light, the study found that women tend to initiate communication more on social media compared to children and other family members. For younger women, the need to be present in the lives of their children is more pronounced than it is for older women with children. In the same way, older women with children want to be a part of their children’s lives and therefore use social media to cover the gap that is seen for those that do not use social media. They also use social media as a way of augmenting traditional communication. Younger women with children do not prefer face-to-face communications, a trend that TechnoFeminism acknowledges exists between generations. In the same way, older women with children want to feel a connection when communicating online as a continuity to the traditional format of communication (Neves, Waycott, & Malta, 2018). Ultimately, the reasons and methods of using social media to communicate with families for younger women with children and older women with children converge and can be narrowed down to the need to remain present, to keep up with trends, and to utilize the opportunity to use a simplified option of communication.
4.4 Chapter Summary
The relationship between social media usage in families with teenagers, the role of women in communication, and how these variables come together have not been well studied by research. This chapter presents the results and a discussion of the same applying a deductive strategy to a thematic analysis approach to analyze and discuss the data from the interviews. The main themes include an important factor of relationship building when using social media, a sense of loss of traditional familial connections, and perceived inability by older women to authentically connect to the younger generations. In analysing these themes, the chapter has established a link between social media and how women use it to communicate with their families.
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