Key to a happy Hong Kong family could be a mobile messaging group on WhatsApp or WeChat

  • University of Hong Kong study finds families using group messaging on mobile platforms were happier
  • But researchers warn of the importance of getting the elderly on board
PUBLISHED : Sunday, 11 November, 2018, 10:37pm
UPDATED : Sunday, 11 November, 2018, 10:37pm

Families who communicate through group messaging on mobile platforms such as WhatsApp and WeChat are happier, according to a survey by the University of Hong Kong.

The study by the School of Public Health found 72 per cent of local families were keeping in touch via online groups, and the frequency of communication also affected happiness.

Professor Lam Tai-hing, the school’s chair professor of community medicine, said the results showed the importance of families teaching their elderly to use messaging apps. More than 45 per cent of the survey respondents over 65 years old were not in a family messaging group.

“The quality of your family communication will be better,” Lam said.

The researchers collated responses from 1,638 Hong Kong residents received between February and May last year. Respondents were asked about themselves and their families and their replies were rated in categories including happiness, health, family harmony, and level of communication.

The findings will be used to help integrate communications technologies into public services – the aim of a four-year initiative launched on Sunday named Smart Family-Link Project, which is funded by the Hong Kong Jockey Club.

Labour and welfare minister Dr Law Chi-Kwong, speaking at the launch event, said these technologies could boost the work of the government’s integrated family service centres, which promote good family relationships.

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“There are a lot of uses for technology that can help families communicate with one another and have fun together,” Law said.

Some have already started using mobile messaging to better coordinate activities with family service providers at the centres.

Momo Wong, a mother of two young sons, said she received information from her social worker about coming events via messaging groups. For her, mobile communications play a crucial role in keeping her family connected. Her husband works on the mainland and only returns several times a month.

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“If we didn’t have these kinds of instant messages and video chats then we’d need to rely on phone calls, which are expensive,” she said. “We’ll only make a phone call for important issues, and we can’t share our daily life other than with pictures and videos.”

Encouraging families to use technology wisely to improve their relationships is one aim of the Smart Family-Link Project, which has received HK$157 million (US$20 million) in funding from the Hong Kong Jockey Club Charities Trust.

Another mission is to create digital platforms for family service centres to better reach those they serve. The project has so far partnered with 26 non-governmental centres, with plans for more. It will also help develop platforms for service providers to share information and collect data, which could later be used to improve services and shape policy, experts said.

Professor Lam said social workers were saving time and building better relationships with families by using messaging technology.

“Nowadays many people don’t even answer the phone, but if you WhatsApp them, then they know … this is their social worker. Using the traditional way is almost coming to an end,” he said.

“There are a lot of opportunities and potential to enhance services.”

The Smart Family-Link Project is targeting helping about 75,000 Hong Kong residents and 1,000 social workers, officials said.