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Balance family screen time with old-school holiday traditions

We all know the holidays will be different this year. From smaller family gatherings to Zoom calls with relatives who live far away, celebrating anything in 2020 continues to be a challenge.

Still, this is a good time to get creative, take advantage of new opportunities and focus on the good things in front of us. It’s also a chance to balance our reliance on technology and devices with time to share festive, decidedly low-tech traditions.

This month, work to balance your family’s screen time with real face time — not the iPhone kind. It may sound a bit like a Hallmark movie, but think about reviving these traditional holiday activities as a family: bake cookies, build a gingerbread house (the kits make it pretty easy), make holiday cards to send to U.S. troops, volunteer at a homeless shelter or soup kitchen, read great holiday books, break out traditional board games (remember “Sorry”?) or settle in with popcorn for some classic holiday films.

Common Sense Media’s parenting experts recommend these ideas to help families balance screen time and limit technology usage over the holidays:

Be jolly but firm.

Let your kids know that you’ll be enforcing time limits on screen time to create more quality family time. Agree if possible that the rules will apply to grown-ups as well. Use your phone’s built-in features to determine how much time you’re spending online and which apps you use the most, and pare back where you can.

Make a list, and check it with your kids.

Schedule daily tech time for yourself and your kids. Get their input on which devices they absolutely can’t live without. If their apps have settings that help curb usage — Tik Tok, YouTube and Snapchat all have these settings — then by all means, enable them. Learn how with Common Sense Media’s guide to using these features.

Plan device-free family dinners.

Put all the phones and tablets in a basket and don’t check them until the dishes are cleared — or washed.

Have a download day.

Browse the app store together. Look for games and activities that the whole family can enjoy. Here are Common Sense Media’s Best Apps suggestions.

Make setup fun.

No matter how user friendly new devices or apps can be, there’s always some (often frustrating) setup time. Truth be told, kids often figure out thorny tech glitches faster than parents, so involve your kids in the process. Use that time to discuss the responsible use of the new device.

Try some tech togetherness.

Unplugging for its own sake isn’t the point. Family time is. Plan a night of video games, movies or even preselected YouTube videos you can all enjoy together.

Plan for offline activities.

Document your family memories and consider compiling them into scrapbooks and journals. This is a perfect time to share your own holiday memories with your kids.

Don’t sneak away to check Twitter or email.

Remember, your kids learn their media habits partly from you. Use quiet time to reflect on ways you can maximize the benefits of technology without letting it take over your family’s life.

Have an old-fashioned holiday.

Challenge your family to choose low-tech or no-tech versions of favorite activities, such as backyard games or board games.

Thank essential workers.

Write thank-you letters to essential workers to acknowledge their acts of service and kindness.

Interview a family member.

Get to know each other better and share life stories by interviewing a grandparent or other family member. Family Tree Magazine offers question prompts and StoryCorps — an American Oral History project in conjunction with the Library of Congress — preserves these types of interviews for future generations.

Find more at-home activities, including the Family Kindness Challenge, at Common Sense Media’s Wide Open School.

Ilana Lowery
Ilana Loweryhttp://commonsense.org
Ilana Lowery is the Arizona director for Common Sense Media. She can be reached at ilowery@commonsense.org.

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