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Using Common Sense: 8 Ways to Balance Family Screen Time this Holiday Season

By Ilana Lowery


The holidays often mean gatherings and time spent with friends and immediate and extended families. Holidays also can be a tough season to navigate the needs of the family while also making sure kids are not tethered to their devices all day.

(And yet, chances are some sort of technology device with a screen is topping your kids’ holiday wish list.)

This time can also be filled with more tech usage while the kids are home and looking for activities to fill their days off. With no school, the challenge of managing free time with tech time can be emphasized both for parents and for kids.

According to Common Sense Media and GoGuardian, which creates learning platforms for schools, there are several creative ways to balance your family’s tech activities with much-needed face time.

Here are a few you can try:

1. Set up family guidelines with your kids. Technology is a part of children’s lives in a way that we never experienced so it is important to be respectful of their thoughts, even while we are the ones setting the rules. If they feel heard, they are much more likely to work within the family guidelines, and it’s equally as important that the adults follow those rules, too.

2. Have a download derby. Browse the app store together. Look for games and activities that the whole family can enjoy, such as the ones on our best app lists.

3. Implement mandatory fun time sessions. Set up 1-2 hours of fun time where no devices are allowed. If the weather permits, they can go outside to play. If not, then it’s blanket forts in their room! Another aspect you can implement is no electronics when out for family events. Kids have an innate ability to turn almost anything into a game using their imagination, and sometimes they just need a little bit of encouragement.

4. Try some tech togetherness. Schedule some daily tech time for yourself and your kids. Get their input on which devices they absolutely can’t live without, and allow some limited use. If their apps have settings that help curb use, such as the ones on Tik Tok, YouTube, and Snapchat – then by all means, enable them. Unplugging for its own sake isn’t the point. Family time is. Plan a night of video games, movies, or maybe preselected YouTube videos that you can all enjoy together.

5. Establish a family zone. Agree as a family to have dinner together every night. At Common Sense, we like to call it “Device-Free Dinner” `– a time that is always tech-free (no TV, no phone, no computer). Ask everyone around the table at every meal to stack their phones in the middle or at the end of the table and try to spend anywhere from 30-45 minutes focused on conversation. Reminder: as parents, you need to model the behavior.

6. Set parameters on devices. Set limits that work for you and your family. For example, your child can have access to a device for one hour once his or her homework is done. These types of controls can help you make limits and stick to them. Having the tool of parental controls gives you a chance to re-evaluate the limits when the time comes.

Let your kids know that you’ll be enforcing stricter time and use limits to create more quality family time. Make sure you let them know the rules apply to the grown-ups, too. Use your phone’s built-in features (Screen Time in iOS and Digital Wellbeing in Android) to determine how much time you’re spending online and which apps you use the most — and pare back where you can.

7. Showcase tech alternatives early. Technology is essentially the world at your child’s fingertips, and its allure is understandable. What is most important with the role of tech is open communication and family activities or games to support engagement. By setting an example and showing them that screen life is just one experience, you can also show that tech is just one tool in the bucket of engaging and fun entertainment and learning options.

8. Combine on- and offline activities. Document your family memories and consider compiling them into journals, cards, and scrapbooks. This is a perfect time to share your own holiday memories with your kids.

One last idea, try to have an old-fashioned holiday. Challenge your family to choose low- or no-tech versions of favorite activities. Generate fun on your own — no WiFi, data or plugs.

Come holiday season, the decision to either give children freedom to enjoy the time off or to encourage bonding with family isn’t an easy one for parents. Whether your method is to establish rules, model behavior, or allow your children to make their own choices, consistency and follow-through are key to responsible tech use.


Ilana Lowery is the Arizona director for Common Sense Media, an independent nonprofit dedicated to helping kids thrive in a world of media and technology by empowering parents, teachers and policymakers. She can be reached at ilowery@commonsense.org

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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