Six Ways to Keep Digital Device Use Under Wraps This Holiday Season

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Remember the Norman Rockwell masterpiece featuring an idealized family gathered around a holiday table? The painting depicts Grandma and Grandpa presenting a plump turkey to their amazed progeny. Their faces glow with the joy of sharing a holiday meal.

Today, the faces around your dinner table are more likely to glow from digital tablet and smartphone use. What would Normal Rockwell think?

So how can modern families set healthy boundaries around digital devices during the holidays? Here are a few tips to consider.

Set Limits

A 2010 study by the Kaiser Family Foundation suggests that kids spend an average of 7.5 hours a day viewing media. This includes video games, television and activities like texting. Only 30 percent of kids reported that their parents set limits on device use. However, “those with any media rules consume nearly three hours less media per day than those with no rules,” the study states.  

That’s enough time to eat, clear the table and take a nature walk afterward. You may even have time to squeeze in a board game before the kids return to the world of Minecraft.

So pick a limit — any limit — and stick with it.

Host a Device-Free Dinner

If you’re hosting the holidays for extended family, it’s OK to expect a device-free dinner. The key is to communicate your expectations ahead of time. Evite and Common Sense Media have collaborated to offer a series of digital invitations for device-free dinners. You can check them out at Include a request in your invitation for guests to leave their devices behind. Then, place an optional “Device Drop” basket at the door.

Celebrating the holidays at someone else’s house? Lead by example, and leave your own devices at home.

Offer Fun Alternatives

Bill Ratner is an actor and author of “Parenting for the Digital Age: The Truth Behind Media’s Effect on Children and What to Do About It.” In his book, Ratner suggests that it isn’t enough to take away device time. Parents need to replace it with something more worthwhile — and fun.

“Confronting the obstacles for families in our digital age can either be a battle or a creative challenge,” Ratner says. “I find that with a little improvisation, creativity and the desire to try new things … we can lighten our load and inject fun into our lives in simple ways.”

Keeping this positive point-of-view in mind, find alternatives that appeal to your family. Better yet, ask for their input. They may surprise you. Play a game of flag football or take in a play at the theater. Tell stories. Craft. Make music together. You’ll know you have a winner when your family asks to do it again next year.

Make Conversation Central

Come up with fun conversation starters at family gatherings. Anne K. Fishel, author of “Home for Dinner: Mixing Food, Fun and Conversation for Happier Families and Healthier Kids,” plays the Hat Game with her holiday guests. She asks them to write down an answer to questions such as, “What animal would you most like to be?” Guests then put their answers into a hat. Fishel reads the answers aloud and everyone takes turns guessing which answer belongs to which family member.

Get Your Game On

If there are gamers in your family, tap into their competitive sides. Host an epic “Minute to Win It” holiday party. Form teams and have them compete for a family trophy (or the privilege of not having to clean up after dinner). Teams win points for completing zany tasks in under one minute.

Challenges can include:

  • Moving a cookie from your face to your mouth without using your hands.
  • Sliding sheets of paper from between stacked plastic cups without knocking them down.
  • Spearing grapes with a skewer clenched between your teeth.
  • Bouncing ping-pong balls into a plastic cup.
  • Moving pieces of candy from one bowl into another using only a straw.
  • Stacking 10 blocks on your forehead without letting them fall over.

Search the internet for more “Minute to Win It” game ideas, then get busy collecting ping-pong balls, candies and straws for your event.

Go Remote

Have you ever arrived at a remote vacation home only to discover there was no cable TV, Wi-Fi or mobile phone service? Talk about digital detox! If taking away everyone’s devices is a battle you don’t have the energy to fight, why not change your environment? Remote vacation homes are usually situated in beautiful natural surroundings. Instead of browsing Instagram and Twitter feeds, your family could be hiking, swimming or kayaking — and reaping the creative benefits.

A 2012 study conducted by the University of Kansas and University of Utah found that hikers who stayed in a remote location without access to digital devices showed a 50 percent increase in their ability to creatively problem-solve. Researchers believe the results are due to the combination of a decrease in attention-demanding devices and the increase in exposure to a natural environment.

When you get outside with your family this holiday, you’ll also experience the added bonus of togetherness. Don’t have the extra cash for a remote vacation? Tuck away your devices and take a walk together at your local park.

Whether your family goes cold turkey on technology this holiday season or commits to a tech-free meal, find a balance that works for your crew. Then, get busy making holiday memories that would make Norman Rockwell jealous.

Christa C. Hogan is a freelance writer and an at-home-mom to three busy boys. 


Categories: Family, Parenting, Relationships, Solutions