Can You Balance Screen Time and Family Time Over the Holidays?

how to balance screen time for kids during the holidays
Screen time recommendations for kids can vary greatly across the board, and balancing what’s best over the holidays can be an even greater challenge.

Parents tend to have high expectations during the holiday season. It’s a time for making memories, eating and drinking together, and showing the people you love how much you care.

Many of us have our own cherished memories and traditions from childhood, and we want to bring those same experiences to life for our kids. But, when your family ends up sitting around the Christmas tree with their faces buried in digital devices, those expectations of joy and togetherness might start to feel a little unrealistic.

If your home is like most, there will likely be electronics, video games, and brand new devices wrapped up and given as gifts over the holidays. Kids will be on break from school, and parents may be taking vacation from work to relax, which means more free time to spend on phones and tablets.

Snatching mobile devices away from your family and forcing them to participate in holiday traditions turns you into a total Scrooge and could lead to bad attitudes that ruin your best intentions. However, there are some things you can do to bring peace and balance to your home during the holidays as well as some things to avoid.

Talk About Holiday Screen Time in Your Home

It’s family meeting time. In order to set some ground rules for using devices during the holiday season, the first step will be getting everyone on the same page.

An important part of this discussion is ensuring your children understand why the family needs to balance screen time. Explaining that you want to make sure everyone enjoys the season and that you want to spend time together will resonate with kids. They want to have a happy family just as much as you do!

Another key to this conversation is getting the kids involved in the decision-making process. Being overly strict and turning screen time limits into a battle could make children feel like they “win” when they get away with more screen time than you allow.

On the other hand, when children are given a little control and autonomy, they feel empowered and will be more likely to make responsible decisions on their own.

Ask them questions like …

How much time per day do you think you should spend on your tablet while you’re home from school?

How do you think Grandma would feel if she came for a visit and you were playing Minecraft the entire time?

What do you think you might miss out on if you’re watching YouTube videos instead of hanging out with your family?

When do you think Mom and Dad should put their phones away and spend time with you? What kinds of things could we do together?

If we truly want our kids to have healthy digital habits, then we as parents must lead by example. TechDen’s unique mobile app and charging stations are an effective way to remind family members of the schedules they agreed to, helping keep everyone accountable. Find out more about how TechDen works.

Skip the Seasonal Scare Tactics

Avoid using screen time and holiday fun as a threat. The temptation to exploit Santa Claus as a manipulation tactic might pop in your head. But, if you find yourself about to say, “Santa’s going to put you on the Naughty List unless you get off that thing!” just leave the jolly old elf out of it.

Using Santa as a threat could have the wrong results, especially with younger children. Parenting blogger Megan Zander told her own story on the website SheKnows.com.

“I was thrilled to tell my toddlers about Santa Claus, but after hearing what Santa does, they’re not excited for Christmas, they’re terrified … Instead of convincing my kids to shape up or risk losing their Christmas gifts, my plan backfired horribly, and now my children are afraid of Santa Claus.”

We’re already using the Elf on the Shelf as a fun way to encourage positive behavior. Let him keep a watchful eye on the kids over the holidays and keep Father Christmas from becoming “Big Brother.”

Using Screen Time for Holiday Cheer

screen time and family time is a constant balancing act
Balancing the amount of time your kids spend in front of screens can actually be fun when you incorporate the spirit of the holidays when you use them the right way.

The digital devices in your homes can be more than distractions from family time. When you use them the right way, they can also be tools that bring you together. Here are several ideas for encouraging the use of smartphones and tablets in creative ways that enhance the holidays.

1. Christmas Countdowns

Apps that count down the days to Christmas are fun for kids to follow. And, if you’ve got a little one who’s extra excited, these apps save you from having to answer the question “How many days ‘til Christmas,” repeatedly between trick-or-treating and December 25th.

You’ll find free Christmas countdown apps on Google Play and the iTunes App store. There are also mobile Advent calendars as well as Menorah lighting apps for families celebrating Hanukkah.

2.  Kid-Inspired Photos and Videos

Holiday photo albums can take you right back to the excitement you felt as a child. But, for most of us, Mom and Dad took all the pictures. That’s changed thanks to technology, and now your kids can document the season themselves with the digital cameras on their devices.

Encourage children to take their own pictures and videos at family gatherings and then share them with you. It’s a fun way to see this time of year through a child’s eyes.

3.  Seasonal Family Recipes

Baking sweet treats and decorating goodies together is a delicious way for families to bond over the holidays. Check out a list of 24 holiday recipes to make with kids from BuzzFeed.

If you’ve got some aspiring pastry chefs in your home, let them search for their own ideas to bring to the kitchen. They’ll find plenty of holiday recipes on YouTube, which is also a fun place to discover creative crafts.

4.  Be the Holiday DJ

Nothing brings out the holiday spirit like the songs of the season. Take turns using your devices to create playlists that the whole family can listen to on Bluetooth speakers in your home. It could even inspire an impromptu sing-a-long.

For your own sanity, it may be wise to limit the number of times I Want a Hippopotamus for Christmas can be played in one night.

5.  Interactive Storytime

There are so many classic holiday stories, and now our digital devices are bringing them to life in new ways. If watching the TV special, A Charlie Brown Christmas, was a tradition when you were a kid, you’ll love the mobile app experience featuring audio from the original holiday special.

You’ll also find interactive mobile apps that let kids experience Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, Dr. Seuss’s The Grinch Who Stole Christmas, and the Hanukah story.

6. Tracking Santa’s Journey

The magic of Christmas Eve gets multiplied when you can watch Saint Nick travel the globe, bringing gifts to boys and girls.

The Google Santa Tracker is an entertaining experience for the whole family. You can check out how the North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD) keeps tabs on the big guy with the NORAD Santa Tracker. Or, your youngsters can stay in touch and get video phone calls from Santa himself with the Santa Video Call and Tracker app.

7.  Holiday Greetings and Digital Thank You Notes

If your children have started communicating with friends and relatives via messaging apps and email, they can use digital devices to spread holiday cheer and show gratitude for gifts. Canva and Adobe Spark both offer free online e-card design tools.

Kids will have a blast customizing holiday e-cards from Jib Jab with the faces of friends and family. These are the folks who brought us the hilarious Elf Yourself videos.

And, while they’re looking for something to do during the holiday break from school, your kids can send thank you messages or connect with long-distance relatives for a video chat. What better way to express appreciation to Aunt Jackie for those fuzzy pajamas than a FaceTime or Skype call?

Enjoy Peace on Earth and in Your Home

This year, give your family the gift of a better way to manage screen time and increase opportunities for family time.

At TechDen, we know setting limits and creating healthy habits doesn’t have to involve arguments and strife. Our system unites hardware and software to create a unique parenting tool that encourages collaboration and personal responsibility.

Find out more about the TechDen Story and see how we’re helping families discover the benefits of balanced screen time.