With Christmas just around the corner, it’s hard not to feel a sense of nostalgia for the unbridled enthusiasm we once all experienced when we were young. Christmas is a truly magical time of the year for children.
Of course, as you grow older, you learn that what is truly most magical about Christmas is not the presents under the tree, but rather the coming together of loved ones. It’s a time to press pause on mundane or chaotic daily routines and truly relish the time spent with friends and family.
At least, that’s what Christmas ought to be about.
Joanne Orlando of the Sydney Morning Herald believes that, “our fixation with technology has created new routines that are very different from traditional notions of family time” and, whether you resent or embrace technology, it’s difficult to deny that its prominence in modern society has redefined family time.
While each and every family has their own unique traditions for the holiday season, Christmas is widely considered to be a time for spending with family — and this has been the case since long before the advent of smartphones and social media. Nowadays, it’s important to reflect on the ways in which smartphones and other digital devices affect family time, both in terms of quantity and quality.
Technology can certainly have a negative impact on family time, but it’s worth noting that this is not a new fear: when the telephone was first invented, people were terrified that it would disrupt family harmony. Yet, fast forward more than a century and most of us can agree that the telephone does a great deal more to connect us than it does to drive us apart.
Of course, nowadays we have smartphones, tablets, gaming consoles and social media each acting as a distraction — so it’s easy to understand why parents may fear that these devices will disrupt family harmony. If this is a fear you’re experiencing, then you may want to ask yourself if you are modelling the behaviour that you want to see from your children...
It’s clear from labels such as ‘iGen’ and ‘iPhone zombies’ that society views today’s younger generations as being addicted to their digital devices. While it’s certainly true that today’s children and teens are growing up immersed in a world of technology, it often seems as though there is a gap in our collective self-awareness: are we, as adults, not also guilty of using these devices somewhat excessively?
If you want to ensure that your children look up from their screens this Christmas, then the first step is to ensure that you’re willing to do the same. Put your phone on silent, mute work email notifications, or just simply turn it off.
Secondly, no one wants a ‘cold turkey’ at Christmas. Instead of expecting your child not to play their favourite video-game at all this Christmas, why not make it an interactive family experience and play the game with them? Alternatively, try limiting the time they can spend playing, instead of imposing blanket bans.
Also, we’re all guilty of wanting to recreate our own childhood memories of Christmas. For those of us that grew up Internet-free, festivities might have included board games, family walks, or baking. These are all wonderful family activities, but there’s no reason that you can’t also embrace digital activities these holidays. Why not sit down as a family and watch a Christmas film?
Finally, it’s customary for people to connect with friends and family members at Christmas time. For those that can’t be there in person, you may prefer to simply give them a call, throw them a text, or FaceTime with them. Young people are the same, only they use a multitude of different social platforms to keep in touch with their friends. It’s a good idea to enforce some device free time to avoid having your child messaging all through dinner, repeatedly checking notifications during a movie, or taking selfies when other family members are opening their presents — but you might want to let them occasionally check their phones and reply to messages so that they feel connected to their friends.
The best way to minimise the negative impact of technology on family time is to establish rules, enforce them (and have proportionate consequences when those rules are broken), be a role-model, and to encourage healthy habits. For help coming up with a family media agreement, click here — or to learn more about encouraging healthy social media habits, click here.
Kate Goodin. The Long-Term Effects of Technology on Family Time
Joanne Orlando, 2013. Technology harming family life? Blame the parents
Edsys. Effect of Technology on Family time: Positive or Negative?