Christmas and Technology: Tips for Monitoring Devices

by David Kinnaman

When families come together for Christmas, they bring their values and routines with them as well. Increasingly—perhaps even unconsciously—those are shaped by a relationship to technology. Everything from gift lists and free time to furniture arrangements and dinner conversation communicates something about our tech priorities.

Drawing from Andy Crouch’s book, The Tech-Wise Family, we’ve compiled some helpful tips to make yours a tech-wise home for the holidays.

Barna research conducted for the book shows that technology is the top reason parents today believe it’s never been harder to raise children. At Christmas, that might be even more true, as parents face a dilemma in buying the coolest new Apple product or video game for teenagers, or struggle to create meaningful moments when everybody from the grandparents to the grandchildren is on a smartphone.

If gifting devices, have limits for usage already in mind.

If you do decide to give (or ask for!) gadgets this Christmas, present a plan for using them purposefully. A majority of parents limit the hours their child can spend with devices (60%) or watching TV (59%). By mediating access to screens and entertainment, you can shape a childhood “grounded in the beautifully simple and endlessly complex created world.” Barna’s research shows that kids also wish their parents weren’t on their phones so much, so the adults in the home should be ready to embrace the same or similar guidelines.

Protect time at the table, even during large gatherings.

One in five parents says family conversations are stunted because of time spent on phones, and 42 percent say devices are a significant disruption to family meals. Even if you regularly observe no-phone zones, celebrations might seem like difficult days to go without one, as you’re watching movies, texting friends and documenting moments. But enforcing no screens at the table for parents and children—perhaps also for visiting relatives—will make for rich memories and meal times. 

Take a social media break.

Sixty percent of U.S. adults say they never step away from social media. Crouch mentions his own family sets aside one hour of the day, one day of the week and one week of the year for an “electronic sabbath.” If your family has never followed this kind of schedule, could Christmas break—when children are home from school, parents are vacationing from work and the days are stretching long—be a good week to delete the apps and focus on intentional, in-person family activities?

Examine the emotional center of your home.

Two-thirds of parents (65%) say time spent as a family most often occurs in their living room. This is also the space in which leisurely or creative activities are concentrated. Perhaps when you take down the tree and rearrange the sofas, you might take the chance to consider long-term plans for a low-tech living room. Crouch urges, “Move the TV to a less central location—and ideally a less comfortable one. And begin filling the space that is left over with opportunities for creativity and skill, beauty and risk.”

Worship together.

Advent and Christmas provide times for families to, as Crouch says, “take advantage of the almost inexhaustible supply of magnificently singable Christmas carols.” But as a sizeable one-quarter of parents says it’s been more than a year since they attended a church service outside of a holiday, wedding or funeral, it’s possible many families aren’t regularly participating in worship—a discipline that, Crouch writes, “reminds us of the true shape of life” when practiced corporately and individually. “As much as possible, we’ll sing at home, when friends and family gather, as we clean up the kitchen and fold the laundry, as we celebrate holidays like Christmas and Easter.”

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