Screen-free over Christmas

Christmas 2020 will be a very new experience for every family on Earth. The Covid-19 crisis has transformed the way we live, work and socialise. This is a time for us to look closely at our relationship with technology, and the screens that we are spending our days in front of. Many of us would love to close Pandora’s Box back up, and get rid of some of the technology that has so changed our way of life. Now, with social distancing limiting our time with other people, smartphones have become even more important for keeping connected. Really, our screens have kept us sane during this pandemic! While we may not be able to see an end to smartphones anytime soon, it is still important to think about balancing their place in the lives of our family and children.

Coming into Christmas, connecting as a family is more important than ever. Many parents will already be used to having smartphones at the dinner table, in the middle of conversations, and even in the presence of other screens, like television! There’s an idea out there that children nowadays are learning to ‘multi-task’, to do ten things at once. This is a myth. The majority of older children, adolescents, and adults can naturally control their use of smartphones. The problem is, smartphones and apps are designed to be addictive and attractive. The main way they do this is by having lots of notifications. That buzzing feeling in your pocket, the pinging sound – it’s hard to resist!

Eating at home together is one of the last social occasions that this pandemic hasn’t completely taken away from families. The advent of smartphones and eating in front of the TV has minimized that special sense of dinner as being a time to reconnect with the family. Dinner can be a time to hear about people’s day, to talk about the news, school, sports, or whatever particularly unites a family. Smartphones at the dinner table and a TV on in the background take away from that special sense of dinner as a time to reconnect with the family. Our attention becomes so divided that we really are paying attention to nothing! So, this Christmas, let’s make dinner that little bit more special. A screen-free dinner routine is a gift, giving each other your undivided attention for at least one hour of the day.

The Christmas season gives us an excuse to find other ways to connect as a family. Board games and card games can be a great way to switch off from our screens and be social. These activities cater to different aged children really well. Wrapping presents is another opportunity for the family to bond over, as is decorating a Christmas tree!

By setting aside quality time together over Christmas, we can help our children to reduce the amount of time they spend on screens. It will always be a balancing act, since technology develops and changes so quickly. Getting that balance right is key to keeping up good relations in the family. Then, the time our children do spend with the family will hold more meaning and value for them.

Top Tips For All The Family

  • Find the settings on your devices to switch off notifications for everything except direct messages – take back control of the time you spend on the phone!
  • Start with screen-free dinners in the run up to Christmas, and with luck you’ll get into a routine to keep this quality time in the New Year as well!
  • Beware the dangers of double-screening (two screens at once) – one thing at a time is usually the best rule of thumb.
  • Christmas is a wonderful time for celebration, but it can also be a difficult and lonely time for many people – be sure to keep contact by phone calls and other socially-distant means to show people that we are all in this Covid-Christmas together.

This article was contributed by Oisín Carey, Assistant Psychologist with Primary Care Child and Family Psychology Services and a member of Parenting Limerick. Parenting Limerick is a network of parenting and family support organisations.