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How To Keep Screens From Stealing Your Holiday | ScreenStrong

It is easier than you think to bypass the screen holiday blues this season

Every year we have high hopes for a storybook Christmas filled with traditions, delicious meals, and warm family connections. We tell ourselves, “If I try harder, I can achieve a peaceful Christmas full of meaning.” But every year around this time our children’s screen habits seem to slowly creep in and steal the Christmas joy we are longing for. 

It starts in the car when you pick up your kids from school on that last day that marks the start of Christmas break. “It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas”. You hum along as you have this timeless Christmas song playing in the background. “This is sure to infuse the Christmas spirit into your kids,” you think. Somehow you believe that the magic of Christmas will really fill the air if you set the mood just right. “This year will be different,” you say to yourself as you pull into the carpool line and the kids pile into the car. This year, you promise to recreate that Norman Rockwell-esk Christmas of long ago. You get excited just thinking about it. Yes, you will have the kind of Christmas you lived as a child before smartphones, tablets, and video games changed everything.

The music happily streams through the car speakers as the kids begin to settle into their seats. “It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas. Everywhere you go,

Take a look at the five and ten, it’s glistening once again with candy canes and  silver lanes that glow.” Slam! The sound of the car door snaps you out of your trance. Suddenly the lofty notion of bringing the Christmas spirit to your typical chaotic car ride home is drowned out by the wailing of your tween son’s voice, “When we get home can we play Fortnite?” Your eight year old intones with perfect timing but with great protest, “It’s not fair! I want to play Roblox, not Fortnite! This time I get to choose!” 

Suddenly the mood shifts, and the cheery music now seems irritating. You hit the mute button and then bamm!, your toddler, still strapped in his car seat, belts out “I want to go first! I didn’t get to finish my game yesterday! I want to play Bluey!” Your “mature” middle school aged daughter confidently asks, “Mom, can I download TikTok this Christmas? Taylor’s Mom is letting her get it.” 

It’s only been one minute since they clammored into the car. You take a deep breath and unmute the music. The sappy song continues, “But the prettiest sight to see is the holly that will be on your own front door.” No pretty sight or hollies to be found here, the only thing that you see is red. The anxiety begins to grow as you sternly think to yourself, “I should have known better!”

How will you get through another holiday having to negotiate between your children’s screen time? 

By the time you pull into the driveway you want to turn around and take them back to school. All of a sudden your Christmas break flashes before your eyes as you white knuckle the steering wheel and envision yourself setting kitchen timers; your boys fighting over the game console; your daughter locked in her room for hours scrolling God knows what on her laptop. The echoing of “Times up! No more screens!” ringing in your head makes you dizzy and you break out into a cold sweat. 

You hear the car door slam as your daughter, the last of your children to get out of the car, asks in a soft concerned voice “Mom, are you okay?” 

You take a deep breath and contemplate the dread the holidays have brought on for the third or fourth year in a row. At this point you’ve lost count. You stopped keeping track after you purchased the first couple of tablets that one fateful Christmas. Ever since then the months and years have blurred into one long screen conflict after another. How did you not see this coming? You open your car door and reluctantly mourn the loss of another peaceful holiday. 

As you step into the house, which is eerily, yet familiarly quiet, you notice  backpacks tossed on the kitchen floor along with the Christmas art projects and gifts—once proudly and carefully displayed around the house. The mad dash to the closest screen is evident as no one is to be seen or heard. The cute Christmas snack you so carefully and lovingly prepared is left untouched.

The battle of the screens has officially begun

The guilt creeps in as you secretly wish they weren’t home for the next two weeks. You admit to yourself that you should have thrown all the screens out the window long ago. Feeling alone and isolated, you feel as if you are the only one dealing with these issues. The screens are invading and morphing your family life into something unrecognizable and undesirable. 

How do your friends deal with this? You are convinced that everyone else’s kids calmly accept all imposed screen limits. Your head is flooded with thoughts that pelt you from every angle. “Perhaps I could have avoided another Christmas such as this. How am I going to deal with Christmas gifts? Their Christmas lists look like inventory of the local Best Buy. If I buy what they really want, this nightmare will never end. If I don’t buy them what they want they will be so disappointed.” 

The thought of spending your holidays watching your kids bow down to their screens makes you sick. Keeping track of everyone’s alloted screen time sends a shudder down your spine. You’ve never had to set a timer for any of their other activities. They’ve never played too much soccer. They’ve never spent too much time reading a book. Those Lego sets don’t need parental controls. If screens are so great for kids, why do they cause meltdowns and force us to enter into negotiations and offer bribes to our ten-year-old turned tyrant? 

The fact is, screentime will always trump taking the Christmas card photo or decorating the tree. It will always be more important to them than making Christmas cookies, planning a party, shopping for presents, or even spending time with Grandpa playing chess. That is how apps and games are designed. Everything Christmas will become a screentime trade, a chore done to get access to the nearest screen.

The song pops back into your head, “Dolls that’ll talk and will go for a walk, Is the hope of Janice and Jen. And Mom and Dad can hardly wait for school to start again. Oh how you can relate to that verse!

Why we bend our screen rules at Christmas

Why do screens seem to dictate our time during the holidays? What is it about screen time that smothers our Christmas spirit?

The first thing that occurs is that we as parents let down our guard. Vacation means that everyone should be allowed to do what they want, right? We are out of our normal routine. Times of transitions—like holidays and vacations—are triggers for bad habits like overeating, overindulging, and overconsumption of screen entertainment. Rules are relaxed and structure is gone along with bedtimes, healthy meals, and sensible rules. We also fall into the trap of thinking that our kids, because they are on break, and have worked so hard, deserve more screen time; after all, that is all they really want. 

And let’s not forget that we believe that we deserve a break too. Don’t we? Let’s face it, the song we’ve been humming describes it best. It paints a picture of a very special time of year, where the sights, sounds and yes, even what we do, is just different and special. Screens are the best babysitter. And free. Why not throw caution to the wind and give in to the screen pressures of the season. 

One simple choice can make all the difference

You suddenly have an idea as you stand in the quiet. Is it possible to do the Christmas break without distracting screens? Could this be the Christmas that you choose to start that new tradition? You don’t have any problems with the traditional Christmas movie nights but maybe, just maybe, this is the moment when you decide to take a stand and eliminate video games, smartphones, and social media from your kids’ holiday agendas. There’s a realization that you do have the power to reclaim Christmas and remove the screen distractions.

You muster up courage from the depths of your soul and you make your way to each of your children. You gently pull the screens from their hands and whisper, “Meet me in the living room”. They stare at you stunned. Some of them stare in silence not quite understanding what is going on. You find courage and confidence with each move you make, afterall, like a good coach, it is your job to make the best choices for your kids. You are determined to take Christmas back for your family. It will take sacrifice, hard work and even some painful moments before you will reap the fruits of this journey ahead. But if you are going to start, you might as well start now! 

Slowly your children begin to cry, whine, complain and yes, even yell as they drag their defeated little bodies to the living room couch. You sit them all down and they squirm and wipe the tears from their eyes. You take a deep breath and gently explain to them that this Christmas will be different. This Christmas will be about family, it will be about them! Not screens! Although you gave up on the Norman Rockwell ideal back when the kids were piling into the car, you realize that you still have great power in your example and your position as a parent. If you remove the screens, you will discover a myriad of opportunities for great family time. Trading a false sense of “screen peace” for real peace will free up valuable time and energy to make a memorable Christmas this year. 

How to beat the screen blues during Christmas 

Here are a few suggestions that will begin to make amends for the all too colorful aforementioned examples of screen conflicts in so many homes across our nation. 

  1. Outdoor activities are probably some of the best ways to replace screen time. Physical activity is bar none the best way to get over the withdrawal your kids will certainly undergo when not having access to screens. The adrenalyn, the vitamin D, the serotonin that will rush through their bodies will begin the actual physiological process of healing and repairing. 
  2. Board games. There is nothing like a good family game night to bring laughter, healthy competition and teamwork around the dining room table. They may complain at first, but eventually the complaints will turn to laughter and guffaws as you set out to just have silly fun. Set out a 1000 piece puzzle in the den for another fun bonding activity. 
  3. Reading aloud. This is great with smaller children but do not discount the older ones.  Reading books together can and should become a great family tradition throughout the year. Choose great classics like “A Christmas Carol”, “Little Women” or “The Polar Express”. Or even read aloud newer favorites that perhaps you’ve watched on T.V. like “A Christmas Story” or “The Grinch Who Stole Christmas.” This is a great way to spend time together – sitting around a fire with hot chocolate in hand and a blanket to snuggle under. Have your older children read to your smaller ones. Or, even choose an audio book you can all listen to. Everyone should have a novel to read on Christmas break.
  4. Bake, bake, bake! Who doesn’t like baking during the holidays? Yes, you may put on a few pounds but you can lose those at the start of your new year’s resolution. Bake for your neighbors, your family members, the mailman, and the UPS guy who will be delivering all those non-tech gifts this season. Make it a tradition to bake together while you listen to Christmas music and think of all the wonderful people you take for granted throughout the year and how you can take the time to thank them now.  Start drawing your children out of their virtual worlds and into the kitchen. Focus on real people we should recognize and thank. 
  5. Visit relatives. Take that 4-5 hour trek across your state or even cross state lines to visit family or friends you haven’t seen in a while. Serve at a local soup kitchen or food pantry. With all that recovered screen time you will have time to do this. If you can’t get to a soup kitchen, your kids can take  cards and crafts to the local nursing home. Giving doesn’t just equate to things wrapped in bright paper. Giving is so much more. Lessons can be learned from all these activities and a great lesson in giving up screen time is that we gain time. Show your children the value of spending real life time, not only virtual time, with others. 

This is the year!

You have everything you need to make this the Christmas that marks a turning point in your family. Christmas 2021 will be the year when entertainment screens took a long vacation, non-tech toys were the rage. This is the year that you reclaimed your kids and rediscovered the true meaning of Christmas! “It is beginning to look a lot like Christmas And soon the bells will start. And the thing that’ll make ’em ring is the carol that you sing Right within your heart.”

For help with detoxing your kids from their screens, become a ScreenStrong Member and take the 30 Day ScreenStrong Challenge found on ScreenStrong.com. Take the new Kids’ Brains and Screens parent online course to gain the education and the foundation you need to reclaim your kids from the virtual world and reconnect your family. 

For more gift ideas, check out ScreenStrong’s “Non-Tech Gift Guide.