If there is a family gathering in your future, hooray! I’m sure your grandma missed you! Whether you’re all going to her house or having your Friendsgiving over zoom, there are always loved ones to connect with who cannot be there in person.
Set the scene for the holidays: if families are lucky enough to be sitting around the same table to celebrate, their phones are most likely sitting with them. The very same thing that can bring distant relatives into the room can take the people sitting next to each other far, far away, as they drift down the rabbit holes of their social media accounts, games, and anything that idle fingers can find to swipe, while Uncle Ricky recounts every detail of his 5-hour layover at the airport.
How can we structure social media to connect rather than distract from family bonds over the holidays? Try these three healthy recipes!
- Don’t just hand your kid a phone; give your kids good resources to connect with loved ones
Tossing a cellphone into a kid’s hands is like rolling the windows down in a speeding car and telling them to put their heads out; the stimulation is overwhelming, the possibilities scattered and endless. If you create a shared experience for your child and the loved one on the other line, they can find one another through the noise and focus on their connection (and I don’t mean their wifi connection ;)) When you can’t be in-person with family, meet them in a digital space! Try filming shared prompts (Zigazoo is a great inspiration for this!) and zipping them to one another ahead of time. Junior and Auntie Rose can laugh about the videos that they swapped of themselves doing the Thanksgiving push-up challenge or stuffing their cheeks full of marshmallows. If Cousin Jack happens to be tech-savvy on the other line, you can pop a link to a game in the chat and can make memories by drawing, quizzing and guessing together in real time.
- Don’t put a phone in your kid’s hand in the middle of Thanksgiving dinner; do it at the right time
A child’s experience of their world ebbs and flows; they have outward-facing moments and times when they turn inward. Sometimes they respond to structured activities and other times they need free play. Though kids will pretty much stop what they’re doing when offered a screen at any moment, their ability to see beyond the screen to connect with the person on the other side really depends on the timing. At a family gathering, giving a kid a quiet place to jump on Facebook Messenger with their cousins abroad, or carving out time for everyone to sit down together to make the Zoom call can help kids to navigate being present with the person on the other line or the real life activities around them.
- Don’t think kids arrive with good digital etiquette; they need good social manners on phones too
Let me get old fashioned about this new-world issue for a second: putting a phone to your ear is an alien concept to my kids; they are usually looking their family in the face when they talk on the screen, but they are also bombarded with bells and whistles that blur out the conversation. Explicit and modeled social learning about having eye contact, taking turns in conversation, and asking good questions before dialing-in mitigates the need for me to sit there and coach my kid through a phone call (or scold them for playing with the phone instead of talking to Grandpa). Give them a specific focus for the conversation “Can you please give Grandpa a tour of the Thanksgiving table?” “Can you call Cousin Jose and get the recipe for sweet potatoes?”
I hope that these holidays leave you feeling thankful for the people in your life and the many ways that we have to connect with them. We have all had a wake-up call to the importance of community in the last few years, and however it is that you and your kids see the ones you love this season, I hope that you are able to cultivate deep and meaningful connections.