How can parents encourage a screen-free holiday break for their kids?

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Staying connected and making holiday memories often means putting down devices for kids and teens

There is no shortage of studies that have looked at the ways that too much time in front of screens can be detrimental to kids. Researchers have found that excessive screen time can affect everything from kids’ vision, to physical health, and overall mental well-being

With the holidays right dead ahead, kids are gearing up for holiday break. With electronics an ever-present part of our day-to-day lives, how can parents ensure they’re actually connecting and spending time with their kids when they’re not in school? 

Children and Screens: Institute of Digital Media and Child Development is a nonprofit organization that works to understand the media’s impact on child development. This holiday season, it's offering parents 13 tips on how to encourage ditching screens and creating more personal connections with kids. 

“The holidays can be a period of increased screen time for kids, whether it’s more time playing video games, scrolling through Instagram, or binging the latest series,” the organization wrote. “But it can also be a great opportunity to establish new habits, spend more quality time with family, and set intentions for the new year.” 

Going screen-free for the holidays

The goal of these tips is to help families spend more time together – and less time looking at tablets, smartphones, laptop screens, and TVs. Here is what experts from Children and Screens recommend for having a screen-free holiday season: 

  • Set Goals: Holidays mean a holiday break. With no school, kids have more free time, and rather than assume they’ll spend that time in front of screens, plan ahead with your little ones. Think about other activities they can engage in, friends or family they can see, or games they can play that don’t involve screens. 

  • Go Screen Free: Create designated times when all devices are put away. Make sure that everyone in the family abides by these rules. With no one in front of screens, it’s the perfect time to connect with each other. 

  • Have Fun with Dinner Time Conversations: Without phones, dinnertime can still be fun and exciting for families. Children and Screens experts encourage families to play games at the dinner table, ask each other interesting questions, or take the time to learn more about each other. 

  • Embrace Boredom: While it may feel difficult for many kids – and parents! – being bored is okay. Not having a phone or computer at the ready gives kids more time to tap into their imaginations and let their minds wander to creative places. 

  • Create and Explore Together: The holidays are a great time to do things as a family. This can mean doing simple activities together, like playing board games or looking through old family photo albums. 

  • Find Balance: Instead of spending all of the holiday break in front of different screens, this is a great opportunity for kids to try an assortment of different things. There’s time to read books, visit with friends or family, participate in holiday traditions, and even have screen time – when it’s balanced with other activities.

  • Get Engaged: The holidays are a great time for parents to join in this screen-free challenge with their kids. Brainstorm ideas of things to do, places to visit, or activities to do together. 

  • Take Screen Time Breaks: Experts recommend that for every hour of screen time, kids take a 10-15 minute break. Any activity that doesn’t involve screens counts as a break. 

  • Take Time for Others: Giving back to those in need – especially during the holidays – can be incredibly fulfilling for families to do together – whether that’s donating clothes or volunteering at local organizations. 

  • Share the Love: Use the holiday break to share love with a family member or friend every day. Children and Screens encourages families to pick a new family member – either who lives in the house, or who’s part of the extended family – or friend every day of the holiday season to shower with love. 

  • Stick to Routine: While the usual day-to-day routine is likely to change without school, it’s still important for kids to have a schedule. Any rules that are typically in effect regarding screen time should be maintained during breaks from school. 

  • Stay Connected: It’s important for kids to feel and stay connected to their friends. Though this is likely to entail a lot of virtual communication with school out of session, balance between screen time and screen-free time is key. 

  • Motivational Interview Activity: Parents can help kids better understand their screen time habits by asking them thoughtful questions. These kinds of conversations can also be more likely to set future change in motion in regard to kids’ screen time habits. 

For more insights on child development and screen time – for the holidays and beyond – visit Children and Screens.

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