Is Unplugging Always Best? Balancing Technology Use at the Holidays

by Leticia Barr- December 16, 2013 • 9:13 pm

Ah, the holidays. It’s a time that makes us feel like we should be working less, focusing on spending time together as a family, and unplugging to enjoy the season. But how realistic is that and is it really feasible or even optimal?

Maybe it’s not so mentally healthy to get completely wrapped up in parental inadequacies thanks to the abundance of Elf on the Shelf photos on Pinterest that make us feel badly about the things we’re not doing for our kids. However, technology can also bring people together, serve as a huge organizational helper in completing the many tasks that need to be done for the season, while also helping to manage stress by saving us time and even money as we manage finances and stick to a budget. The trick is to find the right balance to ensure that technology is being helpful rather than a detrimental time suck.

As the holidays approach, I always look forward to taking some time off to spend with my family but just because I’m working less and the kids are on vacation, doesn’t mean that my family is completely unplugged. Last year we got a new touchscreen desktop PC before Christmas and one of the most memorable moments of the season was the joy of watching our then six year old son sit down with my Dad to teach him how to use it. The touch screen experience through Windows 8 was something my Mac-using Dad was completely unfamiliar with so it made our son the tech expert, a role he loved! In a matter of minutes, the two were swiping to browse photos on Bing Travel, talking about places around the world that my parents had visited or ones we’d like to explore as a family, and bringing over a globe for an impromptu geography lesson. I loved the way that technology inspired teachable moments for two different generations that came together to learn and teach each other.

As close as my family is, we’re not physically close since they live on the opposite coast but even though they can’t be with us in person, we’re constantly relying on technology to stay in touch. It’s not uncommon for my mom and I to plan Christmas Eve dinner and brunch on Christmas Day through email, exchanging links to tasty recipes that we’ve found online for each other to vet for our meals, and touching base quickly via Skype when my kids video chat. Maybe one day I’ll get my mom to use a shared Google Doc but for now, our system is working pretty well! From our emails, I’ll create a shopping list on the web-based version of Cozi that I can pull up on my phone when I’m out running errands. Being able to communicate and streamline tasks thanks to technology is a great time and sanity saver, plus it ensures that I get everything done so I can relax once our guests arrive and enjoy the celebration!

We have also found that it’s much easier on generous gift-giving friends, relatives, and grandparents who insist on giving our kids presents to coordinate purchases via Amazon Wish Lists. For years our kids have had their own private wish lists on Amazon, accessible to a select group of individuals who can see a carefully curated set of items, often chosen from a much broader list made by each child. Gift givers can go online, select the things that they’d like to give, and quickly make the purchase and have it sent to us, also ensuring that they get a good price on their purchase and the kids don’t get duplicate gifts. Hooray for efficiency and avoiding those dreaded post-holiday return lines!

In the days following the holidays when gifts are unwrapped and the kids are out of school, you better believe that we bond over technology. This year the Xbox One is on the way and with new technology that allows for voice commands and a better Kinect experience than previous versions, we’ll need some family bonding time to familiarize ourselves with our new gaming system as we work off the endless amounts of tasty cookies we’ve baked and consumed in previous days.

Being able to reflect on how our family uses technology around the holidays makes me realize that our balanced approach has taken time to develop and is constantly evolving based on our needs. As our kids have become older and have demonstrated responsible uses of technology and monitor their own screen time, my husband and I are able to loosen the reins a little bit and allow them to confidently explore, but within reason. After all, they’re still in elementary school and there are days where I tell them that they’ve had too much screen time and it’s time to unplug in favor of things like a family game of Monopoly, long wintery walks with the dog, or a tasty cooking project. There’s a time and a place for technology in our home at the holidays and throughout the year.

So even if I was never a mom who adopted an Elf on the Shelf, I feel pretty good about what we’re doing with technology in our home and can choose to stay off Pinterest so those boards with elaborately posed elves won’t make me feel too guilty!

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