(Photo: Unsplash/Kelly Sikkema)

For a number of years now, she has been my trusted companion during the run up to Christmas. Always by my side, she is loyal and attentive, bringing me what I need at any time of the day or night, and sometimes even helping me discover things I didn’t know I needed in the first place.

Colourful and interesting, she is great company; in fact, she’s so easy to spend time with, the hours slip by without me realising it. Dressed for this season in Yuletide green, she assists me in managing my to-do list, orders my turkey, helps me source lights for the tree, pays for a gingerbread latte, and even organises carols on my playlist.

And during this present uncertain time, she reassuringly makes sure my NHS Covid pass is to hand.

Let me introduce you to my smartphone. Since I first bought her, she has revolutionised my life – so much so that I’m not sure I could imagine life without her.

Of course, the advantages of the digital world aren’t limited to this season of goodwill; the ability to connect digitally has thrown us a lifeline throughout the pandemic. And during the last two years, our relationship with technology has undergone a paradigm shift.

Professor Sonia Livingstone from the London School of Economics comments: ‘We’ve moved, I’d suggest, from seeing technology as a valued addition to our lives, to seeing technology as vital infrastructure. And as Covid-19 has made really clear, for young people especially, life is digital by default.’

But for all the advantages of technology, there is a shadow side, and one subject in particular is likely to dominate family celebrations: the hotly contested issue of screen time!

And at least since the invention of the smartphone in 2007, it was ever thus. Even the most laidback parent will feel their blood pressure rise at the sight of their children, oblivious to the world around them, scrolling endlessly through Instagram posts of #Christmas2021, seasonal TikTok videos, or YouTube Yuletide pranks.

And in addition to worries about the sheer number of hours children are spending glued to glowing screens, and the effect this has on their wellbeing, many parents have bigger concerns. Other dangers surrounding technology – addiction to gaming, the impact of online bullying, and exposure to porn, to name just a few – are keeping them up at night.

So as families gather this Christmas, perhaps with digital devices waiting under the tree, here are some practical ways for parents to avoid becoming the Scrooge of Tech, while at the same time not allowing digital devices to dominate the entire festive season.

  • Get everyone together with some drinks and snacks and create a ‘Christmas Family Media Agreement’ that sets out ground rules for using devices over the Christmas holiday. The key is for everyone – including parents – to sign up!
  • Set a good example – our children take their cue from us, so remember to keep your own screen time under control.
  • Enjoy some screen-free activities – play a board game or go out for a walk.
  • Spend an evening watching your favourite Christmas film together.
  • Sit down together for meals and ban devices at the table.
  • Encourage digital creativity – take a fun family photo, make a festive video, or create a family Christmas playlist.
  • Keep devices out of the bedrooms, so everyone gets a good night’s sleep.
  • For young children, arrange for grandparents or other family members living away to read a story over Zoom.
  • Take an interest in your child’s gaming or other digital activity and, where appropriate, join in.
  • And, finally, take a moment to put your phone on silent, to pause, and to remember what this season is really all about – the baby born in Bethlehem who came to bring peace and hope to a broken and weary world. 

Katharine Hill is the author of Left to Their Own Devices, published by Care for the Family priced £12.99.

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