How I Plan To Enjoy the Holidays With My Family (Spoiler: There Will Be TV!)

With the holidays approaching, I’m thinking primarily about two things: (1) how grateful I am for all the wonderful people in my life, and (2) what in the world I am going to do with my children while they are home from school. In warm weather, the second question is easier to answer because we can spend a lot of time outside. But in 15-degree weather (before factoring the wind chill!), I’m evaluating my “indoor” options.

I know the content of media matters much more than the amount of time spent ‘watching screens.’

My children have old standbys: reading, playing with blocks and toys, or jumping from the couch in a way that momentarily stops my heart—but even these activities will last only so long. And so, I’m faced with turning to my good friends, Mr. TV and Mrs. iPad. Now, I’m a trained developmental psychologist who, for more than a decade, has studied the effect of media and technology on young children. I’ve studied the literature, and I know the content of media matters much more than the amount of time spent “watching screens.” In my professional life, I will passionately argue about why the idea of “screen time” is itself a ridiculous concept and borderline meaningless. Frequently, I address talking with children about what they’re seeing and playing.

But I have to admit, sometimes the social pressures get to me. I’m not completely immune to the cultural guilt that pressures parents to provide constant enrichment. I’m sure in some perfect world, my two-and-a-half-year-old is building the Sistine Chapel from Duplo blocks and creating fanciful one-act puppet plays from the trials and tribulations of Thomas the Tank Engine and his friends. That’s the part of me that causes my eye to twitch when my child wants to watch the fourth episode in a row of “Super Why,” even though we both agreed that the third episode would be the last.

Then my training kicks in. I do an old-fashioned Google search in my brain for the appropriate research (query: “Will my child be unable to compete in a hypercompetitive 21st-century economy if he watches more than 90 minutes of TV four days in a row when it’s unusually brisk outside?”), and I remember that I’m overthinking it. A simpler mental checklist comes into play: Is he watching or playing something appropriate? Check. Does he still do other activities? Check. Can I talk to him about what he’s watching or playing? Check.

I even secretly like making digital cupcakes with my son, even though he puts approximately 40 jelly beans and 55 candles on each cupcake.

The great thing about having time off during the holidays is that there’s plenty of time to do plenty of things. That extra free time is a great opportunity to bond with family, even over media. I can’t think of a particularly good reason why I’d want to deprive my son of something he enjoys—something that has been shown to have positive effects when used appropriately. There’s a glut of high-quality content out there to be enjoyed. I even secretly like making digital cupcakes with my son, even though he puts approximately 40 jelly beans and 55 candles on each cupcake. I was a kid not too long ago, and I loved all video-game related things. I sometimes feel like I’m secretly grooming an ideal “Player 2” who will someday rise up and crush me at all the games I used to be good at. But, he will excitedly talk to me about it while he’s doing it, and it will be something that we always share.

So, as the holidays pass by, I will be giving some additional gifts this year. I will give my child the opportunity to consume good media and play with technology (probably a little more than normal) and I will refrain from giving myself a guilt trip over something I know can be part of a healthy, balanced childhood. Enjoy your families, and Happy Holidays!

Photo/Mr Seb

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