What's topping your kids' holiday wish lists this year? Chances are it has a screen, Internet access, and games. And if they're lucky enough to unwrap a Nintendo Wii U or an iPad Mini, then it's up to you to figure out how to balance the fun with family time. (See our editors' picks for Wii U games and iPad apps.)
As much as we all love and depend on our high-tech toys, our reliance on them -- let's face it -- can get in the way of the warm and cozy family time we so carefully scheduled (probably on our electronic calendar!).
An outright ban on digital devices won't win your kids' respect -- or compliance. But with a little planning and intentional involvement, you can balance your family's tech activities with much-needed face time. Here's how:
1. Be jolly -- but firm. Explain to your kids that you want to downsize -- not demolish -- your family's reliance on technology over the holidays. Let them know that you'll be enforcing stricter time limits to create more quality family time. And tell them that the rules will apply to the grown-ups as well!
2. Make a list (and check it with your kids). Schedule some daily tech time for yourself and your kids. Get their input on which devices they absolutely can't live without, and allow some limited use.
3. Have a download derby. Browse the app store together. Look for games and activities that the whole family can enjoy, like our Multiplayer App recommendations.
4. Make setup fun, not frustrating. No matter how easy to use companies make new devices, there's always some (often frustrating) setup time. Truth be told, kids often figure out thorny tech glitches faster than parents, so involve your kids in the process. Use that time to discuss responsible use of the new device.
5. Try some tech togetherness. Unplugging for its own sake isn't the point. Family time is. Plan a night of video games, movies, or maybe preselected YouTube videos that you can all enjoy together.
6. Combine on- and offline activities. Many new devices offer cameras and video-capture cababilities. Have fun documenting your family memories and consider compiling them into journals, cards, and scrapbooks. This is a perfect time to share your own holiday memories with your kids.
7. If no creatures are stirring … don't check your email. Remember, your kids learn their media habits partly from you. Use quiet time to reflect on ways you can maximize the benefits of technology without letting it take over your family's life.
8. Have an old-fashioned holiday. Challenge your family to choose low- or no-tech versions of favorite activities. Generate fun on your own steam -- no WiFi, data, or plugs. When you balance these activities with your usual routine, it may actually make your kids more appreciative of what they have.