When families come together for Christmas, they bring their values and routines with them as well. Increasingly—perhaps even unconsciously—those are shaped by a relationship to technology. Everything from gift lists and free time to furniture arrangements and dinner conversation communicates something about our tech priorities.
These are topics explored at length in Andy Crouch’s recent book, The Tech-Wise Family (recently named a recipient of a 2018 Christianity Today Book Award). Barna research conducted for the book shows that technology is the top reason parents today believe it’s never been harder to raise children. At Christmas, that might be even more true, as parents face a dilemma in buying the coolest new Apple product or video game for teenagers, or struggle to create meaningful moments when everybody from the grandparents to the grandchildren is on a smartphone.
Here are some key statistics and helpful tips to make yours a tech-wise home for the holidays.Only 13 percent of parents say technology has added joy to their lives. Click To Tweet
Think twice about the deal on that device.
Given the ubiquity of technology—for example, almost all teens (88%) and about half of preteens (48%) have phones—it might seem unpopular or impossible to say no to the video game, tablet or other new technology your kid has on their wish list. But consider how your gifts might influence your child’s ability to be present and creative, knowing that only 13 percent of parents say technology has added joy to their lives. Crouch advocates for a screen-free childhood until age 10, as well as filling a home with “things that reward skill and active engagement” (arts and crafts, books, instruments, etc.).
If gifting devices, have limits for usage already in mind.
If you do decide to give (or ask for!) gadgets this Christmas, present a plan for using them purposefully. A majority of parents limit the hours their child can spend with devices (60%) or watching TV (59%). By mediating access to screens and entertainment, Crouch says, you can shape a childhood “grounded in the beautifully simple and endlessly complex created world.” Barna’s research shows that kids also wish their parents weren’t on their phones so much, so the adults in the home should be ready to embrace the same or similar guidelines.
Protect time at the table, even during large gatherings.
One in five parents (21% strongly + somewhat agree) says family conversations are stunted because of time spent on phones, and 42 percent say devices are a significant disruption to family meals. Even if you regularly observe no-phone zones, celebrations might seem like difficult days to go without one, as you’re watching movies, texting friends and documenting moments. But enforcing no screens at the table for parents and children—perhaps also for visiting relatives—will make for rich memories and meal times.
Take a social media break.
Sixty percent of U.S. adults say they never step away from social media. Crouch mentions his own family sets aside one hour of the day, one day of the week and one week of the year for an “electronic sabbath.” If your family has never followed this kind of schedule, could Christmas break—when children are home from school, parents are vacationing from work and the days are stretching long—be a good week to delete the apps and focus on intentional, in-person family activities?
Examine the emotional center of your home.
Two-thirds of parents (65%) say time spent as a family most often occurs in their living room. This is also the space in which leisurely (79%) or creative (51%) activities are concentrated. Perhaps when you take down the tree and rearrange the sofas, you might take the chance to consider long-term plans for a low-tech living room. Crouch urges, “Move the TV to a less central location—and ideally a less comfortable one. And begin filling the space that is left over with opportunities for creativity and skill, beauty and risk.”
Advent and Christmas provide times for families to, as Crouch says, “take advantage of the almost inexhaustible supply of magnificently singable Christmas carols.” But as a sizeable one-quarter of parents says it’s been more than a year since they attended a church service outside of a holiday, wedding or funeral, it’s possible many families aren’t regularly participating in worship—a discipline that, Crouch writes, “reminds us of the true shape of life” when practiced corporately and individually. “As much as possible, we’ll sing at home, when friends and family gather, as we clean up the kitchen and fold the laundry, as we celebrate holidays like Christmas and Easter.”
Read The Tech-Wise Family for more insight into “the proper place for technology” as well as a series of practical nudges, disciplines and choices that can help you and your family keep technology in its proper place.
About the Research
In partnership with Andy Crouch, Barna Group conducted a public opinion survey among 1,021 U.S. parents, nationally representative of parents with children ages 4–17 who live in their home at least 50 percent of the time. The survey was conducted in January and February of 2016. The sampling error for this study is plus or minus 3 percentage points, at the 95% confidence level. Minimal statistical weighting was used to calibrate the sample to known population percentages in relation to demographic variables.
February 3-11, 2015 Study
This research contains data from a study conducted among 1,000 U.S. adults conducted online from February 3 to February 11, 2015. The estimated maximum sampling error for this study is plus or minus 3.1 percentage points at the 95 percent confidence level.
Barna research is a private, non-partisan, for-profit organization under the umbrella of the Issachar Companies. Located in Ventura, California, Barna Group has been conducting and analyzing primary research to understand cultural trends related to values, beliefs, attitudes and behaviors since 1984.