Holiday break time is a welcome respite from the grind of daily school schedules for many families, yet it can be all-too-easy for children to nestle up with their favorite device and let the algorithm guide them into extended online content consumption sessions. How can families avoid a screen time free-for-all with a minimum of conflict or friction? Read below for helpful tips from parenting experts, researchers, and clinicians on how to navigate holiday break time with children and their screens.

Set Goals

Encourage your child to make a list of things they want to do or accomplish with their extra time. Maybe they want to learn a new skill or spend more time practicing an old one, see friends, read a book, make something from scratch, or help someone in need. Everyone in the family can make their own list, and then together you can work towards completing them.

Go Screen-free

If you haven’t already done so, agree upon spaces in home or specific times all screens will be put away. This might include meal times, car rides, or specific family events like game nights or walks in the park. Some families take a “digital Sabbath” once during a weekend. Phones and other personal screens are completely out of sight during these times. Don’t forget to follow this rule yourself, too!

Spice Up Mealtime Convo

Make family dinnertime more interesting with conversation starters and leave your screens off the table. Ask questions like, if you could travel back in time, when would it be? If you would travel anywhere in the world, where would it be? Ask each family member to name one thing that they are curious about. Have each child share what he or she would like to be when they grow up. Look online for some interesting statistics from 2022 and ask your family questions like, What country in the world consumes the most candy per capita per year? Who was the most influential thinker who ever lived? Bring up an issue and try arguing for or against. You may be surprised how much your family has to say!

Embrace Boredom

It’s okay to be bored! Resist the urge to hand over a screen and let your child sit in their boredom. It might be uncomfortable at first, but it has many benefits for developing (and overworked) brains, including self-awareness, creativity, and rest.

Create and Explore Together

Breaks are the perfect time to work together on a family project. Wax nostalgic sharing old family stories your kids might not know, looking back at and organizing or digitizing old photos, and/ or exploring your ancestors’ journeys by creating a family genealogy. Creating new spaces in your home or working on a family art project to hang in the kitchen are also great ways to spend time together and give everyone a sense of purpose and accomplishment.

Find Balance

When school is out, it can be tempting to go into full relaxation mode. Encourage your children to use this time for personal growth, or learning things they may not have time for during a usual school week. This time can be balanced with time for general entertainment or rest, and you may even set different screen time allowances for each. Whether just having fun, learning something new, or connecting with friends and family – on screens or off screens – it’s important to help your children find balance in their time spent doing different activities.

Get Engaged

Try to take your own break from work and other responsibilities to engage in screen-free fun with your child. Brainstorm media free things you can do, like a trip to the zoo, a walk around the neighborhood, a scavenger hunt (indoors or outdoors, depending on weather), or building a fort! The options are endless and can take anywhere from 5 minutes to a whole day – so get creative and encourage your children to do the same.

Take Breaks

If your children are getting screen time, make sure they take a 10-15 minute break every hour or so. This break can be anything that doesn’t involve technology, but the more active or social the break, the better. This will help “reset” their brain and prevent tech overload.

Take Time For Others

Make time for acts of service. Serve food at a local soup kitchen or help at a community garden, or donate clothing, food, or toys. Research options in your community, encourage your teens to help with the search, and give back as a family

Share The Love

Encourage everyone in your household to share the love with someone each and every day! Give a hug (to someone in your house!), write a personal holiday card, create a homemade holiday gift, enjoy each person’s favorite meal just because it’s their favorite, send a holiday music video to grandma and grandpa – the possibilities are endless!

Stick To Routine

It’s okay to make some exceptions during holiday breaks, especially if extracurricular activities are on hold, but try to stick to your usual routines and rules around screen time, including no screen time before bed! If you’re going to allow additional screen time during breaks, try to incorporate it earlier in the day.

Stay Connected

Adolescence is marked by the increasing importance of friendships, but holidays with family can make in-person peer socializing difficult. Encourage face-to-face gatherings, but also allow space for your teen to actively connect with their friends online, whether that’s through video chatting, texting, gaming, or active communication on social media. Establish ground rules early to make sure this time is limited and balanced with time for family and other activities.

Motivational Interview Activity

Motivational interviews are conversations that can help children understand their own motivations for change. Having these conversations can help children find their own reasons for reducing screen time and engaging in other activities. Here are guidelines from “Motivational Interviewing: A Primer for Child Welfare Professionals.”

When talking to kids about screen time, practice your OARS skills! 

    • Open ended questions
  • Affirm a child’s experience
  • Reflect out-loud on what a child says
  • Summarize their reflections

Productive conversations can follow 4 phases. Importantly, they don’t have to happen in this order. Do what works best for you and your kids.

  • Engaging: Understand why a child is using screens: Ask why a child is using screens. Maybe they miss their friends? Maybe they can’t think of anything else to do?
  • Focusing: Focus on a specific goal! Keep things focused on reducing screen time.
  • Evoking: What are the child’s motivations to achieve that goal? Does your child want a cleaner room, and why? Do they want to learn a new hobby? If they’re feeling isolated during a break, are there activities that would help?
  • Planning: Develop a plan to achieve that goal. You can plan to organize their room for 1 hour a day. Or you can schedule time to practice something they’re interested in. The plan may also include identifying what help they need (a ride to the grocery store) to accomplish their goal.

Thanks to our experts!

We would like to acknowledge the contributions of the following experts through our Ask the Experts webinars, Guidelines for Parents, and Tips for Parents columns.

Jessica Hartshorn, Parents

Kathy Hirsh-Pasek,PhD, Temple University, Brookings Institution

Laura Markham, PhD, Aha! Parenting

Juliana Miner, MPH, George Mason University

Martin Paulus, MD, Laureate Institute for Brain Research

Arlene Pellicane, MA, author

Larry Rosen, PhD, California State University, Dominguez Hills

Yalda Uhls, PhD, University of California, Los Angeles