Holidays often bring to mind iconic images of the whole family gathered around the dinner table or opening gifts. When the imaginary tinsel and turkey aroma clears, however, the truth is that many families cannot be together during the holidays. Separation, divorce, military deployment, college, high travel costs, poor health, and bad weather all create barriers to family togetherness during the holidays.
Although in-person celebrations may not be possible, technology and social media are tools families can use to stay connected. For example, posting photos on Facebook or Instagram and engaging in a family conversation about the photos allows distant family members to be part of the day. With a bit of planning and an Internet connection, you can tie distant family members into celebrations in even more meaningful ways.
Anne Clarkson, digital parenting education specialist with the University of Wisconsin-Extension, works on issues at the intersection of family life and technology. She offered several suggestions for how families can use social media and technology to stay connected during the holiday season.
- Record a book. Not able to be with your child, grandchild, or even older relative for the holidays? Plan ahead and record yourself reading a book. Listening to the book when you are away can help your dear one feel your love and caring.
- Mail an eCard. Sealed with a kiss. We may not send many cards by snail mail any more, but sending cards and notes are still a good way to remind people we don’t see often that we love them. Help your child send free e-cards to grandparents and encourage grandparents to send them to your child in return. By encouraging your child to communicate with his or her grandparents, you show your child that family relationships matter.
- Hold a digital family chat. Plan a video chat or conference call during the holiday. Try setting the computer at a place at the table and chatting during the family meal or conference call grandparents in for your children’s holiday music program or gift opening.
- Send online gifts. Help your child to order an online gift and send it to your distant relative. By encouraging your child to give gifts, you are teaching your children to care for other people and think from other perspectives (“I know you like action figures but what things does Mom really like?”).
- Create a holiday video message. Busy is the buzzword of the holiday season and multiple time zones can make “live” calls or video chats a challenge. If you cannot connect for a call, record a video message and send it to your dear ones to be watched when convenient. Post the video on social media or send it privately to your family member’s video chat account.
For more ideas about how to positively incorporate technology into family life visit the eParenting® website. eParenting® contains many ideas on how to use technology to parent effectively and is geared towards families with children aged 9 to 14 and co-parenting families.