I was in the kitchen the other day making dinner and sharing idle conversation with my 14-year-old son. At least, I thought I was. It wasn’t until I received several monosyllabic responses back that I realized he wasn’t really paying attention. He was wrapped up in a furious texting session instead. And it got me thinking.
That phone was his gift from us last Christmas and this year he’s already asking for the upgraded version. While smartphones, tablets and other gadgets sure do serve to distract and entertain us, I have to question—how meaningful are they, really? Is there a better way of giving a gift that will have a longer lasting impact?
It’s not just my son, either. Already more than half of Gen-Z rather dramatically state that they “can’t live” without YouTube. I’m not free from blame either. In fact, are any of us? The average adult spends more than 10 hours a day staring at screens. We’re getting more and more connected with the outside world and distancing ourselves from those nearest to us as a result.
I firmly believe that there is a way to combine all this online connectivity healthily into our lives and to make our gifts to our digitally-distracted family members more meaningful. Here are a four ways we can do that.
Family Game Night
Your teenagers might balk at the idea of a family game night at first, especially if you decide to go traditional and crack out the board games. But beyond giving you all a much-needed break from your screen time, you’ll be bestowing your kids the gift of your time. And time spent together as a family isn’t just a nice idea, it’s been proven over and again to be crucial to your children’s well being and development.
The more you can get your brood together the better, in fact. Shared family time has been linked to higher academic success and fewer behavioral problems in children. And let’s face it, for us adults, it also forces us put our own screen time in check. Games like Werewolf and Fluxx are great for older kids, while Jenga and Hoot Owl Hoot are better for younger ones.
If you’re not a fan of board games or you think your kids might not be willing, try a family bowling night, tickets to the Cineplex or a simple movie night at home instead. The main point here is to make it a regular fixture that lasts throughout the year and leaves a positive mental footprint in your kids’ lives.
What better way of fostering family time and giving a meaningful gift than splashing out on some decent camping equipment? Being around nature is said to make us happier, and children especially can benefit from playing in the great outdoors. So, get geared up and prepare to spend family weekends and vacations throughout the year, making memories around the campfire.
If this sounds like a totally abhorrent idea to you, ditch the chunk of canvas. But make a commitment to family outings, hikes or even “glamping,” where you get to spend some time outdoors, while limiting your technology addiction.
Set Up a Capsure Group
This is the part where I tell you it’s okay if your family are like the rest of Americans, where 85 percent of teens have a cell phone. Our lives aren’t the same as they were when we were growing up—and I think we need to embrace technology, rather than avoid it, as long as we use it more responsibly.
So, set limits and rules about when the phones and tablets can be used and make sure that no one has theirs turned on during dinner. And to get everyone together both offline and on this year, set up a family Capsure group. Capsure is an app that allows you to incorporate technology into your special occasions and record and preserve memories.
Challenge your kids to “capsure” specific moments, like hanging the lights on the tree, baking Christmas cookies or stuffing the turkey. It’s a great way of giving your teens the technology fix they need while focusing on the family.
Pick a Project
Picking a project that you can dedicate time to as a family isn’t only a way to give a meaningful gift to those closest to you. You can use your collective energy to give back something positive to the world as well. So, think of the causes that your brood identify with the most. Maybe you can dedicate time to cleaning up your local beach or helping out at a food kitchen. Perhaps you can sponsor a child in an underdeveloped country and spend time as a family writing good old-fashioned letters and taking pictures to send. You’ll be educating your kids about real life outside of their social circles and doing good at the same time.
Meaningful gifts don’t have to be material. In fact, countless studies have shown that material goods only serve to make us more miserable. And while we may not be able—or even want—to cut technology out from our lives completely, we can still make the technology we do use meaningful. So let’s harness it to make memories, rather than just collecting junk or upgrading your cell phone.