If you’re in charge of making this year’s family Thanksgiving one to remember, a potential recipe for disaster is insisting everyone go “cold turkey” on using handheld devices.
No, teenagers shouldn’t be sending Snapchats when grandma asks them repeatedly to pass the cranberry sauce — be in the moment, kids! — but some traditions are bound to change right along with our changing world.
Sudden rule changes can lead to arguments that are less than festive. We also know from research and firsthand experience through our work at Centerstone that there are healthy reasons to stay plugged-in as the holidays take off.
We once lamented when family members couldn’t travel across the country for Thanksgiving, but thanks to Skype and FaceTime it’s easy for that distance to dissolve. Dial up Aunt Sally in Spokane and send her around the table. Is your college student staying on campus to study for upcoming exams? Place an iPad where he usually sits and let him join the warm conversation.
This technology is revolutionizing connectivity in general: parents on business trips don’t have to miss their child’s ball game or a bedtime story routine with their little ones; grandparents are virtually attending weddings from the front row when they otherwise couldn’t make it.
When used in moderation, technology can boost social connection for those who may be isolated during the holidays. By maintaining closer relationships, research shows we feel better physically (longer lifespan) and emotionally (less depressed).
Studies show many kids today are more comfortable communicating electronically and will reveal more to parents through that medium. This doesn’t excuse a lack of face-to-face interaction, but don’t be afraid to embrace the unique opportunities technology presents. (Texting often leads to a steadier flow of communication — more check-ins — between parent and child.)
The digital exchange of funny pictures and videos isn’t a far cry from looking through photo albums or watching TV together.
Did you miss the baby’s hilarious reaction to trying sweet potatoes for the first time at the opposite end of the holiday table? Don’t worry. Someone probably filmed it with their smartphone, published it through Vine and now it’s trending on Twitter.
Constant connection is certainly advantageous in the safety department. Families aren’t usually OK with loved ones scattered around town at 3 a.m., but those pre-dawn Black Friday sales can be irresistible. It’s good knowing everyone is a quick text or call away — especially if help is needed when the “doorbuster” mob appears to be getting out of hand.
Parents rest easier knowing children have a cellphone when out with friends at the mall or a party. They can track the phone’s location and activities as needed. And if a kid lands in a situation that feels wrong, it’s easy to quietly text mom or dad for a way out.
So in this season of Thanksgiving, we can be grateful for advancements in communication. Sure, set boundaries for children (and yourself) such as designated “unplug times,” but also look for ways that new technology can bring families together. Handheld devices don’t have to be divisive.
Centerstone provides comprehensive behavioral health care services in Illinois’ Metro-East region and in Southern Illinois.
Stephanie Terry is a clinical manager for Centerstone (www.centerstone.org) and has been working with children and families for five years.