5 Ideas For Families To Stay Connected Over The Holidays

Digital Media Can Help Bring Relatives Together
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chris.alcoran (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

Holidays often bring to mind iconic images of the whole family gathered around the dinner table. But when the imaginary tinsel and cooking aroma clears, the truth is that many families can't be together during the holiday season. Military deployment, college, separation and divorce, high travel costs, poor health and bad weather can all create barriers to family togetherness.

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 shared conversation about the images allows distant family members to be part of the gathering. With a bit of planning and an internet connection, distant family members can be tied into celebrations in even more meaningful ways.

Here are suggestions for how families can use social media and technology to stay connected during the holiday season.

  1. Recorded book: Someone who is not able to be with a child, grandchild, or even older relative can plan ahead and record her- or himself reading aloud from a book and share the audio or video file. Hearing the voice of a loved one who is far away helps the listener feel loved and cared for.

  2. Electronic greeting card: Even though paper cards sent by postal mail are less popular than they once were, sending greetings and notes is still a good way to remind people they are loved. Parents can help their children send free electronic cards to grandparents and in turn help those grandparents with their replies. Encouraging communication with grandparents teaches a child that family relationships matter.

  3. Digital family chat: Distant members can share time in a video chat or conference call during the holidays. These gathering should be planned in advance. A computer can be placed at the table for chatting during the family meal and gift opening, or grandparents can be conferenced in for children's holiday music programs.

  4. Holiday digital message: Busy is the buzzword of the holiday season, and multiple time zones can make "live" calls or video chats a challenge. If family members cannot connect for a video or voice call, individuals or groups can record a message to be watched or listened when convenient. The recording can be posted on social media or sent privately to family members' chat accounts.

  5. Online gifts: Parents can help children to order online gifts for distant relatives. Encouraging children to give gifts teaches them to care for other people and think from other perspectives: "I know you like action figures, but what things does Mom really like?"

More ideas about positively incorporating technology into family life are available at eParenting High Tech Kids, which provides parents and other caring adults ways to connect with children and adolescents using digital media.

Anne Clarkson is a digital parenting education specialist with University of Wisconsin-Extension Family Living Programs. She writes for several online parenting resources including two UW-Extension publications for parents of teens: eParenting High Tech Kids and Parenthetical.

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