Be particularly careful not to use screen time as a reward as the holidays approach. This will naturally diminish children’s expectations they’ll get to spend more time with their electronic devices during the holiday break. Instead, use the opportunity to spend a little with children developing positive screen communication habits. Do this in a natural way, that is similar to reading books aloud to children.

The holidays give us a chance to create community around screens, laugh, cuddle and comment while watching screens together. One idea is to pick a few favorite family movies, then “prime” before starting the films, just as you did before the commercials. This way, you activate different parts of the brain and children anticipate talking about what they saw when the film ends.

You can also acclimate children to think critically while the movie is playing, just by commenting and asking questions. Even doing this sotto voce will get whole brain responses! By habituating kids to listening to you while they are watching, you are able to activate as many parts of the brain as they would use while reading. It’s a fun, sneaky way to make them smarter while watching holiday films.

Let’s circle back for a moment and address the elephant in the screening room. Does the idea of talking during a movie may seem clumsy and counterintuitive to you? Perhaps you’ve worked hard to get your kids to shut up and be quiet watching tv and live performances. You may even have artistic objections and feel that films should be experienced without discourse as a matter of respect.

I appreciate all these objections and still say, talk about films during or after watching them with your kids.  You don’t have to do it every time, just some of the time.

So why do some of us feel such resistance to this idea?  Did reading books aloud to oour children ruin our own love of reading novels or nonfiction? Probably not. Did taking lively nature walks with our children ruin our ability to hike or walk alone, immersing ourselves in nature? Doubtful.  Then why are we so peculiarly protective of our screen experiences, as if these alone should somehow remain sacrosanct and private?

Trust me. Practicing Screen Talk with your children won’t ruin your ability to watch films quietly or absorb yourself in social media. It will, however, give them a fantastic head start on healthy tech habits and critical thinking.