Parents concerned about children spending time alone on their computers and other isolating behaviors can use the holiday season to provide “counter-programming” for their children, says the Massachusetts Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children (MSPCC).
“Children can learn valuable lessons about sociability and connection from the holiday traditions that bring people together,” says Mary McGeown, president of MSPCC. “So much about the holidays derives meaning from togetherness, whether families are in churches and synagogues, out shopping, singing carols, or skating at local ponds and rinks.”
“Our favorite seasonal activities are built around breaking the isolation of winter and gathering together in families, faith communities, neighborhoods, and circles of friends. Kids associate the lights and decorations, music and movies with highly social times that stand in stark contrast to time alone at other times of year.”
McGeown says recent publicity about child sexual abuse should remind parents of the dangers of isolation and the importance of engaging with your child; abuse can only flourish when a child is alone, unsupervised with another adult or in contact over the internet. Drawing children into the social festivities of the season gives them a healthier model of interaction and relationship, rooted in meaningful time together in groups.
Much of the rest of the year, McGeown says, these communal activities take a back seat to busy schedules. Parents can help children learn to value and seek out more occasions to be together, and perhaps remind themselves of special memories they treasure from their own childhoods. MSPCC’s mission is to help keep kids safe and thriving, and supporting parents in creating successful families is the best way to achieve that goal. Family-centered holidays help children develop strong identities and values that sustain them in the face of peer influence.
Suggestions for the holidays that reinforce sociability:
- Do things with your children, don’t just arrange activities for them.
- Take part in a neighborhood family event such as caroling or sledding.
- Volunteer together to serve a meal at a homeless shelter or visit local elders.
- Break bread at a special meal that represents family and cultural traditions.
- Tell stories drawn from faith traditions, family histories, or classic literature that remember and reinforce the values of the season.
- Attend a service together that links your family to a wider experience of holiday meaning.