An open letter from Santa about that new digital toy

Dear [insert name of child],

Thank you so much for your letter asking for a [new videogame/new device/3D printer]. I was really impressed with your [handwriting/typing/YouTube video].

Here at the North Pole, we take special care with all the electronics kids ask for at Christmas. Unlike the electronics your parents may buy at other times of the year, all of our games and devices are created by elves who are at least 18 years old, working in well-ventilated workspaces. Whenever possible we like to use recycled materials that reduce the environmental impact of all those metals and plastics, so if you notice that some other electronics have disappeared from your house recently, it’s probably because your parents sent them to us so that we could recycle them into your new gift.

I really want you to enjoy your new [insert name of gift], but I also know that sometimes, electronics I bring one year end up landing kids on my naughty list the next year. I don’t want your present to lead to meltdowns or fights, and I don’t want it to distract you from all the awesome stuff you’ve been making with [Lego/pipecleaners/those dresses of mommy’s that you cut up to make dresses for your dollies].

So I want to ask for your help: before you start playing with this gift, get your parents to help you make a plan for how you’re going to make it something we can all feel good about. Sometimes parents don’t do a perfect job of explaining when or how you’ll be able to use your games or devices, so here are some questions you can ask them:

  1. What do you want me to learn, practice or experience by using this gift?
  2. If I need help getting the most out of this gift, how should I get help? Will you be able to help me, or is there a book or website that can help me learn more?
  3. Where are we going to keep this gift? Will I have access to it myself, or will I need you to unlock it or get it out for me?
  4. When will I be able to play with this? Are there specific days or times when it’s going to be off limits?
  5. How much time can I spend using this gift? Is there a limit on the total amount of time I can spend playing with it each day or each week?
  6. Is there anything I need to know about how to stay safe when I am using it? If it connects to the Internet, how will we make sure that I don’t end up sharing too much information about myself or our family?
  7. Am I allowed to play with this gift with my friends? Do they need their parents’ permission first?
  8. If I have trouble putting this gift away when play time wraps up, how will you help me stay calm and avoid a meltdown?
  9. Am I allowed to open, modify or repurpose this gift? If not, can I ask you to read up on the value of tinkering and open technology?
  10. Once I master using this gift, how are you going to help me level up to the next skill or practice?

Make sure you get your parents to write down their answers so you can hold them to the plan! It’s ok if their handwriting is messy — with all the time they spend on their phones and computers, they don’t write very much anymore, so go easy on them. But if their handwriting is too messy for you to read, insist on typing up their answers and putting them online (ask them about using Google Docs, Evernote or Dropbox) so you’ll all be able to look at the plan whenever you need to.

Once you have your plan in place, I hope you have an awesome time playing with your gift. And if I brought your parents any electronics, encourage them to make their own plan, too!

Looking for more help and inspiration on how to handle screen time during the holidays? Join me and Scholle Sawyer McFarland for a free Holiday Screen Time Clinic for Families. We’ll be live on Blab video at 4:30 PM EST/1:30 PM PST on Sunday, December 20th. We’ll share our best strategies for managing devices and screen time over the holidays…as well as ideas for fun tech-related activities that can actually bring your family closer together. Bring us your questions and dilemmas, and get some ideas to make the most of your winter break!

Author, Remote Inc: How To Thrive at Work…Wherever You Are. Tech speaker. Writer & data journalist for Wall Street Journal, Harvard Business Review & more.

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store