In this digital age, expect guests to arrive for Thanksgiving with a device.

“Thanksgiving screen time used to mean watching football in between trips to the dessert table,” says Adam C. Earnheardt, Ph.D., chair and professor of the department of communication at Youngstown State University. “Now everyone has a screen; even the people watching football are distracted by their devices.”

On average, Americans spend twice as much time watching Netflix as they do with family, according to an analysis by

Yet the holidays present an opportune time to curb digital habits and focus on loved ones. “It comes down to balance,” says Dr. Earnheardt.

Follow these steps to prioritize screen-free family time this Thanksgiving.

1. Develop a Policy.

“Decide where on the tech spectrum the family wants to be this Thanksgiving,” suggests Teodora Pavkovic, a New-York based psychologist, international speaker and parenting coach.

Going cold turkey on devices might have a certain appeal, but it’s important to be practical. Kids usually have a long break from school with hours to fill, and relatives will likely reach for their phones to take pictures.

Even if you don’t cut out devices completely, consider what sort of expectations you have. You may opt for no phones at the dinner table, or decide to turn off Wi-Fi in the evenings.

2. Ask for Input.

Before Thanksgiving, send a message to guests to communicate your intentions of limiting screen time.

“It’s important that you don’t use language that is too authoritative,” says Pavkovic.

Mention that you are interested in connecting more with people this Thanksgiving and are looking for ways to reduce tech time. Share any ideas you have and encourage others to send additional suggestions.

3. Set Time Limits.

If children are part of the group, let them know how much screen time to expect. You might ask them to help prepare the meal, serve the food, and then clean up. After they finish, they can choose a device and have a certain amount of time to use it.

Time limits can also be placed on television. Have guests choose a movie to watch after the meal, or agree to turn on the TV for a football game or parade. When the program ends, turn it off and put away the remote.

4. Think Outside of the TV.

“Come up with non-technology fun activities that the whole family will enjoy,” says Caitlyn Paltsios, a tech expert for Digital Addicts.

Pull out board games to play or puzzles to put together as a group. Decorating cookies, making holiday ornaments, or having a karaoke session will pull the crowd away from their devices.

Outdoor activities can be refreshing too. Think of taking a walk, going for a bike ride, having a scavenger hunt, or playing a game like cornhole.

5. Set Out a Phone Basket.

Before sitting down for dinner, place a basket away from the table where guests can leave devices. Ask everyone to set phones in the container before serving food.

Then look for ways to have meaningful conversations at the table.

“We might even use this time to talk to our kids about screens, and how they’re using them to document their lives,” says Dr. Earnheardt.

6. Make Tech Positive.

“Use larger mobile devices as slideshows of past gatherings, showing pictures of friends and family – especially those who couldn’t be there with you,” says Earnheardt.

Consider connecting with loved ones who are not at the gathering. If a relative is in the military, for instance, set up a time for the family to Skype or chat to send Thanksgiving wishes.

Rachel Hartman

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