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Put down the phone! How to break your kids free of technology on Thanksgiving

Today
Teen girls text on their phones.

Over the past few years, a new Thanksgiving tradition has been established: battling smartphones for your kids' attention. 

It's a trend that has many parents worried, Catherine Steiner-Adair, a clinical psychologist and author of "The Big Disconnect: Protecting Childhood and Family Relationships in the Digital Age," told TODAY. 

"People keep calling me, saying, 'How do we keep Thanksgiving from being a dinner where two kids are texting under the table and everyone is on a screen for the whole weekend?"

Overall, 66 percent of Americans think checking phones at the dinner table should be banned during the holidays, according to a new poll conducted by Eventbrite. That seems reasonable. But how do you get phone-addicted kids to stop sending Snapchats and actually talk with their family? 

1. Prepare a plan

Just saying, "No phones!" on Thanksgiving Day is not going to work. Instead, parents should contact adults and kids beforehand to make sure everyone is OK with giving up their phones and then set up the rules.

"It is important to make sure you and your other family members are on the same page," Patrick Markey, an associate professor of psychology at Villanova University, told NBC News. "It will be almost impossible to restrict your child’s screen time if all his other cousins and friends are allowed to play"

2. Set aside some phone-free time

Completely cutting off smartphones might seem a bit harsh — for adults as well as kids. Instead, create a window when smartphone use is prohibited. 

"Kids have to check in with their friends or they will have total FOMO and be grumpy and not fun," Steiner-Adair said, referring to the "fear of missing out" anxiety that causes people to check their Facebook feeds every few seconds. 

She recommends creating a time frame around Thanksgiving dinner — like, say, five hours — where everyone agrees to go completely screen-free. With her family, she plans to have everyone put their phones in a bucket or basket to reduce temptation. Designating a charging room where everyone can power (but not play around with) their phones could also work, she said. 

3. Set a good example

"The grown-ups have to play by the rules and not be hypocrites," Steiner-Adair said. "That is critical."

That means every adult has to think long and hard about whether they want to give up Candy Crush for five hours. 

"The grown-ups should really talk about this first and decide that they want to do it."

4. Don't bore them to death

Pity the children. They can't drink wine to make Uncle Jack's stories more interesting. That is why laying out some board games or starting a game of touch football is a good idea. 

"Don’t just tell your kids to not play — give them an alternative activity to do," Markey said. 

Finger-painting might leave your family room a mess, but at least it will keep the kiddos engaged with each other.

5. Think beyond the holidays 

If you want to really curb your kids' screen time, it's something you should be working on continuously, not just a few days before the holidays, both Steiner-Adair and Markey said.

Apps like Checky and BreakFree can help make them aware of how often they look at their phones. But sometimes just talking to them works, too. 

"Ask, 'What's going on? Why do you need your phone? Why is this so hard for you?" Steiner-Adair suggested. "That's another way of connecting in real life and figuring what is going on in your kid's life."

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