Phone for the Holidays

Watch this video first, then read on.

I applaud Apple for making a video that affirms the family. This ad does an excellent job of showing how wonderful family can be. Yes, it’s sentimental and pulls at the heartstrings in ways that some would call cliche, but it’s very well done. It’s a beautiful portrait of a family that loves each other and enjoys life together in the everyday mundane socks-on-the-kitchen-floor sort of way. And I love that. In addition, it shows how blessed the boy is to have such a wonderful family. In the end, he affirms and accepts the blessing. Even better, he reciprocates the love in his own special way, a way which is deeply appreciated. He is actually contributing to the family by chronicling and highlighting its beauty. It’s a wonderful family. We need more portraits of functional families on TV. So, thank you, Apple, for bringing some warmth to TV.

On the other hand, I wonder if this depiction is based in reality. Not that an ad must reflect the norm or the ideal. No, I’m just talking about plausability. Is this even a possible scenario? And this is where my skepticism really kicks into overdrive (not my best quality, I admit). How probable is it that a teen would disengage from all fun family activities over and over again, while engaging in smartphone activities, and then surprise everyone with a totally different outcome: Yeah, I was totally watching and filming every detail the whole time because I love you guys so much and see the beauty in every small thing you do. Yeah, I am that observant and other-centered and appreciative and stealthy. I totally fooled everybody. I’m really a sentimental person deep down, while all this time you guys thought I didn’t care. 

While it is true than many teens are thinking and feeling things on the inside that do not match what we see on the outside, I don’t think that a boy with his face in his screen all day will do what this boy does at the end of the ad. It just does not add up to me. I don’t believe that teen techno-holics are making sentimental family videos with their iPhones. Maybe I’m just being cynical. The most likely scenario is that the boy simply loves interacting with his phone more than he loves interacting with his family. And the reality is that teens are doing pretty much everything but making sweet family movies with their phones. So, is it possible for a kid to love both family and phone? Absolutely. It’s not a zero-sum game. But that’s not as it’s portrayed in this ad. The first half of the ad does not precipitate the second half.

Ok. So what? Who cares if it’s a misrepresentation of reality? What’s the big deal? Well, my fear is that Apple is actually messaging the world something like this. Don’t worry about your child who seems disengaged from family life. Don’t worry. He is actually happy and appreciative of all you do, even though it looks like he does not care. Let him be. He’s actually soaking in the family life and is taking photos and videos and sharing it with his friends. Don’t disturb him from being creative and awesome in his own way. Maybe I am wrong, but what if I am not? My fear is that this ad actually encourages parents to let their kids spend the holidays with their faces in their phones.

What if Apple wants to sell apps and iPhones more than it wants to help kids and strengthen families? What if Apple is using the beauty of a family to sell its products? What if Apple was actually misleading people with Christmas cheer and beautiful images? Would a company actually do that? Is that plausible?

I’m not saying that is the case. I’m saying it is more than just plausible. I honestly don’t know exactly what Apple intended for their ad, but the result is an ad that makes me both happy and sad, inspired and concerned.

I do know this for sure. The beauty of the family in the ad has nothing to do with the product. The iPhone does not make the family great. It’s just a device that takes video. I know it’s a smartphone, and it does more than just take video, but seriously, the family was awesome long before iPhones existed, so Apple deserves no credit for the beauty of the family. Let’s keep that in mind.

So, the takeaway for me is that our job as parents is to help teens balance their screen time with their family time. Make sure that they are engaged with real people at home, in addition to their digital connections.

After all, wouldn’t it be so much better for the boy in the video to find a way, any way, to do both: be with his family and make a video. Doesn’t this boy have a lot to gain from and offer to the real world? Doesn’t he have a lot to learn in the way of social skills? He needs to throw snowballs at his cousins. He needs to go sledding. He needs to play board games with his aunts and uncles. He needs to help cook or clean or fold laundry. He needs to tell jokes, get embarrassed, make a mess, and be a kid – noisy, awkward, silly, cool, dorky, messy, or whatever may be.

I’m afraid Apple is setting the bar awfully low if all a boy needs to do all weekend is make a two-minute video to be awesome. I want more for my  kids and yours. Let’s help kids be more awesome.


Full disclosure. I like Apple products. Our family owns many. They are reliable, durable, stylish, and capable. And I like technology — when it works.

Author: Andy Kerckhoff

I'm a husband, father, teacher. I'm doing my best, wishing I could do better, and trying to help others to effectively lead kids through early adolescence.

2 thoughts on “Phone for the Holidays”

  1. While I agree with much of your sentiment, The depiction of the young man was not distressing or depressing. He doesn’t have to be a Norman Rockwell kid. And he was creating – something I wish more teens would do in place of texting/watching/gaming. As you mentioned, I’m just happy Apple used a family theme!!!!

  2. Mike, I am with you. I’m still conflicted over it. It’s a half-full vs. half-empty thing. It’s good – kids creating. And we have to keep in mind that kids are works in progress. So, we can celebrate the growth of a young man. Maybe this video is a snapshot of him growing up and seeing beyond himself. So, yeah, I get how someone could interpret the video as a beautiful thing. I see the beauty. Yet I still have this gnawing concern that people will interpret this as a “let your kids play with their phones all day” message. I suppose people will see what they want to see. And perhaps Apple truly has good intentions; that is plausible. The whole thing just raises the issue of the tension of our digital lives and our physical lives. It’s such an issue for us all now. We are still trying to figure out where all this electronica fits in our lives in a healthy way. Thanks for the comment, Mike.

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