How to avoid spending Christmas as your family's tech support

The holidays are for spending quality time with family and friends, not troubleshooting computer issues.

Jason Cipriani Contributing Writer, ZDNet
Jason Cipriani is based out of beautiful Colorado and has been covering mobile technology news and reviewing the latest gadgets for the last six years. His work can also be found on sister site CNET in the How To section, as well as across several more online publications.
Jason Cipriani
3 min read

There's something special about sitting around a dinner table, eating the season's best dishes with your loved ones. Avoiding political talk is already a big enough of a chore, but for some of us, there's an even bigger issue: Family Tech Support. Yes, it's an official role, and one many have come to dread over the years. (Particularly if, like me, you're day job is in the tech industry.)

You could always buy a t-shirt that explains how you feel in an attempt to stop any request, or you can try one of the tips below. 

Teach your troubleshooting process

It can be incredibly annoying to be asked over and over to fix or tech what one could consider a simple issue or task. Instead of getting annoyed and fixing it for them, take a moment to teach the person what you normally do to troubleshoot, and where you look for answers.

For example, when I'm asked about an error message, I Google it and read through countless forum posts — or if I'm lucky, a support article — to diagnose and fix the issue. I then pass along the solution. What I have started to do is walk the person through that process, with the end goal being that the next time a problem occurs, he or she will be confident enough to research on their own. I can then provide reassurance if needed.

Another useful tool is to bookmark the user guide or support website for the device maker and teach the family member how to navigate or search for answers.

Slyly pass the buck

As you get older, so do your younger relatives. And know who knows a lot about technology? Young people. The next time you're asked to help, ask a younger, equally knowledgeable relative (who hasn't read this post, preferably) to help. With any luck, that relative will become the go-to support agent at future family events. 

Just tell a white lie

It sounds horrible, I know. But if the device in question is different from what you use, you could always spew out "Sorry, I don't know anything about Android/iOS/PC/Mac" even if you know enough to help or fix the issue. 

Sometimes you just want to eat your pie in peace.

Kindly decline

There's nothing wrong with simply saying no, especially if the issue is complicated and will require more than a brief tutorial or education session.

Of course, you'll want to explain that you appreciate the family member has an issue and you're open to helping, but you'd rather spend time with all of the family, and not stare at a screen all day.

Offer to schedule a time to help after the holidays, and if it's a family member from out of town, offer to use FaceTime or Hangouts.

Embrace your role in the family

I asked for input on Facebook about how other's deal with being a tech support agent during the holidays, and while some indicated a strong drink or two would scare away any questions, one response took the high road. A good friend of mine, Nan Palmero, commented: "I provide it because it's my family's way of asking me to spend time with them."