Digital Distractions on a Road Trip Mean A Calmer, Curse-Free Mom

Mar 21

Do you ever have the urge to tell your child to shut the @#$% up? If you have kids, like mine, who are comfortable yelling back at their parents without a care in the wind about the consequences, then it’s very likely you have the odd inclination to blurt an epithet-filled request to close their traps. Not that you should ever follow through on that urge… But having just returned from a road trip where our SUV travelled over 3,000 km, I can attest to the need for self-control when confined to small inescapable spaces with children on board. There’s no harm in helping yourself out, though, by including a bevy of the latest digital distractions to stem your frustrations.

With three boys between the ages of 7 and 11, maintaining a semblance of peace and quiet can be like shouting for a ceasefire amid a cacophony of gun fire. Although my husband and I always try to ignore the early rumblings of a sibling stand-off, we hate to risk the likelihood of blood on the upholstery if we were to allow the fights to take their natural course.

The road trip is the one time in my life when I am truly grateful for my boys’ addictive obsession with video games. In fact, I’ve been known to deny their favourite pastime for weeks leading up to our departure date to ensure their need to fill up on lost time will remain insatiable the entire car ride. Of course, I do force them to take breaks from their mini screens periodically. After all, isn’t part of a road trip experience actually looking out the window once in a while? Look kids! Cows! Look kids! Horses! Look kids! A bridge. Okay, maybe it’s not that thrilling an experience, but that’s just the way road trips work, right?

During our latest March Break excursion that carried us from Toronto to Florida (and back), I’ve never relied more heavily on digital entertainment. Thanks to the many hand held devices and their accompanying car adapters, we had no batteries die on us  with their accompanying woeful moans. It turns out, I’m not alone in my accumulation of tangled cords that litter my vehicle. According to The NPD Group, people like me spent more than $170 million in 2011 on products that integrate portable devices in the car.

Recent Canadian statistics indicate that 93% of households with two or more other people have Internet access compared to only 58% of those living alone having online access. While no reason is given for this discrepancy, I can’t help but consider the possibility that part of the reason may be that our screens provide us with a reprieve from our household companions (even those we love can irritate the heck out of us). No surprise, then, that we crave that same sense of solitude in our packed minivans.

Some may lament the end of family sing-alongs (the ol’ 100-bottle-of-beer-on-the-wall is a goody) and family games like 20 questions or I Spy. However, I can honestly say that the digital entertainment has not created invisible cubicles in our car, keeping us emotionally separate. While we may not sing about crashing beer bottles, it’s not unlikely to see us fist pumping together to Party Rock Anthem or whatever other song my sons select from my iPhone’s playlist.

Despite my best efforts, the boys still have their squabbles (they’re usually over whose turn it is to play with the one coveted video game). But the fights are less frequent than they used to be leaving the driver less distracted, and everyone generally more content. Furthermore, if I can cut back on the number of times I have to bite my tongue from saying, well… you know, then those small screens will always be welcome passengers on my road trips.

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Tip #24 – Beware of Too Much Free Time for Kids in Screen Time Culture

Nov 16

Too much free time can be too much of a good thing according to a new study in the Applied Research in Quality of Life Journal that was recently covered in the.  Findings (after questioning 1200 high school students) indicated that materialism and compulsive buying are a negative result of having an over-abundance of thumb-twiddling time (and perhaps an increase in screen time?) Boredom, it appears, does not always open doors to the imagination but can be a fuel for consumerism.

While this isn’t technically a “tech” tip for hair-pulling parents overburdened with the task of wrenching their children away from an animated rectangle (of various sizes), it is relevant given that most kids’ free time directly correlates to their screen viewing time. In my house, particularly, computer time is typically awarded after completion of certain tasks: homework, piano practice, emptying the trash, vows to be silent. In other words, when their time no longer is entrusted to adult-enforced regiments, they’re free to do as they wish. Unfortunately for most parents, today’s kids will often select an activity that involves a screen when they have nothing left to do.

This quick access to video is likely one of the culprits causing the unhappy results of too much free time for the modern adolescent. Boredom that translates into mindful activities such as reading books, playing ball in the park, or pursuing a hobby like jewellery-making or woodworking isn’t going to turn a kid into a perennial mall rat. However, if such activities are trumped by television viewing, surfing the web, or video gaming, the influence to conform according to the standards of advertisers, brands, and “cool kids” on sitcoms is ever-present. I have no intention of railing against the advertising machine, after all, they’re just trying to earn the profits they need to flourish as businesses.  As a parent, however, my bigger concern is my child’s happiness.  And, a screen that entertains is also a vehicle to pressure people to seek some retail therapy.  A kind of therapy, it turns out, we’d be better to live without.

While it’s not news that spending too much time in front of a screen is no recipe for happiness, parents should also consider just how much time their kids are spending doing, um, nothing. Filling some of that extra time with sports, clubs and lessons will actually make them happier. I guess I should pat myself on the back, then. I’d always thought that when my kids complained about all the time they spend practicing piano and doing homework was an indication of their misery when, in fact, they’re happy as can be. Now, if only I could convince them of that.

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Tip # 9 Set Rules That Both Parents Can Support

Jun 20

In celebration of Father’s Day, which we celebrated yesterday, I thought it an opportune time to emphasize the importance of Dad’s input in the family screen dynamic. Too often, I’ve been quick to dismiss my own husband’s ideas around video games and TV viewing, assuming he’d give them free reign over the controllers if it were up to him (as long as it did not overlap with his football game). Yet I’ve discovered over the years that without his wholehearted supported for “my” rules, enforcing them also becomes “my” job. And alongside laundry, cooking, washing dishes, helping with homework (just a small list of things that are “my” job), I realized that I preferred not to add daily arguments with  kids over screen time to my personal duties.

Besides all that, Dads know a thing or two about screens. As with many households, my husband dedicates a portion of most weekends to lying on the couch watching sports. Is his habit really so bad?According to my husband: not so much. Since we have three sons, I’ve learned to defer to my husband’s knowledge on this issue and accept that time spent with the TV is a valued aspect of the today’s “guy” culture. Who am I to fight it?

Several years back, when my oldest son started begging for a Wii, I was firmly opposed. Allow my kids play video games all hours of the day? No way. They were going to be raised as piano-playing, outdoor-loving, homework-completing robots – I mean, kids. Welcoming a video game console into our home would destroy all my plans! My husband, however, wasn’t as keen on raising total nerds. Bit by bit, he’d sneak in arguments supporting a Wii purchase. My resolve weakened. Not just because I was tired of preaching from my soap box about the evils of video games, or because I was battling ever more feebly one against four (my three sons and husband), but I respected that my husband deserved as much say as I did about how our kids spent their free time. I finally succumbed and before wrapping it up to set under the Christmas tree, we agreed to support one another in the rules – which, it turns out, would take a couple years to iron out.

After much experimenting, my husband and I have formed a harmonious and united front in how and when our kids can use the screens in our home. Still, I have a more say in this simply because I am with them a lot more than their father. (Which is also why I vetoed his recent push to eliminate the Monday to Thursday video game ban. I love that rule!)  Now that we share a middle ground for our kids’ video gaming and TV habits, we can support one another’s efforts to ensure they follow the rules. And, that gives us less to argue about. Or, at the very least, allows more time to argue other issues, right honey?

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