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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Top 25 Tips for Parents on Internet Safety and Digital Literacy

Jan 01

Get all the handy tips and tidbits right in one spot! The next 26 to 50 tips will start in 2012.

#1 – Show You Care (About Video Games)

#2 – Filter What Your Kids Can See

#3 – No TV in the Bedroom

#4 – If You Have Nothing Nice to Post, Don’t Post Anything At All

#5 – Tell Your Kids the Cost of that Cell Phone

#6 – Get the Kids a Timer

#7 – Take the Kids to the Library

#8 – Get to Know the Video Game Consoles Before Buying

# 9 – Set Rules That Both Parents Can Support

# 10 – Review Before You Go to the Movies

#11 – Get to Know Facebook

#12 – Match Kids’ Screen Time with Active Time

#13 – Parents: Mind Your Own Screen Time

#14 – Interrupt Sitting Time with Movement

#15 – Prepare Your Kids for Gladvertising

# 16 – Update Kids’ Facebook Privacy Settings Regularly

#17 – Encourage Responsibility In Front of Camera and Behind Camera

#18 – Expose Your Kids to Khan Academy

#19 – Offer Guidance and Independence When Kids Research Online

#20 – No TV in the Mornings

#21 – Have the Talk, No Not THAT One, the Money Talk

#22 – Get Comfortable with Saying No

#23 – Talk Reality about the Effects of Reality TV

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

#25 – Teach Daughters AND Sons to be Critical of Female Portrayals in Media

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Tip # 10 Review Before You Go to the Movies

Jun 24

Gone are the days when you settle comfortably into a seat in the movie theatre, toss handfuls of butter-laden popcorn into your mouth, and sadly realize fifteen minutes into the movie that it is not what you expected.  Thanks to the internet, parents now have at their fingertips abundant reviews for every movie ever made.

The obvious perk to doing one’s homework before purchasing the ticket is that it considerably reduces one’s risk of sitting through a horrible movie.  (It certainly would have saved me from seeing Problem Child 2 back in 1991.)

There are, however, other benefits to reviewing the silver screen offerings before venturing out, especially if the kids are coming along.  While the ratings are helpful, they aren’t always the most useful for parents seeking a movie that is suitable to kids ranging in age from say, six to eleven (like mine).

Although from the outset, the only difference between PG and PG-13 seems to be two rather insignificant numbers, the amount of violence, sexual innuendo, and fowl language can be huge.  For example: Kung Fu Panda 2 is PG and Green Lantern is PG-13.  A quick review of the former tells me that this  is a perfect family flick.  I considered taking the kids to Green Lantern.  I have three boys, after all, who love super heroes, action, guns (yes, it is true – but the ones they play with are fake and usually filled with water).  Yet, when I read that one character has a syringe plunged into his eye, I decided to take a pass on it.

I would probably let my eleven-year-old son see the movie, but I’m not even sure he’d appreciate that kind of imagery.  In fact, one of his friends who’d recently gone to see it claimed that the movie was good but a couple of scenes were disturbing.  Not surprisingly, he wasn’t too thrilled about that aspect.  I don’t blame him.  I still have the images of Freddie Kruger scraping the flesh off of a teenage girl as she crawls across her ceiling, thanks to my teen exposure to horror movies – it took me decades to get over that nasty one.  I’d prefer my kids’ minds remain clear of such morbid visuals for as long as possible.

The point is, parents need not wait until they’re seated before an Olympic-sized screen with blaring speakers to learn that a movie is too violent, too mature, too sexual, or just too bad for their kids’ eyes and ears.  Spending five to ten minutes surfing the internet for reviews to make an educated decision may very well save them from two hours of torturous viewing or worse, years of disturbing visuals branded on a child’s mind.

Best sites  for quick movie reviews: (also has a great app)

Rottentomatoes (Flixster)

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Tip #6 Get the Kids a Timer

Jun 08

A timer is helpful for two purposes.  One, it releases the parent from having to constantly check the clock to ensure that she does not let that promised half hour of computer time drift into two hours (my how time flies when the kids are quiet).  Second, it allows the kids to take control of the amount of time they have been allowed to play the digital device – this is particularly important when the device is being shared among impatient kids.

The one recurring theme that comes up in most of the squabbles among my boys is the concept of fairness.  Because I have three boys close in age, they are forever being forced to share the one thing that they all want RIGHT NOW.  The up side to having three kids a few years apart is that they always have one another to play with. The down side is that they often want to use the same damn thing.   This is especially true when it comes to playing the one computer, or the one iPad, or my one iPhone.  Of course, it’s not limited to just digital entertainment.  They’d rather destroy a single lollipop than have to suffer the fate of watching just one kid savour the globe of delight. Fairness is king in our hyper-competitive household.  And, if even one of my kids suspects that another has a smidgen more than the others, look out – there will be blood.

I’ve learned the easiest way to eliminate myself from refereeing their actions is to give them the power to referee themselves.  Yes, it’s that easy!  For my Apple devices, I prefer to use a timer app. There are several of them available, but I use the very basic free app called Timer+.   Parents can quickly set up different times depending on how long they typically allow each child to play. I set up an alarm called “BoysPlay” for 30 minutes.  My boys have no problem starting the timer as their turn begins.  As long as each of them gets the EXACT SAME AMOUNT OF TIME, everyone can breathe easy.  When the timer is up, a sound alarms and the device moves on to the next gamer.  Works like a charm.

For video game consoles or the computer, a good idea is to purchase a small portable timer that the kids can use themselves.  Again, if sharing is involved, the kids will police themselves well.  On the other hand, if all three kids are playing together (aw, how nice!) the onus falls a bit more on the parent.  You’d better double check that timer.  If the time they’re allowed to play is one hour, they’ll very likely muffle the sound of the alarm when it goes off if you’re not around to hear it ’cause the only thing worse than kids divided against one another is kids united against Mom or Dad.

Image: Carlos Porto /

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