Long distance car trips are something I grew up with. When I was very young, our family would drive from Melbourne, Victoria all the way to Toowoomba, Queensland for the Christmas holidays. That’s a car trip just short of 1600km (or 1000 miles) long. I have vivid memories of being three and four years old and being woken up in the middle of the night to drive to Nana and Grandad’s house. I’d stay awake for the whole trip, pointing out kangaroos near the road, singing little songs I’d made up, and counting cars and trees and sheep and anything else that took my fancy. We’d stop every few hours and have “car food”. Hot chips, or donuts, or sausage rolls — the type of food we never had at home. Sometimes, we’d even stop for a hot chocolate or an ice cream.
When I was a bit older, car trips were full of games. I Spy, Trivia, counting games, rhyming games, and home-made Bingo Cards full of things like cows and postboxes and Ambulances. The first one to see them all wins!
When I was a teenager, I got my first Walkman. I’d happily bliss out to my music for a while, but before long I’d be bored and playing Guess Who? with my sister (we memorised all the people so we didn’t need to use a board) or challenging my siblings to The Alphabet Game.
Car trips were fun, family events when I was a kid. And now that I’m a parent, I endeavour to make them fun for my boys as well. Even driving five-year-old Big Brother to school involves games, made up stories and rhymes. And a traffic jam is a perfect opportunity for I Spy.
There’s an interesting Facebook page that I occasionally visit called Brisbane Kids. They regularly post questions that have been emailed in to them by concerned, curious, or interested parents. I happened to come across this question last week:
My 15 month old is a shocking car traveller and has been for quite some time now, even on very short trips (less than 10 mins). I think he gets frustrated with being restrained, as he is usually so active. I now avoid driving places which is becoming pretty restrictive. Any suggestions as to how to improve the situation? We have tried singing, kids CDs, food (car is now a bomb site), box of toys next to seat etc.
Well, I know a thing or two about entertaining kids in the car. Plus, I’ve been in this situation with both my boys in the past. Big Brother hated the car between the ages of 6 weeks and 13 months. Little Brother wasn’t quite so difficult (possibly because he was excited about being in the car with his brother), but still went through a stage when he was about a year old where he hated the car for a month or so. And in both cases, I did exactly what I would recommend to anyone else: I persevered.
This question sounds like it’s from a mother who has, and is, trying to persevere. She’s tried everything she can think of, and now she’s reaching out for advice, suggestions, and possibly even a simple reminder that it does get better. Good on her, really. It’s not easy to ask for help when you’ve got a small child, and I have a lot of respect for people who can bypass their pride in favour of doing what’s best for themselves and their children. But before I shared my thoughts with her, I decided to read the other 43 comments. Just to make sure I wasn’t repeating anyone else.
But what I found shocked me.
There were some good suggestions. Try moving the car seat to a different position. Make sure the car seat is comfortable. Use toys that are only available in the car. Sing songs. Wait it out. Persevere.
All good advice.
But twenty-three different people had a different answer. Twenty-three people suggested the mother invest in a portable DVD player for the car. Twenty-three people said some version of the following statements:
- There’s only one way to keep kids entertained in the car and that’s a portable DVD player.
- My child used to cry in the car, so I put in a portable DVD player and now she’s always quiet.
- Just put children’s programming on a portable DVD player and all your problems will be solved.
I was really stunned by this response. Perhaps I should have seen it coming. Perhaps the fact that I didn’t see it coming is a sign that I’m not really in tune with modern society. Either way, as I read the comment I found my mood vacillating between outrage and despair.
I don’t believe that all twenty-three of those people are bad parents, but I do worry about the over-reliance on electronic devices to entertain children. Even disregarding the American Academy of Pediatrics recommendation that children under the age of two shouldn’t watch any television at all, I have a number of concerns:
- Are the parents who suggested DVD players aware that there is scientific evidence that children of that age can be negatively impacted by watching TV? If not, what does that say about the way the message is being spread?
- If the first reaction of parents is to stun a 15 month old boy into silence through use of a DVD Player, what do they do at home when their kids are noisy or argumentative or upset or tired or loud?
- If the only way you have to cope with upset children is to put them in front of a screen, what do you do when there are no TVs, DVDs or computers available?
Keeping a toddler quiet by putting him in front of a TV screen might seem like the easiest option, but is it the best one? At the end of the day, the only person who can make that decision is you. But remember this:
It’s cute when a two-year-old goes from shrieking to silent with the careful push of a button on a portable DVD player.
It’s not so cute when a twenty-year-old man has no ability to entertain himself for five minutes without a screen in front of him.
Instead of reaching for the ‘on’ button next car trip, try challenging your children to be the first one to spot a man walking a dog. Tell as many terrible knock-knock jokes as you can make up on the spot. Sing songs from your childhood. Take it in turns to sing a line of a made-up song. Try something different. See how it goes. Maybe you’ll discover the same thing I did, all those years ago: Being trapped in a car for 20 hours at a time isn’t a chore, it’s a fun-filled adventure that comes with its own captive audience.
Did you play games in the car when you were a child? What about now? Do you own a portable DVD player? Do/Would you let your children watch it?