Do Kids Really Need a Movie in the Back Seat?

Nice post about, yes, old-fashioned childhood on a blog called “Eco Bling.” My favorite paragraph:

Ask yourselves this summer: Do kids really need to watch a full length film in the backseat of a car!? How will they ever learn how many chapters of any given Beverly Cleary book or MAD magazine they can get through without puking? This sort of thing has to be learned on the job.

Happy summer! — Lenore (who — bragging rights here — has actually written for Mad.)

99 Responses

  1. I am having this fight right now. We are taking a 2-week trip next month. I have schedule only 5 hours in the car each day. Not unreasonable, IMO.

    I have started the kids travel kits. Lots of books on CD, maze and dot-to-dot books, triangle crayons that won’t roll off the sketch pad. And what does my husband ask? Are you getting a DVD player? Um, no, dear, I am not.

    We both will have our laptops, and there may be some rainy evenings that we watch a movie together. But the first person who starts to complain in the car will get to listen to my Learn Spanish podcasts!

  2. Please ignore the gross punctuation fails in the above post. I am pre-coffee.

  3. Yes…yes they do need movies. As many children can’t read yet…and I personally would puke after one page of any book…a movie makes perfect sense. Why not enjoy technology and have a 2 year old happy on the way to the beach, mountains or where ever you might be going? Not all things ‘old school’ are worth repeating…

  4. I have driven across country with 6 and 3 year old boys. One could read, the other couldn’t. No dvd necessary. We talked. We sang. We looked out the window. We discussed the high and low points of hotel pools. We played license plate games. The reader read. The non-reader napped.
    Often we just looked out the window and were silent. I don’t know what was going on in their heads. Why should I? They need inner lives. They will never have inner lives if we are constantly filling their minds with pre-programmed activities.

  5. I have a 2.5 year old and a 6 month old. We recently returned from a 5 hour (each way) car trip. The 2.5 year old had her moments, but was able to keep herself busy enough.

    We never had DVD players in the backseat growing up, and I’m not sure why we need to start doing this with our kids now. Kids have to learn how to be bored — what happens when they are not constantly stimulated by something, anything.

  6. My wife and I succumbed to temptation with the arrival of our third child and bought a minivan with a (6 disc) DVD player. Actually, we use an iPod to push video (it’s easier to control, actually).

    However, we do have limits. The DVD player only “works” for long trips (any drive over 4 hours). I imagine, once the kids are older and better able to entertain themselves in a car with reading (one is old enough, the other two are both under the age of 3), or listening to their own iPods, the DVD player will become mostly a curiosity. Why force the kids to agree on something when they can just as easily do their own thing?

    The iPods come in handy as portable entertainment as well. On our last trip, a camping trip, the rain started to come down, and we all had to cram into the tent for about three hours, until the downpour slowed to a drizzle. After an hour, the light started to dim, and reading to the kids became an argument over which book to read next, we broke out the iPods and let them watch a movie. One viewing of The Emperor’s New Groove later, the rain was manageable, and we all emerged, alive, from the tent.

    Which is not to say that we couldn’t have survived without it. My father and I were caught in a real toad-choker in Mexico, and we survived by eating chocolate in the car, because the tent had started to leak (old canvas). And my sister and I survived plenty of road trips without DVD players, since my parents used the usual tricks: leaving at 2 in the morning so we’d go back to sleep, threats of sing-a-longs, car bingo, spot the rock . . . I was so happy when I got my first Walkman . . .

  7. We take long road trips (5-12 hours) all the time … like 6-8 times per year. When the kids were pre-readers, we had a few family calamities that put us driving 18+ hours per weekend for a month or more straight.

    We don’t have a DVD player, never have, probably never will because I find them very distracting. We do have video games (Nintendo DS, so the kids can play together or alone and even argue via chat so we don’t have to listen to it), but even so they spend a lot of time looking out the window–the Girl, like me, loves horses so keeps an eye out for those, and the Boy watches for cool cars and roadside signs. Now that they’re older, they read, but they also talk to us about whatever, get bored, whine, sleep, and daydream. Nothing wrong with it.

    Lenore, writing for MAD … awesome!!

  8. I’m conflicted on this. I think they’re ridiculous for trips around town, but for long road trips — I don’t know. I’d almost rather have no TV at home, and DVDs in the car. As I said, I don’t know. And since Jack is only 9 months I have time to decide:)

  9. About five years ago we borrowed a friends portable VHS player to take with us on a short (15 hour) trip. Me, my wife, two young teens, and a 4 year old.

    We ended up with fights over what movies to watch. We spoke less to each other. The kids were only good when the lure of a movie was coming up.

    They missed a good part of the trip, both in time and in content because they didn’t “leave the livingroom”.

    We’ve never done it again and we’ve not missed it. I have the most interesting conversations when after sitting and driving for some my daughters ask some random question.

    One of the things that amazes me is that my current youngest (6 years old) will stop mid-sentence if we pull up to another car playing a movie. It makes me sad for her and more sad for the kids in that car.

  10. I am one who thinks there is a time and a place for everything. I would much rather have my little ones happy on a long trip than listening to them scream.

    One thing that is really different from when I was a kid is that my kids are strapped into a car seat and can’t move. this isn’t too much of a problem for the older ones but for a baby who would rather sit on mom’s lap it sure is nice to have a distraction occasionally.

    On long trips we used to lay out on the back dash and sleep. None of that any more. Me and my cousins used to climb in the back of my grandparents truck (with a top on) and drive across country screaming our heads off. That is one memory my kids would have the joy of living.

  11. We don’t have a DVD player in the car, though it gets debated about once a year. I do have to say that now that both kids are reading, it’s easier, but I kinda miss all the cheesy kid music and cheesy kid audio books we used to play for them. We do a lot less group singing now than we did when they couldn’t read.

    Last summer we drove from Indiana to Orlando with one kid who couldn’t read and one who refused to read in the car. My husband and I were hoarse from reading to them, but it was worth it. We did break out the laptop for about an hour at one point to watch a video and everyone was cranky afterwards.

    How will kids learn the scale of the world at a deep level if their brains are tuned to something else? Is it hard to take a long trip without a screen? Absolutely. Is it good for kids to be zoned in the car? I don’t think so. I like to let the kids help me pack their activities and then I slip in some life-savers when it dawns on them that they made bad choices.

    I totally get that for the non-reading set it’s difficult, but it’s really hard to stop using the screen once you start. There are times I wish I had a DVD player. But I’m happy we didn’t start the screen use in the car. When they were really little we had mess-free art supplies and lots of little toys they could play with and chew on. One of us would sit in the back with them to help with entertainment. We stopped often and ran around at various scenic locales. The trip was longer, but as adults we learned to appreciate the journey a little more than when it was just about getting to the destination.

  12. We moved a lot when I was little, and took frequent trips that, for a little kid, felt like foreeeeever.

    Yet, somehow, I survived without the entertainment of in-car movies, even before I learned to read. Miracle of miracles.

  13. I would be comfortable with a portable DVD or DS for a five-hour drive with a reasonable screen time limit, especially if we were driving after dark.

    But I can’t honestly say I don’t judge people who depend on in-car entertainment, because I do roll my eyes at families that turn the DVD on to drive 10-15 minutes to the mall.

    But the non-DVD route is not only reasonable, but doable. When we misplaced the DVD power cord for an eight hour drive we gave my then-six-year old a map and a highlighter and told her to follow the names of the towns as we passed through.

    When I was a kid we would do the marathon 10+ hours with no seat belts, sprawled across the back seat or on the floor of the van, howling with laughter over Mad Libs. Those days are gone forever, if not totally illegal in most states.

  14. I think it’s silly, but not the worst thing in the world either. I’ve never had one in the car… I can’t stand being able to hear a movie but not see it. My mom bought a portable DVD player for my daughter, intending for it to be used on plane trips. We used it on one flight, but then she turned 5 and was flying alone, and it was really too much for her to carry along with her books, coloring book, toys, blanket, and GameBoy. We used it a couple more times at home, just because she thought it was fun to have our weekly “movie night” in a room other than the living room for a change.

    She has an MP3 player and GameBoy as well, but rarely uses them at all (and even less in the car). I don’t allow kids in my car to wear headphones (nothing wrong with it if it doesn’t bother you… just one of my pet peeves, after having a teenager who always had them in, and a friend of hers who would sit right next to me and not say a word the whole time in the car because he was listening to his ipod).

    There are SO many options for entertaining in the car. When I was a kid, we had a book called “are we there yet”, with logic puzzles, games, and fun facts to read. Car bingo was a favorite, too (looking for different model cars), as was looking for different state’s license plates. My daughter wants one of those sets of fact cards that are easy to travel with… they have them for states, literature, art…. just about anything, although she wants the one about Presidents. We both love listening to music, and we take turns choosing the CD, and often sing along together. I used to love to read in the car (missed whole trips because my nose was in a book), my daughter does sometimes but not always – she’d prefer to just look out the window. We have friends that keep a wide assortment of kids’ books on CD in the car… it’s amazing how all the kids fall silent as soon as the story starts – breaks up arguments between siblings, kids getting too wound up, and all complaints about basically anything.

    On the other hand, if a couple of hours of a long trip can be filled with a movie, I don’t think it’s that bad. Not any worse than watching an occasional movie at home, which almost all of us do!

  15. Never had one, hopefully never will. We have been on multiple long trips with the kids, and have yet to have an instance where it would be preferable to have movies in the car. When we drove from Philadelphia to Orlando a few years ago, my then nine-year-old had his DS with him, and actually kept it off for the entire second day of driving so he could (his words) “see what was going on.”

    My sister-in-law had a DVD player in her minivan, and it works great for her; I’m sure it works great for lots of people. My wife and I, we’re just not interested.

  16. I think car seats do make a big difference. And some kids simply can’t read in a car without getting sick.

    That said, we’ve managed without one, though there are times when I think it would be nice to have. I have a friend who would let me borrow hers if I asked, but I’ve never bothered. But definitely, only when we’re on long road trips.

  17. Patti, that’s what books on tape are for. Or books on CD now, I guess.

  18. Heck, my car doesn’t have power windows or AC. No way am I getting a DVD player, LOL.

    If we are going on a very long trip (like 15 hours long) we will take a laptop for a DVD or two, or a rousing game of Train Simulator (the most boring game in the universe IMHO, but the rail fans like it). But we own no gameboys and no iPods. We get books on tape from the library (yes, I said tape. Said primitive car doesn’t have a cd player either), or someone reads aloud to the kids. We bring sketching materials for our little artists. We answer 20000 questions, we look at the maps. I think if you start from the assumption that being in the car is no big deal, and we can keep ourselves occupied, then the kids think it is normal. If, however, you start them from age zero with the expectation that car travel is horrible and a three ring circus must be employed to make it survivable, then of course the kids are going to whine if not passified. It is always easier to gradually add electronic entertainment if you need it than to remove the ‘plug in drug’ after they are addicted to it.

    And the people who seem to need the DVD going all the time, even for short trips around town? Don’t complain to me that your kid has no attention span and is bored all the time. You have trained them to require the song and dance. Get out your hat and cane.

  19. I thought the Free Range Kids idea was about NOT telling me how to raise my kids. If I want to give my kids digital tranquilizers, I’ll do it. If you don’t like it, don’t do it. I’m sure your kids will end up much smarter than mine…whatever.

  20. I definitely agree that it’s situational. Around town? You can live without TV. A nice drive in the mountains? Look out the window and be amazed by nature.

    Driving my kids through Nebraska? You bet they’d get DVDs. Why would I torture them by making them look at NEBRASKA?

  21. My brother and I grew up with car trips lasting two weeks or more, and no DVD (not much reading, either; we both loved reading, but got carsick). We saw most of the U.S. before we were out of our teens. The secret? Frequent stops, and short-mileage days.

    The benefit of taking a car trip is that you can pull over for absolutely any roadside attraction, or just a rest stop where the kids can burn off some of that energy they’ve been building up. If you’re driving five hours at a stretch, the car is not the one refusing to stop.

  22. I’ve had my fill of kids puking in the car (my own and others). I pull out the DVD player on 4 hr or longer trips. One movie each way. I did refuse to buy a car with a built in player. And I got headphones for them because I’d rather listen to Depeche Mode than Cars for the billionth time.

  23. We have one that we use for long trips. We just took a long driving trip (two solid days of driving each way) with my four-year-old twins, and the DVD player was great for filling the gaps between driving games, sticker books, snack breaks, and the like. We don’t need to have it going non-stop, but it’s a nice way to break things up when you’re halfway through your second straight day of driving for fifteen hours. Using it for quick trips around town is ridiculous, but it can be useful for those long hauls.

  24. I used to scorn those with a DVD player in the car… then I bought a minivan with a DVD player. I have turbulent little boys, and while I have wonderful memories of long road trips as a child sans video entertainment, we were not pinned down and could move freely in the back of the station wagon. Overnight trips were easier then with kids able to sleep lying down stretched out among pillows and blankets. We’ve tried similar overnight departures but our boys do not sleep well upright, and please tell me of a way to keep their toys at hand because I can’t pull over every time they drop or throw a toy and can’t get it themselves. We save the videos for long trips, and even then we typically limit it to one movie per trip (about 6 hours) and start the movie after exhausting guessing games etc. Previous generations could have asked, who needs a radio in the car, really? What about all that lost quiet time to think and hold thoughtful discussions and listen to the wind going by? I know my parents would have scoffed at playing children’s music or kids audio stories too – shouldn’t kids be able to entertain themselves in the backseat? The video is just another tool at our disposal and I think much of the resistance comes from it being relatively new. No one is debating whether we should provide audio entertainment for kids in the car.

  25. What bothers me most about the whole DVD in the car thing is the assumption by many that there is NO WAY a kid can survive a long trip without it. If you have actually tried it and you find your kids are killing each other, fine. But what makes me scratch my head is the people who claim that their kids just can’t survive without the DVD/Gameboy without ever once having tried it.

    Truly, I am not trying to tell people how to raise their kids. But it just seems that passing up any opportunity for them to learn self reliance and self entertainment skills is a bad long term strategy.

  26. I never wanted a DVD player in our cars, but we now have one in my husband’s. We use it on trips that are movie length which is only maybe once a month. There is more fighting in the car when the DVD player gets used. Mostly fights over what movie will be played.

    I think kids shouldn’t get used to other people or sources of media to keep them entertained at all times (love the previous comment about getting out the hat & cane…I don’t look good in hats). The fighting over DVDs isn’t worth the “quiet” that a DVD might provide, so I’m fine with using it as a time to say, “Either figure it out quickly or there is no movie on this trip.”

  27. Funny – we just bought our first car with DVD player built in. We weren’t looking for one – that’s just how it came equipped. Considering my daughter is 14, and has a portable DVD player she never EVER even uses, I doubt it’ll get used past our first long trip. For some reason, that just never comes up – she’s grown used to traveling with books, a journal, some sort of portable craft or word games, and to talking or listening to her music.

    Actually, when she was young and I was working almost full time and in college as well, we made it a practice that car time was talk time. Every morning and night, for 15 minutes, the radio was off, or on agreed-to music (no news for this news junkie!), and we talked about school, about daycare, friends, or just sang along to the radio together. Once in a while, when we’d hit just the right point along the drive at the right time, we’d stop the car for 15 minutes, and watch the sun set over the ocean (I was at UCSD, her school was near there, and one point we drove past offered a terrific vista). On longer drives, we’d talk of more serious matter – politics, sex ed, religion, things that were really bugging her, science, goals, and so on. Eventually, this would give way to other activities if the trip was long enough, but it was great, in a time when I had so little time to spend with her, that we could bond in the car. That and our nightly reading session formed a strong backbone to our relationship, even when I had to ask my mom to look after her so I could focus on my studies.

    My daughter is now 14, and we are still close, and still talk often in the car, when it’s just the two of us (I’m married now). It has become a safe place to say anything – mom’s not looking at her, not able to react too strongly, and she knows she’s in absolutely no danger that I’m going to suddenly slug her (I wouldn’t anyway, but when you are afraid to bring up a topic, it can feel that way). In return, I get a captive audience who can’t just walk away when my words are hard to hear. Perhaps because of those car talks, though, she also feels safe talking to me elsewhere, knowing (as I now do, too) that I won’t blow my top when she has to own up to something. It makes a great foundation for these challenging teen years.

  28. My biggest issue with DVDs in cars is that they’re distracting to *other drivers*. I catch myself trying to ID which film they’re watching when I fall in behind one. I refuse to get one in my car. But then, my son’s always been a good traveler, because I’ve always driven him everywhere. From his infancy he routinely was subjected to hour long car rides. At 6 months we drove him to KS/NE (we live in Los Angeles). He did beautifully, though we did have one adult sitting in the back seat (usually dad, or the kid would fuss to nurse seeing me next to him).

    The complication of car seats is a good point. I remember driving long hauls camped out in the back of a truck with shell – plenty of space to stretch out and relax. But we also did a fair number of them after seat belts and car seats (bro is 11 yrs younger) with three of us packed in the back seat. I spent one summer learning French via tape and workbook. We did lots of reading, license plate game, car model bingo games, road sign alphabet games (J is tough!), coloring, etc. I’ve even been known to sew or knit in the car. Far cry from my dad’s childhood where his crew of 9 kids were under strict orders to not even SPEAK when in the car – too distracting for the driver.

    I have good friends whose kid (now 5) gets antsy after a mere 15 minutes in the car. THEY get antsy in the car after 15 minutes (transplants from San Francisco, they feel anything longer is INTOLERABLY far – my SoCal trained brain does not relate). Since they’ve not trained their daughter to be patient in the car, much less modeled being patient in the car, she now has a mini-DVD player she can move from in the house to the van without missing a minute, where she plugs it into the vehicle system so she can watch on the overhead screen. They do this all the time. I can’t imagine adding one more thing to the things I have to juggle when getting in the car. It seems like it takes me forever as it is.

  29. We have often said we wished we had a DVD player in the car but I don’t think we have ever needed it or ever will. My kids are used to long car rides. From the time they were newborns they were taking them. Heck, my oldest was only 3 weeks old when we moved from Missouri to Chicago. It was an 8 hour drive. We regularly took 3 kids under 3 for 6+ hour drives going nowhere. I remember driving up to Milwaukee once on the scenic route. It took at least 5 hours to get there and 5 hours to get back. All we did was play at a park for an hour then head home. We did that a lot just for the fun of it.
    My kids learned from an early age to entertain themselves in the car. My oldest two (at the time of that trip were 1 1/2 and almost 3) sat in the back of the van right next to each other so they could talk, play and entertain each other. The baby sat behind the driver’s seat so I could entertain her if I had to. Luckily my kids (the younger ones anyway) usually sleep in the car.
    We also took several trips a year back to Missouri (8 hours) or up to Michigan (4 hours). Then when the kids were 2 1/2, 3 1/2 and 5 we moved to Pittsburgh. We spent many days exploring our new state (taking trips up to Erie and even a spur of the moment trip to Niagara Falls with a detour through Canada). Sometimes we went prepared with books and paper/crayons but a lot of times we didn’t. Sometimes the kids would get cranky. Once my oldest was in school we started playing the ABC game. Our biggest time occupier is the “Mustang game”. That’s where we look and spot every Ford Mustang we see and keep a running tally (on one trip around town we spotted 110). We also play the “slug bug” game, you know where you punch some one every time you see a VW Bug, lol.
    My oldest (now 9) no longer comes on long, pointless trips with us. She hates being in the car for more then 30 minutes and just stays home with my dad. She gets car sick I guess (I think it’s all in her head because she’d rather be at home watching TV).
    In the end a DVD player wouldn’t work for us. We have a pick-up with 3 kids in the back and 1 between the driver/passenger in the front. There is no where we could put a DVD player that all 4 kids would see that was legal and practical.
    I did learn a trick that works during warm weather on a long trip. I was carting the older girls (then 5 and 2 1/2) to Pittsburgh (my husband had our son in the Uhaul) when we moved. The oldest got real whiny so I turned the music up. When she got louder I opened the window and let the air rush by my head, drowning out her noise. We drove like that for hours (air rushing, radio blasting and me singing as loud as I could). Stopping wasn’t an option and neither was duct taping her mouth shut. She eventually fell asleep.
    My friend, though, swears by their DVD player. My dd went with them to Cedar Point when she was 7 and they watched movies the whole way. But I don’t really blame her. She was stuck in the back seat with a 7yo and 8yo (her parents were driving) for 7 hours.

  30. 3 hours.

    That’s the threshold…. if the trip’s longer than 3 hours, we allow movies. Where we live (Arlington, VA), that means we can get to the grandparents (barely) or Ocean City (barely) without movies. But if we’re going down to Nags Head or up to Rochester, the kids can have movies. (most likely, episodes of “Avatar, the Last Airbender”)

    Sure, I didn’t get movies as a kid, but I also spent all long car trips playing in the back of the station-wagon, not strapped into a 5-point harness.

    Like some others noted, we ditched the DVD player for a laptop, which I find more convenient. In particular, I use an OLPC XO children’s machine with an old iPod as external storage.

  31. Outis,

    Who told you how to raise your kids in this post? People are discussing the idea of DVD players on road trips. The topic hit too close to home?

    We just took my daughter, almost 2, on a 7.5 hour trip with no DVD. As another poster said we sang, talked, looked out the window, studied at clouds, napped, and read the same books over and over and over. The roughest part was getting her back in the car after a pitstop, but once in the car she was fine.

    I can’t say I’d never use a DVD, but I don’t like how she can zone out watching a show at home. I think the interaction and coming up with songs/games is important. That’s why we had kids right?

  32. Written like somebody who spent childhood car vacations with the physical freedom to lean against the window, lay down on the seat, or build a reading fort in the wayback. That’s how I grew up. Even taking into consideration my love of reading, mom’s unflagging efforts to keep everyone entertained with car bingo and singing She’ll Be Comin’ ‘Round The Mountain, the car boredom was unbearable at times. Our kids not only have to endure the usual banes of car travel (car sickness, big brothers who pick on you for entertainment) they have to do so strapped into the same seat in the same position for the duration of the trip. Under any other circumstances doing that to a child would bring forth Child Protective Services. I have compassion for my kids. On long car trips they have full benefit of books, toys, music, Nintendo DS, frequent stops to stretch their legs, run and yell and, yes, a DVD player to make everyone’s vacation more pleasant and peaceful.

  33. I can see that I fall in here with most others. We do put the dvd playing in the car for the 13 hours trip to Florida or for the 40+ hour drive from east coast to west coast.

    But even with the DVD player in the car…we sing, we play license plate bingo, etc.

    But, we don’t allow our children to fight over it…cause if that happens then it gets turned off.

    And just driving around town. Give me a break. How many moms do I know that just have to have it on to run to the store…or the mom who turns it on while her oldest plays t-ball.

    There is a time for TV and zoning out..and plenty of times when you just don’t need it.

    Unfortunately, too many people just can’t tell the difference.

  34. Noel, one thing I’ve heard suggested is to use short cords (heavy ones so they don’t tangle and irritate everybody!) to tie the toys to the carseat or the back of the passenger seat in front.

  35. First and foremost, for folks who get all Judge Judy about the DVD players and wax poetic on our own childhoods, we need to keep in mind that we were not bolted into a carseat, practically motionless!! I remember long car rides and being able to move around, lay down, stretch my legs, switching places with my sister and cousin. I remember reading books, talking with my mom and aunt and yes, I remember being bored.

    Eh. Whatever.

    We do use the DVD player in our car for night drives – for whatever reason, dark and unlit highways cause my children to go insane and I absolutely cannot drive with the interior lights on. During my son’s entire babyhood, I listened to him scream during night rides and when my daughter was about 6 months old, I thought “this is ridiculous! driving for 45 minute clench-fisted is NOT safe for anyone.” However, I am strict about the night time use – that is the RULE, we have to be driving from specific places and it has to be DARK.

    I used to be opposed to the entire “DVD player in the car” concept, but realized that hey! when I travel overseas and am stuck on a plane for hours on end, I get to watch a movie, why shouldn’t my kids?

    I think this all falls under the “in moderation” category. My parents and sister are in towns 45 minutes away, so we are in the car a lot. Mostly, that time is used talking, singing, reading and observing what is going on out the windows. The times we use the DVD player at night? I am unapologetic.

  36. At home, we use the TV a lot. And computers. And tiny games. And all sorts of things. I like the glowing box and my kids like it too.

    But I won’t have it in my car.😛 It just seems… wrong. Like the whole world is literally passing you by.

  37. I have mixed feelings about videos in the car and I try to limit their deployment to longer trips because I think it’s good for kids to get some staring out the window, lost in their own thoughts time. As a kid I got a lot of that time and after the fifth or sixth hour– even with stops and the ability to legally move about the car without a seatbelt– I was still ready to go out of my freakin’ mind. I’m not as concerned about kids watching videos in the car as much as I am having to force them via seatbelts to sit in one place for hours at a time.

  38. My first thought when I read the title to this post was, “NO!”

    As a child I went on many long road trips (Georgia to California, California to Canada, etc). There were long stretches of highway where there wasn’t radio reception for the radio. All we had to entertain ourselves was maybe some Mad Libs, paper to write on, a book, a deck of cards (or UNO), and what we were driving by / through along the way. Most of all, we had to use our imagination and come up with ways to entertain ourselves.

    I have fond memories of seeing places that were different. People doing things I hadn’t thought of before (hey, look at that tractor!). Admiring the beauty of nature. Wondering what it would be like to live some place else – or in a different time.

    Watching a movie in a car, oblivious to what’s going on outside, is just sad. The kids won’t remember the journey part of the trip, they’ll have been spoon-fed somebody else’s imagination (the movie), they won’t learn to appreciate the differences between people and lifestyles.

    Constant mental stimulation by an outside source weakens the spirit and imagination, in my opinion.

  39. I have had experience taking drives with movies. We had a family van at one point that had a VCR. On a trip to Florida, my boyfriend at the time was able to hook up his laptop. In both cases, the movie option didn’t last long. It was more boring than sitting in a silent car.

    I’m lucky in that I don’t get motion sickness when I read in the car. But before I could read, I colored, and by the time I was a tween, I practically had an art studio in the back seat. Even when I could read, my mother would sometimes read aloud to us, something my dad enjoyed as well. We also played games, especially educational games. Many bookstores still sell great flash and trivia cards for kids, designated by grade — I was sorely disappointed when I became too old for them, and I got in trouble when I would answer for my brother, who was still able to play with them. MadLibs were also a staple.

    Maybe I’ll feel different when I have kids, especially if they’re rambunctious. But I have a major problem with media players in the car. It’s a completely passive experience, both for the kids and the parents. There was incredible value in what my parents did, both educationally and emotionally. By talking and playing games with me and my brother, we were able to develop our language and comprehension skills. We also bonded with our parents, they were engaged in my life.

    When there wasn’t any interaction going on, my imagination was engaged by just looking out the window. I played my own games, thought about what it would be like to live where we were at the moment. To this day, on a long ride, I love to watch the world go by. I took a train to Denver from Philadelphia, instead of flying, just because I thought it would be fun to spend two days on the road. Minus the soreness in the rear, I love long rides.

    To these experiences I would credit my intelligence, my imagination and my high threshold for boredom.

  40. “To these experiences I would credit my intelligence, my imagination and my high threshold for boredom.”

    Pardon my slip, I forgot to proofread. I meant to say that I think my parents raised smarter, more patient children as a result of these experiences.

  41. I remember long road trips with my family. My parents left early in the morning so we would sleep for part of the trip and then when we woke up we had lots of different travel activities to do. My favorite was those books that you used the clear marker to uncover secret answers already in the book. I do not feel that DVDs in the car are necessary. I am not a parent but I am an educator and I often have time to practice the skills of being a parent on our bus trips with 13 toddler and preschoolers to entertain. Songs, looking out the window for birds, bikes, holiday decorations, reading a book…all of these are fun games for the kids. We also do a game where they look for the first letter of their name and put buttons in a bag each time they see it. Problem is that today’s parents don’t seem to want to be creative…scratch that, they do not need to be creative which results in less creativity in our kids.

  42. We have portable DVD players but their use has been replaced by iPods with video. As someone posted earlier, they are only used for out of town trips. But we also, listen to audio books, listen to music, talk, read, play games, sleep, stare out the window, play the DS etc. It’s more of one tool to occupy time in the car rather than the only thing.

    Did I survive childhood without it? Of course, I did but I also survived without air conditioning in the car and house until I was 16 and I certainly wouldn’t drive to Florida in the middle of summer without it now🙂 .

    This actually started when our girls were younger and still in a car seat which doesn’t let them move their body at all. If a movie kept them entertained long enough so they didn’t scream the whole way and we could get to our destination, it was worth it. I’m sure we all have memories of climbing around in a car (including the rear window) while driving down the interstate.

    Just like the food you eat “everything in moderation”.

  43. Gee everyone is so politically correct! Honestly, I enjoy having the choice. When I was growing up, we didn’t have the choice. Isn’t it nice?!? We actually have a multiple choice: a) read on the trip; b) listen to the ipod; c) dvd player; d) play a game in the car; e) none of the above. WOW!! My kids are all grown and if I had them as youngsters now, you bet I would use all my choices to make our trips memorable!!

    Shoot, I would probably be in the back seat with my kids, with popcorn, watching the movie, while dad was driving! We would have a jolly ol’ time for sure.

    What a wonderful opportunity that is laid out before us today! The key is to be an active participant in what you do with your family, no matter what it is.

  44. Jacquee… you absolutely hit it right on the head.

    Beautifully said. 🙂

  45. When I was your age…
    We had a 15 passenger van to hold all 9 children. It was a time where seatbelts were required. There was no DVD player. We sang a lot and talked a lot and stopped for ice cream. We played I-spy. When it all became too much, we were given Dramamine and we all fell asleep.
    I think when it becomes too much for me and my kids, I’ll probably put in a DVD.

  46. To Hayley: Your item on taking the train to Philly caught my eye–I’m a railfan and alway like to hear about folks enjoying a train ride.
    To all who commented: A lot of interesting points came up. One was the problem of loooong trips with few breaks. The AAA road map of the USA has travel tips, and one of them is to take breaks at parks so “peppy children can run off excess energy.” On the other hand, if you’re fighting a deadline, this may not be practical.
    Another common thread is that situations differ: some can read happily on the road, while others reach for the “barf bag”.
    For some children (and some adults) a little scenery goes a long way; they’re just not programmed to enjoy the majesties of nature, but will be fascinated by a factory tour with all the machines whirring and clanking, or by a farmer out plowing his fields.
    For me the whole discussion was somewhat like a National Geographic article on a strange land. When my daughters were growing up in the 60’s and early 70’s, the worn out old cars we had during this period stayed mostly in the LA Metro area, because we didn’t want to be too far from home when something broke. Video players in the car? Science-fiction! For most of the 60’s, we didn’t even have a TV in our home. (we did have electricity and running water)
    We will now open our “Folk Songs for Today” book and sing “Hush Little Luxury (don’t you cry, you’ll be a necessity by and by)”

  47. What is it about TV/video media that causes people to get so defensive when you suggest that it’s ok to do without it?

    If I said “I don’t see the need to ever go skiing” people might disagree with me, but they wouldn’t call me ‘politically correct’ or a snob, or whatever. They wouldn’t go on for pages about how necessary skiing is.

    But suggest any negative effect about video media at all, and people come out swinging. Just don’t get what it is about video media that makes people feel so strongly either for or against it.

  48. And to clarify: your kid, your rules, you do what you have to.

    But if the only thing your kids know how to do in the car is watch movies, you’re setting yourself up for a world o’ problems if that DVD player dies during the trip…

  49. Well my kid can’t make it through a single book in the car without barfing, however, he also can’t watch movies or TV in the car without doing the same. So, we play twenty questions and look at the scenery, play the radio, and play other games.

  50. This is so much dependent on the kids and their capabilities that I think it’s impossible to make generalizations.

    My 4 and a half year old daughter has never needed any entertainment in the car other than her eyes to look out the window and her mouth to comment on what she sees. She’s been amazing since the day she was born on that front.

    My 15 month old son on the other hand is a complete nightmare in the car and has been since the day he was born. He screams and cries on any trip no matter how short, even if it’s just a mile or two and we’ve tried everything. After a 4 hour car ride last summer with him I thought I was going to drive us all off the road out of mental and emotional exhaustion. With a DVD in we get maybe 45 minutes at a stretch of quiet from him. It’s a blessing for everyone in the car.

    That said, we have a simple rule about the DVD player. It doesn’t get turned on for a trip that takes less than an hour.

    By the way, even with it on my daughter still looks out the window.

  51. MY kids? Yep.

    All four get car sick when they read. And if there’s anything worse than listening to whining, moaning and complaining about being bored, it’s listening to the whining, moaning and complaining while smelling stale vomit.

  52. I remember family trips (multiple hour) in which my brother was strapped into a metal-frame car seat, I was squished in the middle, and my sister sat on the other side in the back of a ford escort.
    We had one bag in front of the car seat for all of us. There was space for baby needs, a few toys for my brother, and one or two books each for my sister and I.
    The music was whatever tape Dad wanted to listen to.

    More recently, while I was nannying, the van had two screens for a DVD player, which usually had the same movie in it. The DVD player turned on automatically, but we (me and the mom) tried to ignore it unless we were going more than half an hour. I can still remember the menu sequence for Finding Nemo.
    The kids didn’t really care if it was there. They were pretty much immune to the noise. They had a few toys each. But their mom wanted it to stay plugged in, so it stayed plugged in.

    Now? Let me have a good book, a knitting project, and the occasional quick nap and I’m happy.

  53. Hmmm, we have a strict no movies policy in the car. Why? Because there’s a fantastic story I heard from a Colorado Park Ranger who joked about a family parked on a windy, but picturesque pull-off at the top of a mountain pass. As he got out with the cam-corder, he shouted at the kids in the back seat “GET BACK IN THE CAR – YOU’LL SEE THIS WHEN YOU GET HOME!”. Video and trips have never gone together for me since.

  54. I think half the reason why so many kids are being diagnosed with ADHD and Autism is because their parents don’t talk to or play with them. They just sit them in front of the TV.

  55. You know what bothers me even more than DVD players in cars – portable DVD players on camping trips! My sister refuses to take her kids camping without one so of course all weekend I’m the mean parent because I want my children to go hiking, explore caves and canoe with me and not sit in the tent watching movies.

  56. My husband and I drove from AZ to WA state with our then 2-year old daughter. We DID purchase a portable dvd player and used it when it was time for her to try to sleep. But now.. pft. It stays home. Even when we…. GO CAMPING!

    I understand LONG (read: 3 or more states) car rides needing a diversion. However. When I see people using the dvd player to go just to the store, or just short distances it bothers me. The car is the BEST opportunity to talk to our kids in a relaxed fashion, to catch up, to learn, to breathe together before the next appointment, class, game, what have you. Are people so out of touch with their own children they can’t be bothered to talk to them for the 15 minutes it may take to get to the store, church, grandma’s house?

    I feel the same about MP3 players. I rather my kids stare out the window and see the world, day dream, use their imaginations, anything that has to do with their mind, than just sit listlessly while videos/sounds get pounded in their heads. They even learn to NOT fight back there!

    I have a 14 yo and a 4 yo, and both are great conversationalists at their respective ages, and I know allot of it has to do with the times when we are NOT around technology. Taking advantage to avoid unnecessary technology.

    C’mon moms, give the techno stuff a rest and TALK with your kids. You might actually ENJOY it! Make up games, spelling contests, tell stories, sing songs. It makes for better memories than a crummy ol’ dvd player that doesn’t love your children.

  57. Hmmm. I’m one of those people who can’t read or write in cars. It’s always been audiobooks for me because I like to look at the scenery, provided I’m driving or being driven someplace interesting. But frankly, I associate this whole “NO TV EVER OMG IT WILL ROT YOUR PWECIOUS WITTLE DEVELOPING BRAIN” with the opposite of free range parents: the overbearing helicopter types who start plying their foeti with Baby Mozart in the womb and are excessively interested in how their children spend their time once they’re out of it, for fear that little Madison won’t get in that precious Harvard prep time if she’s watching Hannah Montana like all of those lower middle class, Wal-Mart clad children. A little television never killed anyone. I don’t think they even make audiobooks for young children. It’s hard finding enough material of interest to justify my own audible.com subscription sometimes, although it’s getting better. Yeah, the more I think about this, a two-hour movie during an eight-hour day of driving seems perfectly reasonable. I love to read–I’m a PhD student in English, as a matter of fact–but I was very grateful that my last flight to Europe involved an on-demand video monitor.

  58. I wanted to say something to the moms with the kids that get car sick when they read in the car. Why not get a book that the whole family can enjoy listening to either on tape, or read yourself? I’ve gotten in the habit of reading my Bible out-loud, or any book that we happen to have in the car. This seems to get everyone’s attention and entertainment value, and we can talk about what we just heard. (this, of course, provided my husband is driving lol)

  59. See, this is what I mean:

    ” I associate this whole “NO TV EVER OMG IT WILL ROT YOUR PWECIOUS WITTLE DEVELOPING BRAIN” with the opposite of free range parents: the overbearing helicopter types who start plying their foeti with Baby Mozart in the womb and are excessively interested in how their children spend their time once they’re out of it, for fear that little Madison won’t get in that precious Harvard prep time if she’s watching Hannah Montana like all of those lower middle class, Wal-Mart clad children”

    Not owning a TV or limiting TV/video watching has become this polarizing, radical act. Why? Why the assumption that the only reason for limiting screen time is to be a controlling helicopter parent? Is that the only reason one can come up with for not watching?

    I treat parenting like an experiment. And my experiment so far has convinced me that my own kids (your mileage may vary) are more interesting, fight less, come up with more things to do on their own, whine less, and are generally more fun to be around the less they watch. I don’t care if they get into Harvard (God forbid – I’m an MIT grad!), and I don’t care what the other kids are watching (although Hannah Montana does make me personally gag)(ditto Barney for the younger set). But if I say to someone whose kid is being obnoxious and whining for every toy they see on TV: “You know, I found my kids whined a lot less when we ditched the TV”, well that’s aparently crazy talk! Everyone knows there are no negative effects whatsoever to TV. TV is perfect! TV is GOD!

  60. As the new step-parent of four children (yay, me, sigh), I am absolutely stunned by their (the older ones) complete inability to do anything that doesn’t require a freaking phone. Today I had the umpteenth argument with the 11 year old about why she cannot take her phone to camp, ending with the statement: “If I had any say in it, you wouldn’t even HAVE a phone!” Yeah, she LOVES me.

    No, we don’t have a DVD in the car. We also won’t be taking any 6 hour car trips.

  61. Uh, yeah, dude, you need to calm down. I didn’t say TV was God. I said freaks (like you, apparently) treat it as if it’s some sort of feces-soaked, HIV-infested diaper and get all upset if your Stuff White People Like lifestyle choices seem a little over the top to people who occasionally watch an episode of “Lost.” (For the record, I own a 10-year-old 21-inch tube tv that pretty much only gets dragged out for “Lost.”) I have some bad news for you: there’s no moral dimension to your television rejection. Nobody’s going to canonize you for it. Probably your little MITers in training won’t even be smarter for it. If not owning a television has become a polarizing, “radicalizing” [sic] act, it’s only because the television rejectors have gone out of their way to make other people feel like they’re trying to get a big thumbs up for kicking the habit. Nothing’s ever perfect, but I’d like to remind everyone how much whining and grousing happened when novels replaced epic poetry in the eighteenth century, and how similar it sounded to all of this raging against the television. Genres change.

    Everything in moderation, kiddo. And sanctimoniousness is unbecoming.

  62. I’m in Texas. Long car rides are the norm going from one place to another.

    As long as I don’t have to listen to it – I don’t care what people do to keep kids quiet and entertained. I love portable DVD players/laptops used on planes to keep kids confined to their seats. My sister uses them for her kids on plane trips – and then it is put up for the remainder of the trip (They don’t work in hotel rooms)

    Having to listen to the likes of High School musical for 8 hours on a bus full of 4th and 5th graders – that nearly made me commit mass murder. (4 hours to Natural Bridge from Houston – several hours at Natural Bridge 4 hours back to Houston Yes our district considered this a day trip)

  63. three words Books. On. CD. We regularly take 10 hour car rides, and we all listen to the same book. Its great – we all have great memories of listening to the unabridged Pinnochio together. Not to mention Tom Sawyer (which got my then 6 yr old on a Mark Twain kick) and Wind in the Willows. Good books are good books, regardless of the “age” they were written for.

  64. Every summer we drive 15 hours from Oregon to So. Cal. On the way there we spend the night in Sacramento. On the way back it’s always a straight shot. We have a five and a six year old. We have no dvd player. We stop for bathroom breaks and for my husband and I to switch seats. (We each drive two hours at a time) The kids play their guitar, the play concentration, rhyme that word, they look for out of state plates, they naps, they snack, they giggle and sometimes argue. The hugs their stuffed animals and asked to be told stories, they read or peruse their books. We always survivie, we always look forward to it and no we’re not saving to get a portable DVD player for the car.

  65. We have never had movies in our car and our kids have traveled for many hours without any entertainment other than reading books, activity books, a few snacks, and some well placed travel breaks (we had pocket kites and other toys for those breaks) Now that they are older they often load audio books onto mp3 players, too. My husband and I have said “Look out the window and see the beautiful country you live in,” so many times that I’m just certain we’ll hear our own children tell that same thing to our grandkids someday. That’s one thing I”ve said as a mom that I’d love to hear my kids repeat!

  66. Shannon, you are completely, utterly missing my point.

    Perhaps I should have mentioned that I was being sarcastic.

    The free range idea, for me, seems to be one of challenging assumptions. Such as the assumption that your kids will disappear if they walk around the block. Or the assumption that a 12 year old could never stay home by themselves for 3 hours without instant death. People assume that free range parents are lazy and don’t care about their kids – which is patently wrong.

    You are making an assumption that we limit TV in our lives due to snobbishness. You are assuming that not watching TV is some sign of elitist behavior. I could assume that everyone who has 3 TVs in their house is a mindless couch potato, but I don’t. All I am trying to say is that it would be nice to someday, somewhere open a dialog about the positive and negative effects of screen time without being accused of being a snob. Alas, it has never happened yet.

  67. I remember when I was little taking 12 hour drives to see my grandparents. Both my brother and I got very car sick, so game boy, reading, anything using our eyes was out. We sang, played games (I found all 50 state plates on one trip, plus a bunch of other places), listened to music, daydreamed, slept. By the end we were bored stiff, but it taught us some good things, like keeping ourselves entertained. I won’t have a dvd player in my car, unless I have no choice because it comes with the car. In which case, it will always be “broken”.

    On the other hand, I have a dvd player I fully intend to use with my daughter on plane trips. The difference to me is that plane trips are more rare (for us at least) so it’s a treat. Also, in a car she can sing and shout and we can pull over and stop so she can stretch her legs. Confined on a plane, trying to be courteous to all the other travelers, that’s where I struggle to find quiet activities. We’ll talk, there will be music, and if she’s old enough reading. But I am fully prepared to pull out the dvd player as well!

  68. BMS, it makes a lot of sense.

    By saying that you’ve given up TV for this or that reason, a lot of people who watch TV but deep down worry that maybe they watch too much react defensively on the grounds that by making a choice different from theirs (and talking about it) you’re implicitly judging them.

    I don’t get why it matters if you’re judging them or not, really. If they were comfortable with their choices they wouldn’t care, would they?

  69. Uly, thank you for being one of the few people who ever seem to get what I am saying about TV.

    It’s not like we watch nothing, ever. But we don’t have an actual TV or cable, and we are pretty selective about what we do watch as a family. There are only so many hours in the day. Why fill them up with stuff that isn’t satisfying? For us, the occasional geeky documentary or old movie is satisfying, but daily doses of most other stuff is not. Does preferring mud, bike riding, and trash talking each other over 500 rummy to American Idol automatically make us snobs?

  70. I am with you BMS and Uly. We don’t watch much tv mostly because I can’t handle lots of different noises going on without going Mad! Mad! Mad! And we can’t afford cable and can’t get network tv. So we watch dvds and those fairly selectively.

    There are days I wish I could just turn on the tv and have it on, but I can’t so I figure out other stuff to do. I discovered that my kids behave less frenetically without a lot of tv. They have more fun with each other and by themselves if the tv is not on. MY kids, I don’t know about other kids. Saying that we don’t watch is not a judgment on others.

  71. BMS – As you said, “your rules, your kids, do what you have to.”

    This is the philosophy of free-rangers, isn’t it – to make your own decisions about what is best for your family, and to not be ruled by fear – either the fear of that TV turns our kids’ brains into mush or the fear that we will drive ourselves off the road if our kids whine about being cramped and bored for five straight hours.

    It sounds like everyone here is just interested in sharing how they teach their kids to cope with boredom, whether that means learning to listen to audiobooks or learning to stare out the window or learning when to turn on/off their audio/video media devices all by themselves.

  72. 5 teenager and 17 hrs from Denver to San Antonio.
    Yes, full length movies (and valium) are needed.

  73. I like the title of this post: “Do kids really need a movie in the back seat?”

    The important thing is to ask the question. Maybe the answer is yes, maybe no. But the important thing is to ask. Same way it is important to ask things like “Does my 10 year old need me to cut his steak for him?” “Does my 8 year old need me to walk him 20 feet to the bus stop?” “Does my kid really need a Wii just because all his friends have one?”

    If we as parents fall into doing whatever the herd does, without questioning, we may be doing our kids a disservice. Sometimes the herd collectively finds a great patch of grass. Sometimes it stampedes over a cliff. When things change (like DVDs in cars become available) it should be ok to question whether something is a good change in all cases.

  74. Also with BMS & Uly. We limit t.v. to 2 hrs/day for our 9-year-old (exceptions for special events and sick days), and the rest of the time the radio is on. Consequently, she is forced to find other ways to occupy her time at home, which translates well to road trips. She reads, draws, does crafts, listens to stories on her iPod while staring out the window. We sing (loudly and badly), make up stories, count cows and graveyards. She gets bored sometimes, but so what? Since whining isn’t allowed, she has to find something to do or take a nap.

    A DVD player in the car? Never. But that’s our choice for our family and it works well. She goes on Girl Scout trips in a van with multiple DVD players and multiple girls, and that’s okay, too. If it’s a movie she likes, she’ll watch, and if not, she’ll read or listen to music. I’m happy that she doesn’t have a problem making the choice – that to her, television is just ONE way to entertain yourself.

  75. Interesting to read the comments.

    I am sympathetic to the thought that my 2 y.o. can’t move around in his carseat. He can’t. But he also has no interest in watching videos (DVDs). We’re not opposed in principle; dad has the TV on in the hours, a bunch. He just doesn’t watch it (cartoons either).

    He does enjoy discussing the trucks we see on the highway with us, though (don’t get me wrong — this gets exhausting for the adults. There’s only so many interesting things you can say about tractor-trailers). And we try to stop at least once every 2-3 hours for at least 15 minutes of running around in an open space somewhere.

  76. Just want to throw in my support for BMS. And I’m glad I’m not the only one who feels this way. I’m about to take my kids (3 and almost 2) cross-country, and people keep asking me about movies. No, people. Although I’m not entirely opposed to it for long trips.

  77. We have the van with video. The rule is cds on the outbound trip (music to school–20 minutes) then dvds on the trip home. There are rare exceptions, but my three year-old even reminds when I forget to close the screen on the morning trip. At home no TV for the kids, though I watch progressive news podcasts on my 15″ laptop while I do chores. We won’t do this forever, but I want to hold off on commercials, violence, and sex (in that order) on TV as long as possible. BTW, my best friends have their TV on 17 hours a day. I say, “Goodonem!”

  78. We have televisions, but no cable, no network, nothing to air on them. I got tired of a) kids fighting over who watches what on t.v., b) Hubby coming home from work and just plopping himself in front of the tube and c) if we are all in our rooms to watch what we want, we are separated from each other and I just didn’t like it. SO. Out went the cable.

    Now, we take turns or agree upon movies we will watch, that we’ve gotten from the local Hollywood Video, the BIG RED BOX at the grocery store, the library, or borrowed from friends. We watch them together as a family, and it’s really nice! My 14 yo often ‘gags’ at the movies we pick for my 4 yo but usually ends up watching with us (Who can not enjoy Horton Hears A Who?)

    Overall, our house is more peaceful, esp with the kids NOT fighting, but instead outside with their friends, keeping themselves occupied and out of my hair, and my husband has found things to do around the house, after work or on weekends without the TV, which has been a big plus! Not to mention the money we’ve saved on not paying a big cable bill.. we can afford to order pizza and rent a few movies without feeling like we’re breaking the bank!

    We even bought a WII with the idea of ‘doing sports’ as a family, and ended up buying the real equipment and playing baseball or tennis outside. In the sun. It’s allot more fun and more laughs! So we have discovered we are a FAMILY who can do things TOGETHER without sitting and staring at a black box.

    Also, I have to add.. without all the commercials blaring at us, I rarely hear MOMMY I WANT THAT, and I’m actually spending less on stuff I don’t need or really want but just ‘had to have’. That has been a GREAT bonus!

  79. Back in the 70’s all my family’s trips included a few hours on the road. I can get nostalgic about sitting backwards in the 20 foot long stationwagon with faux wooden panels. I remember looking out and counting birds I saw, trains we passed, and red VW bugs. I’d like to say I wish my kids could experience that but then they’d also have to experience sticky, sweaty vinyl seats, fights over who gets to sit next to the window that works, property squabbles with lines drawn down the middle of a seat, and “Be quiet!” reachbacks from the front seat that had to be dodged. Riding for hours in the car in the old days wasn’t so great. I’m happy we have a DVD player. Our family has gone through the Scholastic Books DVD series in the car which is good because the kids probably wouldn’t watch them at home. Sometimes media can be good.
    By the way, one reason my wife and I choose to include a DVD in our minivan was so we could talk to each other. I know it sounds strange but we don’t want to talk to, read books to, sing with, play games with, and tell jokes to our kids for four hours straight.
    Remember those good old days? When, as a kid, you didn’t want to always hang out with your parents and have them entertain you for every second?

  80. We travel in an ancient 15 passenger van with no air conditioner, lap belts only in the back seats, a quirky heater that occasionally gets stuck “on” (most memorably on a long trip on a hot day w/ outside temp of 100 while we were in the boonies ~ a water fight was never so fun!). This is our financial reality as we pay off debt accrued while dh was laid off. But it has really taught us a lot about what we consider “necessities” in today’s world!

    We pack busy bags for trips. Well, the kids do. They bring their fave coloring books, picture books, chapter books, notebooks, etc. For babies, we pack some rattles for big siblings to jingle around. And occasionally we do bring a DVD player. However, we hide the DVD player and only bring it out in dire need. It has been a life saver with a tired-of-the-car toddler during a night time rainstorm when we are a couple hours from being home where there are no towns nor places to stop. It’s so rare that we use this that we have only remembered to bring it on about 5 trips total. And then we’ve only used it maybe 2 times. Shrug.

    Back to our van for a moment … we have learned we can live w/o automatic locks, without automatic windows, without AIR CONDITIONING. And we can have a TON of fun doing it. My kids have a litany of favorite travel stories that we brings us all to fits of laughter. What a great childhood they are creating!

    Oh … one side note on our van, it also doesn’t have any carpeting and apparently no noise insulation. It’s very loud on the highway as we hear all the “road noises” which come across like a very powerful white noise machine. It is not possible for the adults to hear what the kids are saying 2 benches back. That means, we are not responsible for entertaining our kids, simply by default. We toss food back at them periodically and otherwise they make their own happiness. I’m amazed at how well all my kids travel and how much they enjoy the actual trip itself.

  81. Wow, KW! I can’t believe I am not the only one on the planet whose car (a 12 year old Geo Tracker convertible) has no power windows, power locks, ac, or any of the other ‘necessities’. Not that I would reject a car made in, oh, this century. And there are days I could kill for ac (thunderstorms in the summer). But it is amazing what you can get by without.

  82. I find the responses that support the “need” for videos to be very interesting. As I’m sure has been noted repeatedly, many wonderful family trips occurred before the age of video in the automobile. For me, Free Range means helping and enabling our child to interact with others and with the various environments he encounters. Road trips are fantastic opportunities to make up new games, new rhymes, new songs and new stories with him. They’re also great opportunities to play old-school road trip games, and even board games (there are plently of travel versions available these days). In short, it’s a great time to connect with him. I can’t imagine dropping that for a video.

  83. Nick: I agree with the need to talk with your wife, but our kid has always been able to give us that, and I think it’s a skill worth teaching, IMO. In my practice, I often wonder if the use of TV to distract a kid so a parent can do something plays a part in the struggles some parents have with their kids being able to entertain themselves when the parent gets a phone call or has a friend over.

  84. S.D. — It’s funny. Early in our marriage, I advocated for cable repeatedly, but my wife gave her veto every time. Now that we have a kid, I can’t quite figure out when I would have the time to watch TV. It’s not that I spend every waking hour with him, but I’d really rather read, or play the trumpet (something I recently picked up again, and doubt I would have done if we had cable TV), or any number of things that seem more fulfilling that the TV. It’s as if I needed time away from it, to break a habit that I couldn’t conceive of breaking.

  85. Marvin.. I COMPLETELY agree with your assessment about kids unable to entertain themselves while Mom or Dad are on the phone, cooking dinner, or even going to the bathroom! Definitely TV has allot do with it, not to mention the fits thrown at the mall (I WANT IT I SAW IT ON TV I WANT IT) or the fits in the car (I’M BORED IF I HAD A *name your tech here* I WOULDN’T BE BORED!). My kids KNOW HOW to keep themselves busy when I’m busy with other things or other people. Granted they have their moments when they need a Mommy moment (well, my 4 year old anyway lol) but as far as FITS, they are rare and far between. Even when we go somewhere that provides cable tv my kids don’t even bother watching! Although.. I admit.. I do… tee hee!

  86. Definitely…NO movies!! We have traveled with our two children (now ages 12 & 14) for their entire lives. At least 3 long trips each year..minimum 6 hour drives up to 15 hour drives. We’ve never used movies. Movies cause motion sickness just like books. They need to look out the window and see the towns and areas that we are driving through. We’ve always used books on tape (even as young as 3! Lots of “Frog & Toad”) Now…our library has downloadable books for their iPods and “play-aways” (mp3 players with one book loaded…you provide the headphones.) My kids have seen license plates from 49 states (still searching for North Dakota) and many Canadian provinces. They know how to read maps because they help navigate. And most importantly…they sometimes just daydream looking out the window…they’ve seen the most amazing things when they were just daydreaming.

  87. I’m not sure why so many people think movies are bad while books on tape are good. They’re both just ways of passively passing the time. There is no way I want to read to my kids in the car – I would be sick. Similarly, my kids have been sick when they were playing with toys in the car. A built in DVD player forces the kids to look upward, so doesn’t lead to carsickness in my experience. That said, when we were traveling in Europe, the rental cars did not have DVD players, and we found the mp3 player was a good replacement. Without it, my youngest would complain of feeling sick within 10 minutes on winding country roads, but with it she was fine. I spent all my childhood with a brother who threw up on almost every road trip longer than 1/2 an hour – there’s no way I want to force that on my children, and I don’t want to have to feed them drugs to get through every trip when a DVD player or equivalent will do fine.

  88. BMP… IMHO.. there is a world of difference between watching a DVD and listening to a book on tape (or mp3 player or whatever). It’s imagination! A child using his/her own mind to create pictures of what they are hearing.. it’s good exercise for the mind, and helps them use their brain for creativity.

    DVDs, however.. are basically forced images and put imagination in a box and limit creativity.

  89. Not to mention. there is a WIDE WORLD out there to look at! We could check out a book from the library with information on the places and areas that you would go through, and compare from the books to what is out the window, talk about it, learn about it, it’s exciting to be able to say “i saw that in the book!”.

  90. sonya: I’m sorry, but there is no physical reason why a kid would avoid car sickness by watching a DVD, while he or she gets car sick playing with a toy.

  91. How about a movie in the stroller?

    http://babybeehavin.com/

    That’s right, pacify your baby into oblivion so they can behave and YOU never have to deal with them!

  92. S.D….Just to clarify…it is Sonya who thinks that DVDs and books are the same…not I.

  93. We just got one this year for my 3 year old since we have a 14 hour one way trip to the in-laws. I don’t have a problem with it because we didn’t let him watch it the whole time. He also did a lot of coloring, playing with cars, reading signs, etc.

    We have a 60 mile commute round trip everyday to daycare/work and I have never brought the DVD for that. I also do the eye roll when I see the vans with movies going for short trips around town. My son can read road signs and asks about all sorts of stuff he sees out the window. I don’t think an occasional movie on a long trip will kill his enthusiasm for looking out the window.

    That movie in the stroller? Uh, yeah….

  94. I am all for the DVD player in the van! I grew up without computers, cell phones, or VCR/DVD players and I have all of those too!

    I grew up the youngest of five children. All of our vacations were in a station wagon. Four of us got carsick regularly. Our driving breaks were determined by when someone threw up. Instead of fighting over which movie to watch, we fought over who got to sit in the front seat with my parents because that was the “safest” place in the car as far as not getting carsick. The person who most recently threw up had dibs on the front seat. I am a voracious reader, but I can not read a single page in a car without getting quesy.

    So, yes, we have a DVD player in the van. We can drive the 1000 miles from Texas to Chicago in peace with our three small children (currently 4, 6, and 8). It’s the best money we ever spent!

  95. Uly, that DVD stroller thing is about the most depressing thing I have seen all day.

    Do people honestly think the kids cannot ever be without a screen in front of them? It’s like the world in Wall-E – an entire population that sees only screens, to the exculsion of all else. That’s freaking scary.

  96. As a child I and my siblings were regularly driven 8 hours to grandmom’s house. We would have killed for a DVD player. Yes, I have a few “fond memories” of counting license plates with my dad. But I have many more memories of boredom and bickering. I honestly cannot see any good reason to object to showing kids a movie in the car on a long trip.

  97. We gave up the backseat movie a few years ago. Now we take along podcasts (This American Life, Car Talk, Wait Wait Don’t Tell Me), and discuss their content as a family.

  98. My kids ages 6 and 4 do not even know a such thing as a DVD player in the car exists. We have taken several driving trips from our home in Virginia to Florida without this technology. They like to listen to music, talk to each other or play with their toys.

  99. HELL NO.

    Heck I wasn’t even allowed to read on long car trips. “LOOK OUT THE WINDOW! We’re passing through the great US of A, you’ll miss it!”

    I’m glad I did! see it, that is😀

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