PASS THROUGH ANY crowded airport these days, and it’s highly likely you’ll witness a toddler manipulating mom or dad’s smartphone. These pint-sized techies are part of a new generation of traveling kids who, for better or worse, have amusement at their fingertips.
Big kids, too, have their own new set of standards for travel fun; from iPads to the latest hand-held video game, children today are able to manipulate their own brand of quiet fun. But is it a good thing? Certainly, say some parents, harkening back to their own childhoods spent in the family station wagon with nothing more than “License Plate Bingo” to play during a 12-hour drive to grandma’s house. Apps and maps do provide kids and parents a positive travel experience - no whining is good, right? But other moms and dads are in the camp of uncertainty, wondering if perhaps the family travel experience is sullied by the lack of family interaction, engagement, and ultimately, time.
It’s a tough decision, one in which my husband and I discuss quite frequently. Regardless of your own position on the matter, there are guidelines and limits, along with a wealth of options for application. Here are a few of our thoughts on bringing technology into the backseat:
1. Set limits. Remember when your dad would demand a shut-down of the television because he said your brain would turn to mush? Yep. Same rule applies in our family for hand-held games and such. Besides, there’s nothing wrong with actual conversation among family members all traveling together. Also remember that some kids do get headaches after staring at a small screen for extended periods of time, so breaks are good for a physical recharge, too.
2. Choose participatory apps or games. A few great apps, like Viator (suitable for older children and teens), provide cool history and trivia about thousands of destinations around the world. Put a child in charge, and keep the dialogue going with searches, question-and-answer sessions, and the like. Google Maps is also fun, and teaches valuable navigation skills, something many of tend to forget in this world of GPS. Smaller kiddos may enjoy the excellent PBS Kids app, with familiar faces and games that appeal to the 2-5 year-old set.
3. Try a multimedia approach. All smartphones today come with a handy still or video camera, and of high quality, too. Hand it over to the kids and ask them to create a slide show of their day, or offer up a theme for a family video you can all view together at the end of your trip. YouTube is an excellent venue for sharing family vids, and settings are easy to tweak for privacy. Even small children can click the camera button!
4. Encourage writing and reading. iPads and other tablets are fabulous ways to encourage journaling among your elementary or middle school child. iPad’s “notes” even look like notebook paper, and the keypad is large and simple to operate. Combine daily journal entries with photos, and you’ve got a pretty fancy vacation scrapbook.
Involve your kids in the technology discussion well before the trip commences. Decide together how much is too much, and establish rules for sharing devices. Technology is a wonderful addition to family travel, but it shouldn’t be the only one.
For more tips and travel thoughts, visit AKontheGO.com