To DVD or Not to DVD

By Christopher Byrne

As the summer travel season kicks in, the issue of whether or not to have DVDs in the car is heating up. As with any conversation online these days, it can be polarizing.

On the one side there are those who say they keep kids quiet and entertained on long car trips and what’s the problem?

On the other side there are those who are equally convinced that DVDs in the car are part of what is contributing to the decline of the family.

And, as always happens these days, each side asserts that kids are suffering.

For the record: Boredom isn’t suffering and being entertained at every moment is not a right of children or a requirement for parents to provide.

However, whether or not you choose to have DVDs in the car is a completely individual choice that should be based on your family, your trip, your individual kids. There is not “right or wrong” on this issue. Yet it seems like both sides have something to learn, and that’s moderation.

Though I’m generalizing here, the “just pop it in” crowd seems to feel the need to keep kids entertained so that the long car trip is endurable, and they get very nervous if they haven’t planned for every moment.

The “never never never” crowd seems to romanticize family car trips from their youth when DVDs in the car—or even home video—weren’t available. This is probably not accurate, given the vagaries of human memory. Remembering playing games and talking as a family may be sweet, but what about the fully pitched, high decibel turf battles over a few square inches of vinyl upholstery, the whining and the tedium? If your parents are still around, ask them if they remember the car trips of your youth as “Walton’s Mountain on Wheels,” or if they might not have been grateful to be able to show you a movie and have you sit still and quiet for a couple of hours. The reality check might do you good.

You’ll never change the world back to what it was. DVD, handheld games, cell phones are realities of today’s kids. Those of us who are adults can’t miss what didn’t exist. The in-car DVD player is a reality, whether it’s integrated into the mechanics of your car or is a handheld. At the same time, the availability of technology doesn’t mean you have to be a slave to it.

We’ve been talking to parents about how DVDs can be successfully used in the car, and it will come as no surprise to find out that moderation and judgment make all the difference. Just as an airline flight has to be a certain length to offer a movie, so, too, can a car ride.

Let’s say you’re driving Route 80 through Nebraska. (I’ve done it.) After you realize explain this is built along the route of the original Oregon Trail and you’ve discussed that this is the route the Mormons took to Salt Lake City, it’s pretty much cornfields. Doesn’t watching a movie sound great as you travel those 450 miles? Why not take advantage of this option, particularly as you can control what kids are watching?

It doesn’t mean the family doesn’t talk, sing songs or play the license plate game or stop for a picnic so the kids can run around. It’s just another option. It’s neither good nor bad.

I was one of four very active boys and we took long car trips every summer. I remember being unable to read because of motion sickness. Seatbelts in the back seat were unheard of, and we freely clambered over the seat tops into the “way back.” These are not options today. Nor, probably are the games we made up with the small, marble sized Super Balls that sent them winging around the back, caroming off the windows as we drove the Kanakmangus Highway.

While it’s hard to support allowing kids simply to zone out for the duration of a trip, and never interact or see what’s around them, it’s also hard to deny kids an entertainment medium that’s part of their world because an adult has an idea of how something should be.

As we always say, balance is the key, but this is a personal decision. Make it a conscious and realistic one.

What do you think?

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