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Momsensical: Tales from a technology-free family road trip

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Over Christmas break, I tried an experiment that some would call risky.  Crazy, even.

I’ve had some experiences in the past few months that got me thinking, ultimately propelling me to experiment and make new resolves for the year.

First, my experiences:

At the beginning of a soccer game, I watched the parents of my daughter’s teammate settle into their camping chairs and pull out their phones.  They never looked at the field again until the game was over.  No cheering, no yelling at the refs — nothing.  I wondered if they were aware that their daughter’s team had won.

My husband and I sat next to a father and his two tween-aged sons at a restaurant.  The boys were engrossed in gaming devices the entire time we were there.  Their dad greeted a few acquaintances at the restaurant, but I never saw him speaking with his sons.  I’m not sure when or if they ever put down their devices long enough to eat.

A teacher at my kids’ elementary school explained to me that an increasing number of parents are asking that their young children be evaluated, citing socialization concerns.  “The root of most of their issues,” this teacher explained, “is that these kids don’t know how to interact with each other.  We send them on the playground to play, but many simply don’t know how.  Too many parents put them in front of screens at home and in cars, and even when they do have play dates, they often sit next to their friends in front of screens.”

Second, my thinking:

I considered what my kids do with their time.  Although I’m pretty strict on screen time limits, they have considerably more than I ever did as a kid.  Home is the place where we learn and practice skills like conflict resolution, negotiation and communication.  If my kids are more often connected to earphones or other devices than they are to each other, am I helping them develop these abilities?

These skills won’t magically appear once my kids enter the workforce, or a marriage, or into parenthood.

I also had to take a hard look at myself and consider what I do with my own time.  To which do I give more and the very best of my time – my kids or my computer and cell phone?  Regrettably, this wasn’t easy to answer.

Third, my experiment:

I decided to ban all electronic devices from our latest road trip.  This ban even extended to cell phones, although I did allow one for navigational purposes only (out of respect for the fact that GPS devices have saved my marriage on more than one occasion).

The announcement of the ban met with heavy resistance (weeping, wailing, eye-rolling and heavy sighing – to name a few).  I held firm, however, cheerfully detailing how I survived dozens of technology-free road trips as a kid and still turned out to be pretty darn awesome. 

To be clear, this trip didn’t extend beyond state boundaries, as I’m not sure my resolve extends that far.  But hours in the car are still hours in the car, and we drove them without the benefit of gaming devices, movies, phones, or even iPods.

We did, however, have the benefit of pillows, games, books, food and – most importantly — each other.  When a comment was made, everyone heard it.  When someone got teased, everyone took a side, defending either assailant or victim.  When someone whined, it affected everyone – which means I wasn’t the only person trying to fix it.

Was it a perfect trip?  Of course not.  Was there more contention than there would have been had everyone been engrossed in their respective devices?  Of course.  But there was also significantly more interaction – including lots and lots of positive stuff.  On the way home, we played License Plate Alphabet Bingo.  I can’t remember the last time we’d played that on a road trip.

Despite their predictions to the contrary, every single one of my kids survived.  And even came home smiling.

Finally, my resolves for the New Year:

Help my kids learn, grow and develop into awesome adults by carefully deciding and limiting access to screen time. And offer plenty of good options to fill that time.

Give my kids the very most and the very best of my time.

My kids — not my computer – will only be with me for a limited time.

Susie Boyce is a freelance writer based in Highland Village. Read her column each month in The Cross Timbers Gazette. Contact Boyce at susie@seriousmomsense.com or visit her website at www.seriousmomsense.com

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