Family-fun road trips get a little help in the digital age

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Road Trips in the Digital Age
by Kelli Warner
KMTR-TV Morning News anchor
Springfield, OR

When my cousin and her family recently prepared to depart for a week to a cabin on the lake, this is what she posted on Facebook: “Got my iPhone, my iPad and my memory foam mattress. Camping, here I come.”

I laughed at her idea of “roughing it”, but it got me thinking. Family vacations have really changed with the advent of technology. For example, when my daughter left to go camping with some family friends this past weekend, she crawled into the backseat with her iPod and the DVD movie, Alpha and Omega, to play on the car’s entertainment system.

Yes, backseat screens that trick the kids into thinking they’re in a movie theater and not embarking on a “long,” two-and-a-half-hour drive through the mountains. To this I say: genius! Because any parent, who’s found themselves in the middle of a road trip with Mr. and Mrs. Bickerson in the backseat, knows that while family time is precious, silence can be golden.

And another thing: Those car games I remember as a child, like “Slug Bug,” don’t work so well after a certain age. Despite highly emphasized “rules of engagement” from my husband and I before the game commences, my daughter ends up black and blue and my son as defensive as a bank-robber caught in the act. Ahem…“What? What’d I do?!”

So perhaps the whole concept of “divide and conquer” applies best here. I’m all for family interaction, but in close quarters, I’m not against distracting the kids from each other with technology.

Sometimes letting my daughter put on her headphones and bop to the silent tunes of her iPod while my son takes Mario through his latest adventure on his DS is what makes those long, family drives mutiny free. Those technological devices are a way to numb the miles, only allowing the occasional declarations like “He’s bugging me!” or “She won’t put her feet down!” to escape from the backseat.

This concept really is nothing new. Oh, the technology has certainly advanced, but I remember plenty of vacations where my sister and I took along our Walkmans–you know: that ancient device that kids today couldn’t identify in a line-up? It helped us keep our hands to ourselves and distracted us from constantly asking “Are we there yet?”

But let me be clear. Once we get to our destination, the games and music players are put away and family time becomes the focus. After all, that’s when it matters most: when we’re at our destination, enjoying our surroundings. (Besides, our cell service is pretty spotty in most scenic areas.)

Look out, Mother Nature, here comes the Warner family.