Is watching movies in the car harmful for your kids?

On family roadtrips, iPads and portable DVD players are sanity savers. But this screen time could be harming your kids.

By Jenny Charlesworth
Is watching movies in the car harmful for your kids?

Photo: kzenon/istockphoto

Eight hours in the car with your kids will test any parent’s patience. It doesn’t matter if you’re president of the PTA or queen bee of the bake sale, once “Are we theeeerrree yet?” starts to reverberate around the car, it's crunch time. Who's having the road trip meltdown first — you or the kids? 

To keep the peace, parents will reach for the iPad or portable DVD player in the hopes someone like Dora will hold the wee ones over. But would you pass out the gadgets if you knew they were harmful to your child’s development?

We know that regulating technology is key for keeping kids happy and healthy but on long road trips those screen time restrictions don't seem as essential anymore. "Please keep the kids happy until we make it to the cottage...Please let them smile instead of scream...Please tell me I packed those extra earbuds."

By throwing on a movie (or two or three), you might stave off a backseat tantrum but you should consider the larger implications for your child, cautions Rob Laird, a personal health advocate and celebrated Canadian author. “Don't take the easy way out, and allow kids (and parents, too) to be lulled into the interpersonal silence encouraged by technologies such as DVD players,” he says.

“On long road trips, encourage kids to develop their imaginations and interpersonal skills…Learning to be together, learning to deal with boredom, learning to explore interpersonal communication in novel ways: these are foundational to human development and should not be replaced by technological distractions.”

Now I know after eight hours in the car anyone can get a bit testy — not just the two-year-old in the car seat — so maybe going cold turkey from technology isn’t the best option if it sours the kick-off to a family getaway. But why not try to cut back on the screen time at least? Introduce your kids to your own childhood road trip games (Punchbuggy yellow, anyone?) or start up a family sing-along. This will teach your kids to regulate their emotions and help with their development. And, by unplugging — even for a bit — you'll also brush up on your own coping skills, too.

Happy road tripping!

What's your rule about screen time in the car? Do have tips for a happy family road trip?   

This article was originally published on Aug 02, 2012

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