Dr. Nicole Beurkens
“Are we there yet??!!” Car rides, especially long ones, can be tricky for parents and kids to navigate without everyone losing their sanity. Screen time is one way kids can stay occupied, but there are concerns about the overall amount of use for most children, and time in the car can be a major contributor.
Technology is so thoroughly integrated into our lives that it may seem impossible to prevent our kids from spending so much time on their devices, but there is hope! If you’re wondering whether to allow screen time in the car, these five tips will help you and your kids strike a productive and healthy screen balance during road trips and daily commutes.
Screen time in the car
It’s no secret that our kids are exposed to screens almost constantly. Many kids spend an excessive amount of time on devices throughout the day, whether they are watching TV, playing games, completing online schoolwork, or using social media. The negative effects of electronics overuse on the developing brains of our children are well-documented, which leaves many parents searching for ways to minimize their kids’ screen time whenever possible.
One of the most common places where we can easily reduce our kids’ electronics use is in the car. Most children and teens quickly turn to their devices when their activities are limited, including during car rides or while using other forms of transportation. However, as parents this gives us a great opportunity to reduce our kids’ electronics use and teach them resilience when faced with “boring” situations. Using devices in the car prevents them from connecting with the rest of the family and observing the world around them as they travel, while contributing to the negative effects of electronics overuse. As parents, we can help our kids learn the importance of managing their electronics use in the car with a variety of ideas:
- Balance is crucial: Even with so many activities requiring us to use electronics every day, we still need to strike a healthy balance between screen time and other activities. The car is a great place to unplug from devices for a short period of time and give our brains a break from screens.
- Social interaction is healthy and fun: Even though our kids often ride with the rest of the family or with their friends, many of them turn to their devices anyways as soon as they sit down. Encouraging them to have conversations during car or bus rides can help them get the social interaction that their brains need to develop in a healthy way, and to strengthen relationships with others.
- Observing the world around us is important: We can also teach our kids the importance of learning about the world around them as we travel. One day, they’ll be ready to drive themselves and they will want to be familiar with their hometown and surrounding areas. Plus, it’s good for them to use their long-distance vision for an extended period of time after being focused on screens for such a long time every day.
Are there benefits of screen time in the car?
Realistically, there are many situations where it can be a good idea for your kids to use their electronics while traveling. For example, on long road trips it can be fun to watch a movie or play games for a while to pass the time. Especially for younger kids, these types of activities can help them avoid getting antsy when they have to spend multiple hours in the car. However, it’s still important to think about how we can provide our kids with a balance of activities so that they don’t wind up watching movies for an entire 12-hour car ride!
There are many ways to do this, and here are a few alternative activities that you can suggest for your kids next time you have a longer trip:
- Play a classic road trip game (I-Spy, Letter Game, and more!)
- Talk about your plans once you reach your destination
- Read a book
- Play with toys
- Listen to music
- Put on a podcast or audiobook, and listen together
5 tips to help your kids strike a healthy screen time balance in the car
1. Be aware
The most important thing you can do as a parent is to be aware of your kids’ habits when it comes to electronics use so that you can take appropriate action if needed. Keep an eye on your kids when you travel to make sure they aren’t overusing their devices. This way, you can implement changes on the fly to help them manage their time in a healthier way!
2. Talk with your kids
The first step in helping your kids manage their screen time is teaching them about the importance of balance. Using the ideas mentioned above is a great way to help them understand why it’s so crucial to take a break from electronics whenever we can.
3. Provide alternative activities
If your kids are struggling to find other things to do, especially on longer trips, try putting together a list of options for them to choose from when it’s time to put devices away. You can pick from the choices I listed above, or work with your kids to create your own list of road trip activities!
4. Use parental control tools
If electronics use continues to be a problem, parental control apps can be a great solution. I use the Qustodio app with my kids, which makes it super easy to set time limits, content filters, and more to help my kids stay on track throughout the day and achieve balance between their devices and other activities. These apps can be extremely helpful both as a tool for you to monitor your kids’ electronics use as well as a way for you to help them learn how to manage their time more effectively.
5. Be a role model
Of course, none of these tips will go very far if you frequently use your phone in the car yourself! One of the most important parts of our job as parents is to model appropriate behavior for our kids, and this is no exception. Participate in road trip activities with your kids, or spark a conversation on the way home from school – it will show your kids how they can turn a “boring” situation into a fun and engaging one. You can read a lot more about this topic here!