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Kids and Video Games: A Luddite Responds

Christina Talcott

Today I got an e-mail about a new survey of parents and kids that reveals that 96 percent of kids ages 8 to 14 will bring some form of video game with them on vacation, and that one third of parents surveyed worry that their child will be bored if he or she doesn't have enough video games to play on a trip.

Really? That's what parents worry about?

I've never been a fan of video games, maybe because I never got into the habit of playing them when I was growing up, but I don't begrudge my pals their nazi-killing, zombie-slaying hours of play -- as long as I'm not around. And I'm sure the Wii is a lot of fun, and there are lessons to be learned in educational games. But on vacation, is it really that important to bring those games along?

As neither a kid or a parent, I can't possibly know about how to entertain kids on long drives or other chores of vacationing. But it does worry me that kids and parents alike seem so dependent on video games, especially when on the road. After all, travel is about exploring new things, making new memories and connections to the outside world, and not, in my opinion, about doing the same things you do every day at home.

Of course, the fact that this survey was sponsored by Game Crazy, a chain of video game stores and online game-swap shop, means the numbers might just be telling a story the gaming industry wants to hear.

Still, I wonder if I'm missing something here in the fog of my knee-jerk reaction. Are video games really indispensable on family vacations?

By Christina Talcott |  July 9, 2008; 7:26 AM ET  | Category:  Christina Talcott , Family Travel , Travel Trends
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Yay! I thought my husband and I were the last parents to not provide our child with video entertainment on family trips. She's been on 3 DC-California round trips in a small plane with nothing but books, drawing materials, a stuffed animal or two, and music to pass the time. Every summer we take a few trips of 2-4 hours duration with the same entertainment pack. At one time I pondered a portable DVD player but then realized, "If she hasn't missed it, why introduce it?"

Posted by: reader16 | July 9, 2008 8:12 AM

I don't have kids, so I know my opinion doesn't hold too much water, but I'm gonna give it anyway ;)

I'm not a huge fan of the constant video game/DVD thing for kids. As my husband quipped when we discovered that the Marriott over Niagara Falls actually has a channel that shows the falls, he said "preferred the HD version" as he looked out the window. I think that there's a lot to be said for car games that encourage looking out the window.

But that being said...when we were kids, we weren't trapped in car seats and boosters until we were 20 (okay, I exaggerate). I remember taking many DC/Maine road trips in our 1976 Chevrolet Caprice station wagon. The back seat would get folded down, and it would be divided into three zones - one for child. We could lie down, stretch, sit up - whatever our fancy (and level of car-sickness) struck us.

With all the restraint laws, kids are strapped into seats these days - I can't begrudge them a little bit of video-screen based entertainment (be it a game of any form or a DVD) if it helps distract them from being restrained for the many hours on end a road trip entails.

Posted by: Chasmosaur | July 9, 2008 8:57 AM

We have never had a problem with our 5-year old keeping himself busy on trips. Maybe it's just him, but even on the occasional 8- to 10-hour trip to visit his aunt and uncle, he sleeps or does other things. No boredom there.

Our van has a built in DVD, but we've never told him it was there, and he doesn't ask for one. He's not a video game guy, either. If you don't introduce it, they often won't ask for it.

What drives me crazy is the folks who fire up the in-car DVD for a 10-minute trip to the shopping center. Talk about kowtowing to the kid. Shouldn't be necessary.

Posted by: pounder | July 9, 2008 9:50 AM

This post is SO relevant to my life.

My family and I (kids 6 and 8) are just back from a looooong trip to England and Spain.

I'm convinced the video games and DVD players are not about keeping kids happy, they are about keeping kids quiet.

Traveling with kids 12 or 14 hours a day means parenting in public 12 or 14 hours a day. Trust me, this is the opposite of fun.

Kids whine. Kids bicker. Kids act like complete squirrels in restaurants.

On this trip, we brought the portable DVD player. Despite tremendous pressure from the short set, we haven't yet caved on personal video games.

Yet.

--Jamie
http://www.travelsavvymom.com

Posted by: jamie | July 9, 2008 10:17 AM

I'm convinced the video games and DVD players are not about keeping kids happy, they are about keeping kids quiet."

I totally agree with this in cars, airports, trains, etc. Really, in public places.

Last summer, my entire family converged on my father's lake house. With 3 acres of woods, a large lake with warm water, a dock, fishing equiptment, and five boats (3 power, 2 self-propelled), my nephews (age 7 and 9) spend most of every day in the living room playing their PSPs. They seriously only spent 30-90 minutes enjoying any of this each day. So sad.

Posted by: RT | July 9, 2008 11:15 AM

I have a 10 y.o. Organic Kid. We don't have DVDs or personal gaming systems for road trips or vacations. We play games like I did as a kid (alphabet games, find the states on license plates, etc.). My ex, her dad, has a game thingy just for driving back and forth for her weekend visits (about a 2 hr. drive). So the visit starts with Organic Kid staring at a screen and not interacting with her dad. Frankly, this makes me CRAZY. But who am I to judge what they do? If a parent finds it helpful to allow their kids to use these devices, fine. But we won't. When we visit a place, Organic Kid will get as much out of it as possible. Right now, we're planning a Chicago trip, and we'll hit the Field Museum, the Adler Planetarium, the Chicago Art Institute, the Museum of Science & Industry. We won't have time for games!

Posted by: Organic Gal | July 9, 2008 11:41 AM

Many years ago, when our kids were small, we took a car trip that involved several hours of driving through a rural part of the country. Our older daughter, then 5, whined about being bored.

"Look out the window at the beautiful scenery," I told her.

She replied, "There's nothing to look at but underwear tied to trees."

We've used that line on family trips for many years now and eventurally it became part of a scavenger hunt we devised to keep both kids occupied. It was, morever, a lesson on rural vs. urban culture.

Posted by: Balti | July 9, 2008 11:45 AM

being of the first Game Boy generation (now almost 30) I think handheld devices really do help pass the time in long-ass car rides, but if the kids are missing sights on the trip because of Game Boy then: no good. and if the'yre just going to play video games the whole trip then why even take them in the first place?

Posted by: TAR ART RAT | July 9, 2008 11:48 AM

Just booked a flight to Istanbul last week for early September. Any thoughts on whether or not I should still go would be appreciated. The plan is to spend some time in Istabul and drive the Aegean coast.

Posted by: Off-Topic | July 9, 2008 11:52 AM

Hi Off-Topic, I'm looking into the Turkey travel situation right now and will post a blog item on it soon, probably tomorrow morning. The State Department is telling Americans who are going to Turkey to maintain a low profile and avoid "facilities where Americans and Westerners are known to live or congregate, especially hotels, restaurants, housing compounds, places of worship, and resort areas." My gut tells me you'll be fine, and I hope today's attack on the U.S. Consulate was an isolated incident. No one knows where all of this is headed, but we'll try to keep you posted.

Posted by: Christina Talcott | July 9, 2008 4:15 PM

Thanks Christina -- I'm excited about the trip and would really hate to cancel.

Posted by: Off-Topic | July 9, 2008 4:47 PM

"Just booked a flight to Istanbul last week for early September. Any thoughts on whether or not I should still go would be appreciated. The plan is to spend some time in Istabul and drive the Aegean coast.

Posted by: Off-Topic | July 9, 2008 11:52 AM"

For what it's worth, we went to Turkey, including a week in Istanbul, a month after 9/11. In fact, we left the day the bombing began in Afghanistan. We were really nervous but since the trip had been scheduled well in advance, we thought we'd go ahead. So, so glad we did. It felt like the safest country in the world and everybody was incredibly hospitable.

Posted by: Andy | July 9, 2008 5:16 PM

Back on topic....We never had DVDs or hand-held games for our kids for our numerous driving trips. Instead, we liked to listen to books on tape or old radio shows on tape. One of our favorites was the old "Sherlock Holmes" radio show with Basil Rathbone that our kids just loved. We still laugh about the commercials for "Petrie Wine", a California wine in the 1940's.
Our library system has thousands of books on tape and CD and many of them would be perfect for a family, such as "Harry Potter".

Posted by: Arlington, VA | July 9, 2008 6:33 PM

When my kids were young, the only electronics they were allowed was books on cassette tapes. We used to take 12 hour car trips (one way) to grandparents at least 2 times a year. They survived, learned how to amuse themselves and were quite appreciative when we stopped for anything. Even now as a 20 & 18 year old, we still do allow even Ipods in the car. We let one use it a few times, but realized that she totally zoned out and was not part of the family ... therefore it is now verboten.

Posted by: Barbara | July 9, 2008 7:06 PM

We just got back from a 10 day trip to Cape Cod. We brought the Wii. The rule was that we would only turn it on if it rained. We used it maybe a total of four hours (3 times for abut 90 minues each). It was a nice diversion during rainy weather, but was never used otherwise.

Posted by: allen | July 9, 2008 9:09 PM

Better video games than the old people who go on vacation and want to watch TV. I mean, cmon, getting HBO in your hotel room is a feature of your vacation? Speaking of slaying zombies, let's slay that old, nasty behavior.

Posted by: Omars | July 9, 2008 11:45 PM

Ok I am another one without kids (but an uncle many times over).

The books on tape is a great idea for a car ride, you can listen, and at the same time look at whats out the window. It is also something the driver can enjoy as well.
As far as bringing along portable DVD's and the rest of the stuff, leave them at home unless you have a strict use rule and stick to it. Like the device can only be used when waiting in an airport on a long layover. Once you arrive at your vacation spot, they shouldn't be touched.
But I will say, it all depends on what kind of vacation your taking. If it is a family reunion type thing, a visit to grandma's, a mountain or beach type vacation, might need different rules, than a trip to D.C., or Chicago might.
But people are creatures of habit. That is why Older people, Omars might want to turn on the TV. Next time bring a deck of cards and ask them if they want to play a game. That is something that is very easy to pack if your flying. In fact playing cards with my older relatives is a long lasting memory for me. If you are renting a house for a week and driving there, bring Scrable or another fun but not fight provoking games along with you. Personal interaction should be one of the goals of a family vacation.

Posted by: rja112 | July 10, 2008 3:50 AM

I do not have any strict rules as they are not needed.Theres no harm besides is such a bad thing for a child to play a videogame or wath a dvd is it that bad.infact having theese strict rules could affect them in later life,let them enjoy video games there not the worst thing in the world and tey keep kids of the streets wich has to be a bonus.when on trips do you actually like looking out of a window for hours on end i know i dont its boring.

Posted by: roy | July 12, 2008 7:03 AM

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