screen time while traveling

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As moms, we feel guilty for a lot of things. We shouldn’t, but of course, we do. And in the age of technology, screen time has become a Thing. It was a Thing for our parents, too. I remember my husband telling me the other day about how much TV he watched as a kid and his parents were constantly telling him it would rot his brain.

But now Momma, our kids are toddler and school-aged and not only do we have smart TVs and Netflix and YouTube, but we have all sorts of little gadgets for our kids to watch them on.

When I was pregnant with my daughter, I said that she wasn’t going to watch TV until she was two. But then I discovered Downton Abbey was on Amazon Prime during maternity leave and I was nursing constantly and one thing led to another and the kid has been watching Sesame Street long before I had reached my no-TV goal. And then I said, no way would I be that parent who lets her kid have screen time while traveling in the car.

Let me tell you how it really played out.

My husband and I were planning a five-hour road trip to visit my in-laws when my daughter was about sixteen months. Old enough not to be napping for hours during the day and young enough that she was completely incapable of entertaining herself for more than ten minutes.

I don’t remember much about that trip but I know we took about seven different stops, including one 45-minute break at a park in a tiny town along the highway because our daughter wouldn’t stop screeching. All in all, it was a sort of OK, but sort of “I’m never driving anywhere with this kid ever again” kind of experience.

Our next road trip was four months later and would be several hours once again as we visited Lake Superior’s North Shore. My husband wanted to buy a mount for the back seat of the car so that we could hook the iPad up and she could watch some movies while we were driving. I was hesitant.

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“I don’t want to get her dependent on a screen for entertainment in the car, because then she’ll come to expect that,” I argued. I don’t know if I had developed amnesia for the last wildly-successful road trip we took or what, but WTF was I thinking saying this?

In the end, he bought the mount, and we packed up her bedroom, our bedroom, a pack and play, and the kitchen sink and we were off, Aladdin playing from the backseat while my husband and I sipped our coffee from the front.

It was glorious. It was better than the best dream. We drove in blissful — for the most part — silence for two hours before making our first stop. And then we made it another two hours. And the best part was she couldn’t wait to get back in the car to watch Jafar turn into the giant serpent.

And here’s what I want to say to all the parents who feel guilty about playing movies in the car for their kids: stop. Just stop with the guilt and enjoy the quiet. There are worse things in life than your kid needing to watch TV in order to shut up and leave you in peace on an endless drive to your in-laws. Which, by the way, you bet we did on that next trip to the in-laws the following summer.

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Luckily, at three years old, our daughter is pretty good in the car. She’s so-so at entertaining herself in the car for trips over an hour. My patience is so-so at answering her 165 questions she has about the sky, that stop sign, and why people have to go to work. I’m not saying a five-hour drive with her without the iPad is impossible. I’m saying since we have it, and a nifty little mount it can attach to, and the desire for my husband and I to hold an uninterrupted conversation from the front seat, why not? When she gets older and she can hold her focus better on books and coloring and toys, maybe we’ll decrease the screen time in the car for those road trips. But until then, we have at it and I refuse to have any guilt over it.

And Momma, neither should you.