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Don’t let technology separate you in the car

For those who can afford it, it’s nearly time for families to gas up their cars and minivans for summer car trips. When I was a kid, that meant fighting over the car radio, but now there are lots of electronic options available to entertain the family as the miles pass.

Many cars these days have DVD screens in the backseat – some have two. And for those who don’t have a DVD player built-in, there’s always the possibility of watching movies on a laptop perched on the backseat.

But is keeping kids entertained the whole time really such a good idea?

When my kids were young, my wife and I didn’t allow them to watch movies when we took car trips. Patti argued that kids should spend their time looking out the window or engaging in conversation and I agreed.

We did allow our kids to listen to music, on CDs or their iPods, but they weren’t allowed to use headphones in the car. Instead, we played the iPod through the car’s audio system so that everyone could share the same music and same experience.

For one particularly long trip I created different playlists with the favorite music of various family members. Again, plugging it into the car stereo, we took turns listening to each other’s music. The whole idea of the car trip was to be together as a family and not have anyone isolate themselves with their earbuds.

Sharing music had its advantages and difficult moments. I’ll never forget when our 15-year-old daughter brought home one of rap artist Eminem’s CDs with some pretty disturbing lyrics. We didn’t ban the music but played it through the audio system for all to “enjoy.” Actually, I did like his voice and beat, but Patti and I objected to the way he objectified women and to some of his more explicit language. But rather than turning it off, we turned it into a teachable moment, asking our daughter what she found appealing about the songs and pointing out what we considered objectionable.

I remember one particular discussion about the “B Word” – the one that likens a human female to a female dog. My daughter thought it was fine, but we disagreed. Years later, she came around to our way of thinking, which goes to show that sometimes you do have an impact, even when you don’t see it in the moment!

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