Dec 07 , 2020
This guest post is written by Melanie Hempe, RN, mother of four and founder of Families Managing Media.
As a parent, when you hear the word “vacation,” what comes to mind? A break from routine? Loosening the reins? Indulging in fun activities (and food!) you wouldn’t normally partake in?
For a child, it means “Mom and dad are not working and they are paying attention to me.” It’s true, your kids crave time with you. Family getaways are a rich opportunity for conversation, creating memories, and being truly present with one another. These are great goals, but ones that can be easily derailed if the video games find their way into your suitcase.
Before you check in to that vacation spot, unload the car, set up your lounge chair and dive into your summer book, you’re probably going to hear…
“Mom, can I play my video game?”
“Dad, can I have the WiFi password?”
“Mom, we (all my cousins) want to play video games!”
We have a simple response for you.
9 Reasons to Leave Video Games at Home over Vacation
1. Young brains need a break.
Your child’s brain will benefit from a break in the screen routine. Vacation is prime time for kids to try new things, visit with family, relax, reset and give the mind permission to connect with nature, real life, and real people instead of fixating on the virtual world of their game. Remember, the game is not a “relaxing” activity for the brain; rather it jumpstarts production of dopamine and activates the fight-or-flight center causing anxiety, stress and irritability—not characteristics parents typically want to see in their children on vacation.
2. Vacations are a ripe opportunity for deepening family bonds and building social skills.
Don’t mess up one of your best opportunities to connect as a family because of video games! Your child cannot bond with you or their siblings while being glued to a video game—even if it’s a video game everyone’s playing together. Screen-free family activities allow mutual creativity, eye contact, and communication including observing and interpreting facial expressions, body language and vocal tone. It is impossible for video games to build such skills.
3. A game-free vacation removes the “electronic babysitter” temptation.
We know how tempting it is to use the screen as a default babysitter when all you want is a little down time yourself. Try having a quiet time with everyone outdoors from 2-4pm. By that time of day everyone needs a break including the adults. Grab something cool to drink—try planning a different fun drink for each day—and head to your bunk with a “beach read” or magazine that was brought specifically for this purpose. Using this time to teach your kids how to be alone without a screen in their hands is one of the best things you can do for your kids. They don’t like books and puzzles? Resist the urge to let them turn on YouTube or the TV during this rest time. Teach them how to play solitaire instead. If they doze off that’s okay, too! The late night events may be easier to handle with some down time during the day.
4. Limiting game time on vacation opens the door to creativity and exploration.
We know that game time is often a child’s first choice when it comes to entertaining themselves because it’s a low-effort, high-reward activity. And because of the addictive nature of video games, kids will likely choose to stay in the air conditioned room with their screen instead of meeting new friends, digging for crabs, fishing or going on that family hike or bike ride. Give your child or teen the gift of unstructured time by not allowing video games to come on your vacation. If games are not available, they will find other things to do and explore. Consider getting them a new notebook or sketch pad for the trip to keep a travel journal. If they are into taking pictures, consider one of the new Instax Mini cameras; The kids can take pictures of things that excite them and tape them into their book. They will be less concerned about posting that beautiful sunset for all their friends to see and actually get to enjoy it without the screen distraction. Encourage your children to make creative choices and break the habit of choosing the screen over new life experiences.
5. Your child will get more exercise and vitamin D.
Without a video game to distract him or her, your child will get more movement, more sunshine, and more real rough-and-tumble play—ingredients critical for optimal brain development. Instead of being curled up on the couch with a blanket and a device, how about a pillow fight, a blanket fort, or a game of hide and seek? The gamer will miss classic activities like catching fireflies and flashlight tag if they are cuddled up with their game. And there are many “movement” activities that spontaneously happen on vacations that your gamer will miss if they’re restrained by electronics.
6. The gamer is deprived of creating memories.
Gaming removes the child socially, emotionally and physically from hanging out and relaxing with the family. Your child needs to learn how to relax by watching you do it. If your child is plugged in, he will miss the priceless memories that simultaneously happen with relaxation. It’s a shame to miss out on the stories grandparents share about Mom and Dad, Uncle Karl’s funny jokes, interesting family conversations and guaranteed laughter. Experiencing new things together makes vacation time fun, priceless, memorable, and healthy.
7. Your child needs to feel the love.
Parents, your child will feel more loved without electronics around. Trust me on this one. When you say “no” to video games on vacation, you are telling your child that you want to spend time with him or her, you love them and you don’t want anything to get in the way of time together. It doesn’t matter how they respond. Deep down, he wants you to pick him instead of packing the game. Deep down, she will be happy that you left devices at home. Indeed, most kids know at some level that they need a break.
8. You will get to know your child better.
Who knows what you may discover about your child when the game is not distracting him or her. Without the game in the way, you will have many more opportunities to dig deeper and really get to know your child.
9. Vacations are fertile ground for learning the art of planning.
So much of kids’ lives are planned and presented to them. Many kids do not create their own entertainment, but have it spoon-fed to them. Every day on a trip there are decisions to be made about which activities to do that day, based on weather, cost, interest level, etc. They will be more invested in the trip if they have helped to plan it. They can’t help with planning if their “down time” is in front of a screen and they only engage during official planned activities. The vacation includes everything: the plan, the journey, the destination and activities, the meals, the stories, the retelling of the stories, even the line-waiting! It all builds relationships, life skills, patience, and funny stories that become family lore. Media can replace the chance to develop your family stories.
Feeling apprehensive about the rift your decision may cause? Here are some tips to minimize conflict:
Game Free Vacation Tips
Don’t pack the game console.
Don’t pack any handhelds and don’t allow them to bring their phones. They don’t need them. The primary benefit of not packing the device is not having to limit their use during the vacation and getting rid of the temptation all together. Kids will negotiate for use if they think there is any availability. You don’t want to manage this at all on vacation since you want all of your energy going into family fun. You need a break from the game arguments, too!
Don’t allow gaming in the car.
It is good for your kids to learn silly songs together (yes, even though it may drive you crazy). This is a necessary childhood rite of passage! Plus, if you allow gaming in the car, that means you are taking the games on the rest of the vacation. Let John Jacob Jingleheimer Schmidt, the license plate game, and I Spy replace their game during driving time. Another idea is to let your kids know they will get a few “surprise packages” to open at certain points along the trip (e.g., the first could be after an hour or 100 miles). They could be small toys or games that are “new” to them. Not only will this give them something fun to do in the car, it will give your children something to look forward to! In addition, bring books, audio books, a sketch book, and playing cards, and make room for some quiet time in the car. Your children do not need to be plugged in every second of the trip (or their lives).
Stand firm when your child complains.
The more he complains, the more trouble he has with overuse. If he says that his game is the only way he can relax, explain that he needs to learn how to relax in other ways because games release chemicals (adrenaline and dopamine) in his brain and his brain needs to rest.
In summary, there is really no room for video games on family vacations. Think of it as putting cheap ketchup on an expensive filet. If you are going to allow gaming, your child may as well stay home (and eat a hamburger!) Otherwise, you are wasting your money on the vacation experience. Let your child learn how to swim in the ocean, fish, sightsee and hike! Help your child be 100% present and able to make healthy connections with family and nature on your vacation this summer.