Meadow on Mt. Nebo, Utah
One of my favorite things about camping is getting away from it all. There are still some areas where cell phones don't get service, and I love leaving the phones and computers and emails and messages behind for a couple days. Camping has always been the time when we could just interact as a family without tv and electronic distractions. I am an avid road-tripper, and have limited our electronics use on these trips to the car CD player or radio, and a couple hand-held games, like Yahtzee. No DVD players, no movies, no MP3 players, nothing. Were my kids deprived? I don't think so. I grew up traveling without all of those modern "conveniences" and I figured my children would survive the experience as well. Our family car when I was young didn't even have air conditioning! I confess I am very fond of having it now.
Scenery out the window - driving to Grand Canyon
What I learned from road trips was that when there was nothing to do, I could entertain myself. Watching landscapes roll by and change out a car window for hours at a time allows for some great imagination. For example, tall towers holding powerful electricity cables became giants stalking our car. My siblings and I concocted our own car games to pass the time. We also played the traditional ones like 20 Questions, I Spy, locating the alphabet letters in order off of billboards, and tracking states on car license plates. I wanted my children to have the same experience. And, for the most part, I have held the line on limiting technology on our vacations. My children usually read in the car, or stare out the window and drift into imaginary worlds in their own minds. Sometimes they sing or play games, and sometimes they sleep. They have mastered the art of the road trip.
Fishing during a camping trip
Enter youngest child and the newest addition to our family: the portable DVD player. My husband and I purchased the portable DVD player so we could watch movies on our "second honeymoon" trip back to a rustic cabin at the Grand Canyon. We figured after 20 years of marriage, we deserved an upgrade in entertainment. My son quickly became enamored with the player, and asked if we could take it camping last summer. Wasn't the whole point of going camping to get away from electronics? So the negotiations began.
Finally, we reached an agreement. The DVD player came on the camping trip. The restrictions were: it was only to be used the first night, and only for a show or two. Camping was, after all, about watching the stars and enjoying nature. My son agreed, and our camping trip was a great success. We cooked over a fire, made dutch oven dessert, hiked, and fished, and did all of the traditional camping things. But on one night, we snuggled in our sleeping bags, propped the tiny DVD player on a box, and watched a show. I confess, there was something fun and cozy about crowding around the tiny screen and enjoying some family togetherness in the tent. Although I still want to escape electronics on vacation (no DVD player in the van!), and although I still want to limit the onslaught of technology in our car trips, I do value the memory of that night in a tent watching a movie with my husband and kids.
So, my question to you is, where do you draw the line? Stay tuned for more on the effects of technology on family relationships!