« He's my President and I support his idiotic policy preferences | Main | 6K! »

Schoolhouse Rock in the back seat

So. Your Humble Blogger has been opposed to the idea of kids watching videos in cars. Not just opposed, actually contemptuous, if you want the truth. Cars with DVD players! The heck? And yet, I cannot at this point come up with any actual arguments against it. It still seems wrong, but I can’t seem to create a logical case for it.

I should say—My Perfect Non-Reader suffers from carsickness when she reads, and although the Youngest Member does not (yet), neither is he currently reading books long enough to while away a long car ride. We do listen to stories, on occasion, and music of course, and we play The Minister’s Cat and I’m going on a picnic and I Love My Love with an A, and we have been known to have a sing-song (tho’ The Youngest Member objects strenuously to sing-songs, alas), but there are times when the car rides are dull nonetheless.

Most of our car trips are under fifteen minutes; we probably have two or four trips a month that are more than an hour long, and probably two or maybe four a year that are more than three hours long. I’m counting round-trips as two, of course, and often those two trips are in a single day—a trip of ninety minutes in the morning and a return in the evening, for instance, or sometimes a very long trip and then return four or five days later. I often experience those trips as being continuations of a single interrupted drive, so that by the middle of the return trip I am out of ideas for amusing myself and the others. There is grumpiness. It isn’t pretty.

So why not television? I mean, when the choice, for all practical purposes, is staring out the window, is there some downside to having the children look through a window at a narrative rather than a landscape? Yes, I do think that the habit of watching screens is not a good one—and the Divine knows how thoroughly Your Humble Blogger has chained himself to that habit—but I’m not sure that the habit of watching out the window is a better one. And on a longish ride (say, over ninety minutes) I don’t know that the use of electrons would really replace much in the way of conversation and game-playing. It might well be that the use of electrons for sixty minutes would refresh the car’s prisoners to the point where conversation and game-playing could be entertainment and not chore.

And yet. I have not yet resorted to the DVD player when I am in the car. Airplane trips, yes. For some reason, perhaps because the airline provides movies for grupps, the use of a DVD player to while away the children’s time on an airplane does not seem so wrong to me. Now that I think about it, though, I am not sure I have resorted to a DVD player on the plane for either child once books were an option. But then, we haven’t taken The Youngest Member on a plane since that particular switch got flipped, and even My Perfect Non-Reader has had only three such trips that I can remember.

I have begun urging my Best Reader to consider the DVD as a possibility for those rides where she is the Only Parent in the Vehicle. She is reluctant. I think I would be, too. But I’m not sure I can defend that reluctance. Can you?

Tolerabimus quod tolerare debemus,


One thing about our DVD-in-car experience (oddly, we don't watch TV - or many films - at home, but we do have a car DVD player and use it) is that we are entirely out of age-appropriate films that Luke hasn't seen. Consequently, he doesn't often want to watch DVDs in the car; however, when he does, it frequently improves the lengthy car ride for everyone. Nancy and I can talk Adult Stuff or live in our minds, and Luke is content. He also gets carsickness if he tries to read in the car (Nancy and I both did as children, as well).


We don't have the technology available in our cars, but if we did, I would be reluctant to use it because my kids (like many kids) tend to see every new thing they're allowed as Precedent. So if, once, we let them watch TV in the car, they would ask for it constantly, etc. We're pretty consistent about "we only do X in Y situation", and they do get that, but they would ask anyway. And that bugs me. Also, my experience is that after they watch TV for a while, they tend to be more distracted and wild, not less, so that, in our case at least, I'd be skeptical that a TV break would make it possible to go back to games/conversation/music.

We tend to play music a lot in the car; the kids love it and mostly don't get tired of it. They particularly like Jonathan Coulton, though we have to remember to skip the ones with egregious cursing.

Video entertainment can be subdivided. When I was a youth, we were only allowed to watch Nova. You could consider a rule that said only certain programs or series are allowed, such as anything narrated by David Attenborough or Michael Palin.

We have not yet resorted to the DVD-in-the-car, but we tend not to do long-ish car trips very often at all, and the longest ones are no more than 3ish hours with at least two stops, so. Our issue really is that J's tolerance for "scary" in video entertainment approaches zero, so any sort of long(er)-form video, unless it's Sesame Street, is kind of right out. His video-watching so far has been confined to various YouTube subgenres, including Sesame Street, Thomas trains (and the apparently infinite variety of homemade Thomas stories), and insipid counting songs. I would dearly love to be able to pop in a 30-minute DVD and let him go, but that doesn't seem to be in the cards for a while yet.

Comments are closed for this entry. Usually if I close comments for an entry it's because that entry gets a disproportionate amount of spam. If you want to contact me about this entry, feel free to send me email.