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Mom Started ‘No Screen Time’ Rule for Road Trips, Kids Love It

by Staff

The author’s sons pick out audiobooks to listen to before road trips.
Courtesy of the author

  • My family and I go on road trips all the time. 
  • We used to disappear into our screens while traveling, but I felt disconnected.
  • Now, we listen to audiobooks together. My sons love talking about the story together.

My family and I live in Alabama and travel throughout the year between Birmingham and the Gulf Coast. Just a little over four hours, it’s an easy trip to run down to the white sand beaches. Some of these road trips have been bliss, with the kids taking long naps in the back seat, while others have been less enjoyable, with screaming fits and diaper blowouts.

Thankfully, as my sons have grown older, traveling has become less challenging. We’ve had to make fewer stops, there have been no diapers to change, and we now have kids who are old enough to entertain themselves. Allowing more screen time in the car has undoubtedly helped with contentment: my tween uses his iPad, my 6-year-old plays games on his device, and depending on who is driving, my husband finishes up work on his phone, or I will use the time to reply to emails or catch up on my favorite podcast.

I felt disconnected from my family as we stared at screens

While I do admit that I enjoy the quiet downtime in the car on these trips, I began to regret that our time in close quarters was spent connected more to our devices than to each other. It was possible that past diaper explosions had us more connected than I had realized. Except to announce an upcoming bathroom or meal stop, we now rarely engaged with each other on these car trips.

These were family vacations, after all, and I felt like we should be connecting. Somehow, I knew I wanted to change the mood of this disconnectedness I felt as a family. For an upcoming trip one year ago, I aimed to try.

We decided to try something new for our next road trip

After discussing it with my husband, we decided to try something new. Before the trip, I let everyone know that we would forgo the usual screen-time binge while in transit. Instead, we would pick an audiobook as a family and listen to it during our ride.

Typical groans and moans ensued, along with a “Mom, have you lost your mind?” from my oldest son when we pitched our plan.

If I’m completely honest, I wasn’t particularly keen about giving up my own podcast time either, but I stayed the course. I explained that sometimes we have to make personal concessions for the greater good, and in this case, connecting as a family was our simple goal.

I told my sons we’d listen to an audiobook together while traveling

As an avid reader and educator, I have always enjoyed the power of a good audiobook. I announced that we would all listen to a book on tape as a family.

“What is a book on tape?” my youngest questioned.

His interest was piqued. And there it was, a parenting win amid the initial shock of a no-screen time road trip. I realized that maybe we might make a go of this. If mass hysteria broke out at any point, the plan could always be scrapped, and everyone’s device could be returned to its respective owner.

We picked a book together and talked about it as we listened

I explained how an audiobook worked and that there wouldn’t be any pictures, only a voice reading a book as we drove along. I knew it was essential to decide which book would hold everyone’s attention for the duration of the ride. I had picked out a few age-appropriate options for them to choose from and read out a short summary.

My device-loving kids needed quick action in the beginning to capture their attention. After I read them the summary of a novel about a boy who survived a plane crash in the wilderness with nothing but a hatchet to survive, we decided on our book for the ride: “Hatchet” by Gary Paulsen.

When the trip finally came, the boys were actually interested when we piled in the car and pushed play. We did have to pause more than I thought we would to discuss plot points that were surprising to them, and at the end of each chapter, I paused again to discuss the setting, characters, and details. I asked questions.

“What do you think is going to happen next? Why do you think the character did that? How do you think he feels? Why did the author write it that way?” I questioned.

They were eager to discuss the book and answer my questions, and one question led to another. I was surprised by how much they enjoyed giving their take on what would happen in the next chapter or what the characters should or shouldn’t do.

They enjoyed it so much they wanted to listen to another

After we made stops for bathroom breaks and to stretch, we would pile back into the car, looking forward to our journey and audiobook.

“Mom, can we listen to the book again?” my youngest son asked after each stop when we got back into the car. I kept waiting for one of them to ask for their screens, but that request never came.

It felt like another parenting win. They stayed interested. We finished that audiobook, and they begged for a second on the ride home.

Now, we look forward to car trips with no screens

Leading up to our trips now, we start talking about which book we’ll listen to while on the road. Maybe it seems strange to implement a no-screen-time policy during our road trips, but we feel more connected to each other without the screens — even if it means we are less connected to the rest of the world for those hours in the car.

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