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Reclaiming Your Family Trips from Technology

Last Updated: May 2, 2022

Chris McKenna
Chris McKenna

Chris McKenna is a guy with never-ending energy when it comes to fighting for the safety and protection of children. He is the founder of Protect Young Eyes, a leading digital safety organization. Chris practices his internet safety tips on his four amazing children and is regularly featured on news, radio, podcasts, and most recently on Capitol Hill for his research. His 2019 US Senate Judiciary Committee testimony was the catalyst for draft legislation that could radically change online child protection laws. With expertise in social media usage, parental controls, and pornography use in young people, Chris is highly sought after as a speaker at schools and churches. Since 2016, Chris has worked with Covenant Eyes creating educational resources to help individuals and families overcome porn. Other loves include running, spreadsheets, and candy.

Updated May 2022

I’m the oldest of seven children, which means that I don’t have a childhood memory that doesn’t include a van. I wasn’t even three years old and we were already a family of five, which meant that going anywhere was a feat in managing chaos and not losing any humans. But, starting when I was in third grade, and almost every year until well into high school, my parents planned some kind of family trip over spring break.

In hindsight, we probably couldn’t afford it, but they saved and made sure we had an amazing time. Decades later, I have significant memories about those trips–the random places we stopped, the piles of hamburgers, fries, and Filet-o-Fish sandwiches we consumed at McDonalds along the way (it was always lent–only fish!), adjoining hotel rooms because we always needed two rooms, being the first one to find the coveted Alaska license plate. Oh, and going to the bathroom alongside the highway “when we just couldn’t hold it any more” in an era when rest areas were few.

I enjoyed typing that last paragraph as memories flooded my mind.

Technology Is Changing the Family Trip

Due to my upbringing, we’ve now made it our own annual tradition to visit my aunt in Florida with our four kids. Up and down I-75, Michigan families who make this trek have added another element to the list of car time essentials–a heathy dose of screen time. DVD players, gaming devices, tablets, Wi-Fi in the car, and a data plan when all else fails. Since our van doesn’t have any of those fancy digital amenities, we bring a laptop to play DVD movies (we’re so old-school). As the primary driver, I’ll often listen to podcasts with one earbud in and the other ear attentive to whatever is going on with the rest of the van.

For a two-day trip to Florida, we’ve determined that some technology is acceptable.

But, what about a 45-minute trip to Grandma’s house after church? Or a 30-minute trip to the doctor’s office?

It’s for these situations that we’ve come up with a rule to help us keep tech in it’s place. I want to share it now as a low-tech summertime tip that might work for your family.

Under an hour–turn off the power.

In other words, for any trip 60 minutes or less, there are zero screens. We had to draw clear lines as to not allow technology to invade what can be some very entertaining moments with everyone in the family strapped into a seat and forced to interact with the other humans in their space. This also applies to me and Andrea, giving us the opportunity to chat.

Let Kids Be Bored Again

Often, the biggest hinderances to implementing rules like this are the parents. This means parents might need to find other activities for kids to do. Check out books (reading books on a screen is a violation of the policy, if you’re wondering!). Bring a box, five dice, and paper for Yahtzee.

Or, let them be bored! Seriously. And, model this for them! Stare out the window, ponder your day, assess what went well yesterday, make plans for tomorrow, and dream about the days to come. Oh, and talk to your spouse.

I wrote a blog post at Protect Young Eyes about screen time, and said this:

Let them be bored. Read that last sentence again. Riding in the car without a screen is good. Staring at the power wires and pondering where the wires go or came from is like mental fitness. Counting the cows in the field and then wishing that your parents would buy you a farm animal named Curtis is great mental exercise. Let them be bored. Teach them to be still. Teach them to imagine.

It’s in those quiet, seemingly boring moments that real imagination and creativity are allowed to take root. According to Dr. Kardaras, “There is nothing healthier for a child than to learn how to use their own interior resources to work through the challenges of being bored. This then acts as the fertile ground for developing an active imagination…” [Glow Kids, page 127]

Is Your Family Ready for a Digital Detox?

Don’t let summertime turn into screen time. Covenant Eyes has developed a 7-day Digital Detox made for families just like yours. It’s packed with practical steps parents can take to reclaim life from the screens that so easily consume precious minutes on sunny days.


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