The gradual erosion of the car trip experience

How will kids today learn to get along with their siblings? I just learned that another of the basic childhood conflict resolution scenarios has disappeared, thanks to the dual-screen DVD player and entertainment system for your car, so each kid can remain content without the burden of having to interact with their annoying brother or sister. The traditional car ride games will slowly fade away, replaced with questions like, "Grandma, where's the Nintendo?"

Why stop there? Why not just equip the car with tranquilizing gas in the back seat? The kids go in, you knock them unconscious, and you wake them up when you arrive at the destination.

One of my friends told me that as a child, she objected that her brother was looking out her window, a degree of territoriality I was previously not aware of. Her parents naturally ridiculed her for making such a complaint, and I think she turned out okay.

Comments (38)
  1. John says:

    I couldn’t agree more, although tranquilizing gas might not be a bad idea.  We also need to bring back spanking and get rid of this "time-out" garbage.  Back in my day, the only time-out you got was when your father’s hand was too tired to spank you anymore (and that’s the way we liked it!).

  2. nathan_works says:

    Given the number of families with kids I see out at restaurants (be it run-of-the-mill Applebee’s to fancy places), the majority of the kids semms to be playing in their pants, head down, not talking to parents etc. 8 to 18, all have some hand-held video game in their lap, or occasionally some smartphone, playing/texting away. They’ll stop to cram food down their pie hole, but that’s about it.

    Makes me want to go over and rip the electronic toy out of their hands and make ’em talk to one another.

  3. KevinKennedy says:

    I think the largest change to the car trip experience is not DVDs or Gameboys.  It’s car seat laws.  Growing up my brother and I had the whole back of the station wagon in which to entertain ourselves.  Now my super-energetic daughters have to be strapped in a car seat or a booster seat until they are eight.

    We don’t have any A/V systems in our cars.  However, I think having one isn’t too unreasonable when you are asking your kid to be restrained for 8 hours a day on a roadtrip.

  4. nathan_works says:

    I should add, our family would drive ~12-14 hours to Maine every summer. We’d stay for a month (my dad’s excuse, "He needed it to wind down from the drive on I-95").

    My sister and I each had a stack of books, and a bag of bulk candy. We’d eat candy until we got sores in our mouth, and read books until we fell asleep, wake up, repeat. I don’t recall ever getting the "don’t make me pull the car over" speech from dad during those trips. Going the 30 minutes to grandmothers house, yes.

  5. yadda yadda yadda says:

    "We also need to bring back spanking"

    Obviously you don’t attend the same clubs that I do. Rubber suits and ball gags aren’t obligatory, you know; live a little!

  6. andy says:

    Well, it can also be changed to something more fun: pervasive games. See (from the Mobility Life Center in Stockholm, Sweden)

    Also see their publications at

    (Disclaimer: I’ve got no affilitiation with the Mobility Life Center… please see their website for more info about who they are and what they do)

  7. Messiant R says:

    When I was younger and we went on vacation, my parents used to give my brothers and I colour books, pencils, puzzlebooks, .. as not to get us bored during the 3-day trip. So you could say we could entertain us without having to deal with each other. That doesn’t mean we didn’t socially interact in the car though: there were still the standard territorial conflicts you describe, sometimes you want someone’s opinion, sometimes you just want to talk and laugh about something, play a game with other people in the car ..

    TV and computer games get boring too, so I consider the fading away of the traditional car games opinion a bit drastic. Sure .. things will change, but not as drastic.

    Then again, the impact could also be dependent on where you live, I can only speak for Europe.

  8. SkookumPete says:

    I first became aware of this DVD-in-cars thing a few years ago through an automobile maker’s commercial. They showed their fancy SUV travelling through beautiful wild country, while the kids sat in the back seat watching cartoons.

    This is part of a much bigger phenomenon, of course, which I am reminded of every time I cycle across the Microsoft campus with my bell wildly ringing to get the attention of pedestrians with earphones plugged in. We are really losing touch with our surroundings; we always want to be in some place other than where we are.

  9. Aaron says:

    Kids need video games and DVDs on long trips.  How else can society prepare them for a lifetime of watching TV while at home and incessant text messaging whenever they’re out socially?

  10. Christian says:

    Reminds me of that Simpsons episode (Homer’s brother??) where he is the product manager for a new car for his brother.

    He doesn’t want video games, but prefers handcuffs instead!


  11. bfwester says:

    <i>Why not just equip the car with tranquilizing gas in the back seat? </i>

    When my wife and I married some 22 years ago, we had nine (9) kids between the two of us (from our respective prior marriages), and usually had 7 of them living with us at any time. A few times a year (usually early and late summer), we’d make long car trips to drop kids off at or pick them up from our former spouses. We’d time these trips so that we’d leave at sundown — and then we’d give the kids Dramamine just before we taking off. Ostensibly, it was to avoid car sickness, but the truth was, the kids would sleep like the dead. Heh.

    Reminds me of the old 50s era joke:

    Q: Do you believe in clubs for youth?

    A: Only when kindness fails.  


  12. Aaargh! says:

    " One of my friends told me that as a child, she objected that her brother was looking out her window, a degree of territoriality I was previously not aware of."

    I imagine that everyone who has (a) sibling(s) has a comparable experience. Me and my brother once even had a fight about him finding some ‘secret move’ in a video game that according to him I wasn’t allowed to use because he ‘discovered’ it.

    It was years later that I realized that some so-called ‘grown ups’ do exactly the same thing, only then it’s called ‘intellectual property’.

    I guess some people just never grow up.

  13. Tanveer Badar says:

    I vote for the tranqulizing gas, even while at home.

  14. Tim says:

    My wife insisted on getting a DVD player installed in the mini-van we bought a few years ago. I objected for the reasons you state, but gave in. It hasn’t been that bad. It only gets used on long trips, as they quickly figured out that the typical 20 minute ride is not enough time to watch a movie. This is especially true if they spend 15 minutes negotiating with each other about which on e to watch. Even on those long trips they watch one movie, and go on to something else. They even talk to each other while playing Gameboy or DS (usually to ask for help or crow about getting through some part of a game). There is the usual sibling rivalry, but the DVD and games don’t have anything to do with it. Gameboy and the like are not allowed in restaurants by my rule. Not only does it distract my kids, they don’t eat and I have them breaking down later on because they are hungry.

    Now when I was on long road trips with my parents, I read a book. I rarely talked to my sister, and this was back when Pong was the hot video game.

    To me, things are better now.

  15. AC says:

    @Nathan works

    "My sister and I each had a stack of books, and a bag of bulk candy. We’d eat candy until we got sores in our mouth, and read books until we fell asleep, wake up, repeat."

    I wish I could walk right over there, rip those books out of your hands and make you talk to each other.

  16. Ens says:


    Yes, because it’s absolutely appalling that a child might read a book.  Disgusting, really.  Books ain’t nothin’ but a bunch-o-words.  Children should instead have moving discussions for 14 hours straight, using only knowledge gained from television.

    I’m an adult.  Even so, the number of people I can talk to, without moving, for 14 hours straight, is exceedingly low.  I think my throat would be very sore by the end of such a discussion.

    Honestly.  Any time you read a book, you could instead be socializing with somebody.  The car is a special case only in that it narrows away your other options.

  17. Neil (SM) says:


    I think you may have missed that "AC" was alluding to something "Nathan Works" said in his initial post.

  18. Bob says:

    It’s worse than that!   Kids these days watch TV!  When I was young we made our own fun, and playing in the dirt made us the understanding and tolerant people we are today!  Now, any good ideas on how to get those danged kids off muh front lawn?

    In other news, we should all mark our calendars – apparantly today is the day on which Raymond officially became an old coot.   ;)

  19. elsewhere says:

    An acquaintance now in her late 50s or 60 grew up around Washington, DC, but spent her summers in Maine. After she and her two sisters were grown, her mother confessed that she would always slip tranquilizers into the girls’ breakfasts the day of the drive. But sedatives that work for adults can wind kids up, and apparently that’s how it was for them.

    As a method of training children in conflict resolution, the long car ride seems expensive and comparatively dangerous.

  20. Andrew says:

    You don’t have kids do you Raymond? For long journeys DVD players are a huge help. If you’ve ever sat near a young child while on an aircraft you probably have some idea how hard it is to entertain kids in a small space. Now imagine being the parent of that child.

    I simply do not understand why people get all hot under the collar about kids watching TV in a car. I’m sure in your youth you sat in front of the TV watching cartoons for hours every single Saturday morning despite having any amount of more "fulfilling" activities available to you. Somehow that was acceptable, yet mention that your kids watch a couple of Dora the Explorer episodes while on a road trip and suddenly you are the most inadequate parent imaginable.

    Jeez, get some perspective, there are a lot more important things to worry about when rearing children.

  21. steveg says:

    I don’t see how DVD players would have helped my childhood, or anyone with > 2 children and a car with two ISCCDs (integrated seat and child calming devices). It’s a clear resource contention issue, and there’s no child friendly mutex or… say… a spinlock might just work :-)

    Adults have been tranquillising children forever, whether it’s a tipple of brandy or the substance Bruce uses, or the threat of violence or whatever. DVDs are just a new way to do the same thing.

    The trend towards total digital immersion is making a big bunch of fatties. That’s the real problem with DVDs and DS/PSP, kids are learning the wrong skills, and are being given the wrong expectations.

    I’ll give my kids a skateboard and a tow rope.

  22. MS says:

    You know what else is wrong with kids these days?  They won’t get off my lawn!  Durn kids with their music and somesuch </oldman>

  23. DevlinB says:

    I remember having back seat games, but I also remember *hating* car trips a great deal.  

    I feel sorry for kids who sit in the back seat by themselves doing nothing, but I don’t think DVDs are the answer.  Books for those kids who can read in a moving vehicle, other forms of games for those who cannot.

    I eventually got a Game Boy as a kid, useful for airplane trips and 4hr+ car trips, but I was never allowed to use it out in public, family time was family time.

    Now days my GF and I will be out at a restaurants together reading our own emails on our respective Windows Mobile phones, so we are not exactly blameless…

  24. Neal says:

    I’m reminded of my youth.  My parents would pile us (five kids) into the car and go on a trip.  We’d start on a Friday morning and drive practically non-stop all day.  No bathroom breaks.  No food stops.  No rest stops.  At least not until my dad needed one – and he was a rural mail carrier that regularly spent 10 hours in a car.  Also there were minimal sight seeing stops, NO souvenirs, no playtime, no games.  Come the dark of night we’d get a cheap hotel room and all cram into a bed or two.  Then we’d set out the next morning for a repeat, and again, and again.

    Our "vacations" were an opportunity for my cheap-as dad to poke along rural and back roads through several states all the while "enjoying the scenery" through his window.  Meanwhile my mom, sisters, suffered every moment either bored, hungry, tired, or itching to go pee.

    Vacation is synonymous with "horrible car trip" for us.  Half of us came to hate vacations so bad that we’ve never been on one since.  The other half only travel when mandated or are so obsessed with expensive, posh, vacations that they can barely afford to pay the resulting credit card bills.

  25. Drak says:


    I dunno, but from when I was about 5 to when I was 11 we used to take long plane rides quite often (12+ hours). The plane crew handed out those cool draw/rub out things, playing cards and whatnot, and me and my brother were always quietly busy with those (either playing cards together or drawing stuff (and later, reading).

    Don’t think we ever bothered anyone. Maybe we were brought up to be quiet?

  26. AndyC says:

    The solution to the problem of dual-screen DVD players in car: have three kids.

  27. My children frequently complain about each other looking out of "their" windows. They even claim trees, hills and stars that are out "their" window as "their" trees/hills/stars and whinge if the other child dares to look at said things.

    Needless to say, we don’t have DVD players in the car, and don’t intend to.

  28. Lurker says:

    Excellent can of worms, Raymond.

  29. bfwebster says:

    One more observation. During my prior marriage, when my former wife and I had three kids under the age of 7, we borrowed my parents’ RV to visit some friends a few states away. We’re talking about 25 years ago, so this wasn’t a current yacht-on-wheels RV, but it did have among other things (a) a bathroom, (b) a small kitchen, (c) two floor-to-ceiling window strips (about 6" wide) opposite the kitchen, and (d) two swiveling chairs in front of those windows, with a small table between them.

    It was a revelation. Our two oldest daughters (ages 7 and 4) would sit in those chairs for hours, drawing, reading, and watching the countryside go by. They could lie down in the bed above the driver’s cab. They could go to the bathroom or get something to eat/drink without us having to stop. For that matter, so could we. True, the RV only got about 8-10 MPG, but I thought it well worth it.

    Unlike virtually every other cross-country trip with kids, I still have very fond memories of that trip. And, unlike those other trips, we took our time, stopping and sightseeing along the way. Even with the current price of gas, it’s something to consider if you’re taking small (or not so small) kids on vacation. ..bruce..

  30. Erisian23 says:

    Every generation, both parents and the childless alike, looks at the one’s after them and utters rubbish like this.  You should all be ashamed of yourselves for buying into the intergenerational lies.  The increase in the quality of self-entertainment options doesn’t diminish a healthy child’s hunger for attention.  Any child who’s solely focused on video games to the exclusion of all others needs help.  The same was true of you as a kid with your computers, your parents as kids with their TVs, and their parents as kids with their books.  In this situation, there’s genuinely nothing new under the sun, however superior it might make you feel to pretend there is.

    Restaurants, for ex, are typically places where adults would like to enjoy each other’s company and now they have better ways to keep the kids entertained while eating out.  The generation before you sitting across the restaurant complained that kids of your generation wouldn’t sit still and talk quieter and less frequently at the table.  Now your generation is complaining that today’s kids are too quiet and still.

    I’m not even sure why I’m responding because we all know there really is no satisfying people once they’ve decided to put on their intergenerational idiocy caps.  They will defend their self-centered, biased, myopic drivel to the end.  Your grandparents can surely recite a list of things wrong with the way your parents raised you, and yet you seemed to turn out OK; proving nothing, of course.  Such self-serving, biased condescension is too enjoyable a vice to bother correcting.

    You may also have fallen into the trap of believing there’s a single set of best parenting rules applicable to all children in all places at all times.  I know such a simple idea calls to engineers in particular like a Siren.  Please forgive what I’m about to say as it’s likely to be completely foreign to your ethics, but:  learning to not worry about teaching valuable life lessons on every family vacation is a valuable life lesson to learn too.

    Perhaps something to mull over the next time you’re out enjoying analyzing the symphony orchestra’s pitch, timing, and synchronization by row and chair?

    [Yeesh, get a sense of humor. Oh, and get off of my lawn, too. -Raymond (P.S., that lawn remark was a joke.) ]
  31. Johnny Skidmark says:

    Yes…they will claim to be concerned about the environment and fuel economy, all the while we shall fill their vehicles with such necessities of modern life as talking dashboards, air conditioned glove compartments, and numerous video playback devices.

    Then they will wonder why fuel economy does not improve.


  32. Moz says:

    Yeah, the belt-up-your-kid laws are slightly annoying, but I recall quite a few 10 hour plus tips with 3 kids in the back of a station wagon. Packed in the sense that a flat tyre meant 20 minutes unpacking to get at the spare (because it was cunningly installed under the load area floor and only accessible from inside). I suspect we did all sorts of things, including fighting. Also singing, playing games, reading, being car-sick etc.

    The RV experience is great. Unfortunately I never got that as a child, but as a dolt I’ve done a few trips where we hire one and travel at ~80kph for days with 6-8 people playing board games, talking and generally hanging out. I’m waiting for trains to offer the same level of service.

    These days I bicycle tour, and try to buy board games that have computer versions so that I can carry 30+ board games on one computer (I have a liseuse to carry 100+ books in one device). Works well, but I’m a bit sick of card games.

  33. Raymond wrote an interesting post about the erosion of the car trip experience. Along with the desired

  34. Eric Rongo says:

    I love the idea of tranquilizer gas in the back seat.  I’ve always said that children should be sedated and stowed in the cargo area when flying.

    I think anyone who’s ever sat near a child on a long (8hrs+) flight will agree with me.

  35. Poochner says:

    So in the Pacific Northwest, the problem is that kids are *too quiet* when they’re out at dinner?  My wife and I have several times requested "the no screaming kids section, please."  I’m surprised when we go out to, for example, a nice hibachi at 9pm and some kid is just starting his 12th birthday party two tables over.  I was also surprised that that group was relatively well-behaved (until they started opening presents, but that’s almost understandable).

    At other restaurants parents let pre-teens scream at them and let the kids slap them at the table.  I can’t imagine what would have happened to me if I’d whacked my mother while we were out to eat.

  36. gerleim says:

    Oh my, geeks and raising children… The problem most of you feel about the young and changing world is called getting old. The ironic and rude tone shows you are not doing that in a nice way. … leave the kids alone.

  37. Ged says:

    Have you only just seen them? These have been out for a good 10 years now.

    In Europe, they normally come as standard in most executive cars and are becoming more popular as optional extras in cheap cars.

  38. Erisian23 says:

    Old Man Chen caught me on his lawn!  RUUUUUUUN!  <3

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