When you hear the word “vacation,” what comes to mind? Perhaps a break from routine, loosening the reins, indulging in fun activities (and food!) of which you normally wouldn’t partake in the day-to-day regime? For a child, it means “Mom and dad are not working and they are paying attention to me.” It’s true, your kids crave time with you: conversations, rich family connections, and being present. These are great goals for your family vacation but these goals will easily be derailed if the video games find their way into the suitcase.
Before you check in to that vacation spot, unload the car, set up your lounge chair, and dive into your summer book, you’re probably going to hear those words…
“Mom, can I play my video game?”
“Dad, can I have the wifi password?”
“Mom, we (all my cousins) want to play video games!”
We have a simple response for you.
We understand this may sound contrary to all things vacation mode but stick with us to learn…
8 Reasons Why You Want To Leave Video Games at Home Over Vacation!:
1. Young brains need a break!
Your child’s brain will benefit from a break in the screen routine. Vacation is prime time for kids to try new things, visit with family, relax, reset and give the mind permission to connect with nature, real life, real people and rest instead of fixating upon the virtual world of their game. Remember, the game is not a “relaxing” activity for the brain, rather it jump-starts an overproduction of dopamine and activates their fight-flight center causing anxiety, stress, and irritability…not characteristics I typically want to see in my child on vacation.
2. Vacations are perfect for experiencing rich family connections and memories.
Don’t mess up one of your best opportunities to connect as a family because of video games! Your child cannot bond with you or their siblings while being glued to a video game even if it’s a video game everyone’s playing together. Family activities allow mutual creativity and communication including facial expressions, body language, and vocal tone. It is impossible for video games to build such social skills. While co-play is better than isolated play, non-game time is much better developmentally than staring at a screen together.
3. A video game free vacation removes the “babysitter” temptation.
We know how tempting it is to use the screen as a default babysitter when all you want is a little downtime yourself. Try having a quiet time for everyone at the beach from 2-4. By that time of day, everyone needs a break including the adults. Grab something cool to drink (plan a different fun drink every day) and head to your bunk with a “beach book” (or magazine) that was brought specifically for this purpose. Using this time to teach your kids how to be alone without a screen in their hands is one of the best things you can do for your kids. They don’t like books and puzzles?
Resist the urge to let them turn on YouTube or the TV during this rest time. Teach them how to play solitaire instead. If they doze off that’s okay, too! The late-night events will be a little easier to handle with some needed downtime.
4. Limiting video games on vacation will open the door to creativity and exploration.
We know that game time is often a child’s first choice when it comes to entertaining themselves because it’s a low effort, high reward activity. And because of the addictive nature of video games, they will likely choose to stay in the air-conditioned room with their screen instead of meeting new friends, digging for crabs, fishing, or going on that family hike or bike ride. Give your child/teen the gift of unstructured time by not allowing the game to come on your vacation. If not available, they will find other things to do and explore.
Consider getting them a new journal or sketch pad for the trip to keep a travel journal. If they are really into taking pictures, consider one of the new Instax Mini cameras. They can take pictures of things that excite them and tape them into their book. They will be less concerned about posting that beautiful sunset for all their friends to see and actually get to enjoy it without the screen distraction. Encourage them to make creative choices and break the habit of choosing the screen over new life experiences.
Without a video game to distract him or her, your child will get more movement, more sunshine, and more real rough and tumble play which is critical for growing brains. Instead of being curled up on the couch with a blanket on the game, how about a real pillow fight, a blanket fort, or a game of hide and seek. The gamer will also miss catching fireflies and flashlight tag if they are cuddled up with their game. There are many “movement” activities that spontaneously happen on vacations that your gamer will miss when you pack the game.
6. The gamer is deprived of making memories.
Gaming removes the child socially, emotionally, and physically from hanging out and relaxing with the family. Your child needs to learn how to relax by watching you do it. If your child is plugged in, he will miss the priceless memories that simultaneously happen with relaxation. For example, what a shame to miss out on the stories grandparents share about Mom and Dad, Uncle Karl’s funny jokes, interesting family conversations and guaranteed laughter. Experiencing new things together makes vacation time fun, priceless, memorable, and surprisingly healthy.
7. Your child needs to feel the love.
Parents, your child will feel more loved without the game. Trust me on this one. When you say “no” to the game on vacation, you are telling your child that you want to spend time with him or her, you love them and you don’t want anything to get in the way of time together. It doesn’t matter how they respond. Deep down, he wants you to pick him instead of packing the game. Deep down, she will be happy that you left it at home; most kids know they need a break.
8. You will get to know your child better.
Who knows what you may discover about your child when the game is not distracting him or her! Without the game in the way, you will have more opportunities to dig deeper and really get to know your child.
Are you feeling apprehensive about the rift your decision may cause? We’ve got your back!
Video Game Free Vacation Tips
Don’t pack the game console.
Don’t pack any handhelds and don’t allow them to bring their phones. They don’t need them. The primary benefit of not packing the device is not having to limit their use during the vacation and getting rid of the temptation altogether. Kids will negotiate for use if they think there is any availability. You don’t want to manage this at all on vacation since you want all of your energy going into family fun. You need a break from the game arguments, too!
Don’t allow gaming in the car.
It is good for your kids to learn silly songs together (yes, even though it may drive you crazy). This is a necessary childhood rite of passage! Plus, if you allow gaming in the car, that means you are taking the games on the rest of the vacation. Let John Jacob Jingleheimer Schmidt, the license plate game, and I Spy replace their game during driving time. Another idea is to let your kids know they will get a few “surprise packages” to open at certain points along the trip (i.e. the first could be after an hour or 100 miles). They could be small toys or games that are “new” to them. Not only will this give them something fun to do in the car, but it will also give your children something to look forward to!
Determine how many movies are allowed for the car trip before you leave the house.
Pace the movies if you allow them. One movie on the way there and one on the way home works if the trip is over 5 hours. Your kids should be able to go 5 hours without being entertained by media. Bring books for them to read, audiobooks, a sketchbook, and playing cards, and make room for some quiet time in the car. Your children do not need to be plugged in every second of the trip (or their lives).
Stand firm when your child complains.
The more he complains, the more trouble he has with overuse. If he says that his game is the only way he can relax, explain that he needs to learn how to relax in other ways because games release chemicals (adrenaline and dopamine) in his brain and his brain needs to rest.
A final word from one of our readers
Vacations are the perfect training ground for learning the art of planning. So much of kids’ lives are planned and presented to them. Many kids do not create their own entertainment, but have it spoon-fed to them. Every day on a trip there are decisions to be made about which activities to do that day (based on weather/cost/interest level). They will be more invested in the trip if they have helped to plan it. They can’t help to plan if they are using their “downtime” in front of a screen and then engaging only during official planned activities.
The vacation includes everything (the plan, the journey, the destination/activities, the meals, the stories, the retelling of the stories, the line waiting, etc.) It all builds relationships, life skills, patience, and funny family stories that turn into family /memories. Video games on vacation can replace the chance to develop your family stories.
In summary, there is really no room for video games on vacation. Think of it as putting cheap ketchup on an expensive filet. If you are going to allow gaming, your child may as well stay home (and eat a hamburger!). Otherwise, you are wasting your money on the vacation experience. Let your child learn how to swim in the ocean, fish, sightsee, and hike! Help your child be 100% present and able to make healthy connections with family and nature on your vacation this summer.
Remember: Family memories are not made inside a video game.
If your child has a meltdown because the game is left at home, then he likely has a balance problem. Check out Dr. Dunckley’s book, Reset Your Child’s Brain. For support and encouragement from other ScreenStrong parents, join the ScreenStrong Families Facebook Group. If you want to learn more about the dangerous and lingering effects of video games and entertainment screens on kids’ brains, view Kids Brains and Screens 101. In the meantime, we encourage you to enjoy the GIFT of a game-free, memory-filled family vacation!