Modern technology fills our homes and more than ever, families find themselves plugged in all the time. From video games to smart phones, iPods, iPads, and more, parents often rely on portable electronics to keep their children entertained. Even at theme parks as amazing as the Disney parks, where families spend thousands of dollars on their vacations to be entertained, visitors pass the time with their heads buried in their devices. So we asked our Parenting Panel: As parents, do you allow your kids to bring electronic devices into the parks? If so, what sort of items? Are they for entertainment or for use of Disney apps?
Chris, also known as GusMan, is always planning his next family trip to the Walt Disney World Resort and loves to help others plan their trips, as well sharing his experiences. Chris writes:
As a parent, it is sometimes hard to teach my kids the difference between something that is just a time of entertainment and something that is a full-fledged vacation. The latter, of course, is more about being a part of an experience rather than just witnessing an experience. A vacation is more about leaving the ordinary aside and experience something new and interesting. Can a vacation be entertaining? Sure it can. But it is how you are entertained that makes all the difference. At least that is the way I see, and experience, my Disney vacations.
Over the past decade or so, personal entertainment can easily be had by all and it seems like every child that has the smallest amount of hand-eye coordination possesses some sort of device that can play a multitude of inexpensive games. At the same time, if the kids don’t have such a device, there is a chance one of the parents has a smartphone that does the same thing. This, in of itself, is not necessarily a bad thing. However, as parents, we have decisions to make regarding their use during the family vacation. When you go to a vacation destination there are many different stimuli which all add to the overall experience. The sounds and sights are highlights of the entire Disney experience and if you have your nose buried in an iPod touch while walking down Main Street USA, you are doing yourself a disservice.
Here is what my family does to help make sure that we immerse ourselves in our vacation:
- Use of technology is fine for travel time (from home to the parks and back) and even for a little downtime in the room.
- Technology is to be left in the room during the day unless plans specifically include some extended wait time for a show. Waiting for a night time show to start, such as Fantasmic!, Illuminations, or Wishes, is a great example. However, the device is given back to the parents at least 10 minutes before the show and not given back until we arrive back in the room.
- Parents are not immune to the rules. Phones are used for communications and Disney-related applications only while at the parks. Social media updates are saved for the end of the day (admittedly, this is very difficult for me, but it is worth it in order to set an example).
- In lieu of technology, play your own games as a family while in queues. Our favorite is the classic guessing game “What Disney character am I?”
- Use downtime to talk about your experiences of the day. Record your kid’s take on the days events as a video diary (these are great to watch later!). Parents should take turns recording their commentary, as well.
- Make it a contest to see who can come up with the most interesting experience or memory of the day. Maybe it’s finding a hidden Mickey in an obscure place or getting drawn into some of the streetmosphere shows during the day. Anything that encourages paying attention to the details is a good bet.
I personally think that “disconnecting” during a vacation is necessary in order to get the most out of your time together. I know it’s hard. I know that we can be addicted to our devices. I even know that it might be a battle to even consider such limitations. Consider talking about tech limitations before you leave, setting some ground rules, and even negotiate usage terms with your family beforehand in order to avoid confrontation later. It might be a challenge, but it might be one worth trying in order to experience a vacation of a lifetime and to build many priceless memories.
Parenting in the Parks columnist Adrienne Krock's three boys are now 15, 12, and 9. They’ve been visiting the Disneyland Resort since they were each just weeks old and Annual Passholders since their 3rd birthdays.Adrienne writes:
I’m “that Mom.” We limit our sons’ use of electronic devices. Even the devices they bought with their own money. On vacation, we adjust the rules somewhat, but not much. But we really do not want our sons to miss the marvelous sights and sounds around them because they spent our hard-earned vacation with their heads buried in their devices! For long car rides or plane trips, we do bring along the iPods and iPads. The boys enjoy this time because we extend our normal time restrictions on electronics. But once we reach our destination, however, that is another matter.
I do not believe that my sons need an electronic toy to keep their attention in lines, especially at Disney theme parks. Disney often designs their queues with marvelous things to see and do. We take the opportunity to talk to each other or play games. One of the best things about being local to Disneyland is that our family often visits with friends. Sometimes our friends have children and all the kids engage each other in line. Other times, we visit with a group of adults and our children love to spend time talking to them—either impressing the adults with their Disney knowledge or learning new nuggets of information from the adults.
My husband and I both have iPhones and we end up far more attached to our devices than I care to admit. When we do pull out the electronics, sometimes we share so that at least, our family connects together. We might use the phones to look up a bit of trivia or answer a question that came up in conversation. Our phone apps include some games we can enjoy together as a family. Recently, in line at Toy Story Mania, we saw another group in line playing a guessing game on their phones, called Heads-Up! As a mom, I can’t argue too much with an interactive game that gets my family playing together, but I prefer to save those for longer lines with fewer diversions.
Recently, we found ourselves in line with six children, ages 9 to 16, the elder four of them carrying cell phones. Even standing in line together, we realized the elder four were spending their time texting each other! Needless to say, the parents cracked down on that pretty darn quickly.
With everything to see and do on our Disney trips, my children know where I expect their priorities to be. After all, do they really need to have electronic devices to keep their attention at the Happiest Place on Earth?
MousePlanet columnist Chris Barry his wife Diane, 14-year-old Samantha, and twin 11-year-olds, Casey and Alex, live on Long Island and are all major Disney and Walt Disney World fans. Chris writes:
Despite being involved with technology for my whole career in the TV business and TV/education business, I’m a bit opposed to technology in my “normal” life. Sure, we have cameras, iPhones and iPads and Nintendo DSs in our lives, but truth be told I can put them down and walk away from them and not start experiencing withdrawals. We’re trying to teach our kids to be the same way.
I can’t deny entertaining the 11-year-old twins with their DSs or my iPhone when we’re out waiting for dinner to arrive in some restaurants and definitely on a long car or plane ride. That all just makes sense. However our Disney trips are family time and family time is not spent staring at electronics.
The one thing they are allowed to do in the parks or on the busses, monorails or boats is check the wait times on the “My Disney Experience” app or the “Lines” app. In my eyes, this keeps them involved in the trip and also makes them feel like they’re participating in our park touring and planning. I also like how interested they get in the different ride times even if we’ aren’t in that particular park. I’m not sure why it matters that Splash Mountain has a 50 minute wait when you’re sitting having lunch at Pizza Planet in Hollywood Studios…but it does, doesn’t it?
We never bring the Nintendo DSs or iPads into the parks with us. They are left in the room and quite honestly they don’t get touched much when we’re down at Disney. Considering the fact that we were just there for a four-day trip a week ago, I can speak with recent experience. The DSs never left their case the whole time and the iPads spent most of the week in the in-room-safe. We used them to check weather or dining menus. I go on these trips to get away from the real world and too much electronics reminds of the real world.
My 14-year-old daughter does, of course, bring her iPhone along to the parks, but that is solely because we split up on occasion and the ease of phone communication has simplified that completely. She’s still young and I like being a phone or text away from meeting up with her or knowing what she’s up to. I watched her and she mostly used her phone to take pictures and text the other family friend that we were with when we separated. As far as I can tell there was no social media or playing games in the parks and I was happy about that. She gets it. She was there for the whole Disney experience just like we were. It looks like we did something right. Hopefully her younger brothers will stay on the same path and we can continue to enjoy our Disney time together enjoying the magic instead of staring at the cold glow of electronic devices.
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