Electronics for the Kids: Yay or Nay?

by Adrienne Krock, staff writer
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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.

It's your turn—keep the discussion flowing!

Visit the Parenting in the Parks forum on our MousePad discussion board, and share your opinions about this topic or many others, or send your suggestions via e-mail. Reader-submitted tips might be used in a future article, and you might be selected to participate in an upcoming panel discussion!

Comments

  1. By mkelm44

    My son's too young for electronics, so I admit this is a bit of second hand experience, a bit of what my wife and I do, and a bit of what I think I'll do in the future.

    The smart phone and tablet is an incredible device. Remember when we were kids- you wanted to watch cartoons, you had to wait for them to come on one of the few channels you got... or if you were lucky and had cable, the two dozen or so stations you got. Now, if I want a cartoon, I load an app and it's there. Total turn around time, maybe two minutes. If I want a *specific* cartoon, say the Muppets Mahna Mahna sketch, then I search for it, find it and watch it. Again, total turn around time is a couple of minutes.

    The convenience is addictive. I was watching "Moneyball" yesterday on my train ride home yesterday (on my Ipad) and wasn't sure if something really happened or if it was just the movie-version of the events. Pull out my Iphone on the train speeding through Virginia and I have the complete 2002 Oakland Athletics season in front of me... every stat, every game, every detail. It's amazing- we truly can have knowledge at the click of a button. It's so easy to have a conversation and pull out the phone and look at something. Most of the time it isn't bad... a conversation with my wife about one thing, pull out my phone, answer a question we have about it and move on.

    But that's everyday- what about my vacation time? My vacation time (which I will point out does not include my travel, which I loathe with the fire of a thousand suns) is about not doing what I do every day. So the last time we were on vacation, the phones went into my backpack. I put them in an internal zippered compartment of a pocket with a seperate zipper and put them there. When we split up on the vacation (I'm a little bit more of a workout nut than she is, so I'll slip off to a hotel weight room or a local gym for example) then the phones come out. We get back together, and they go back in the bag. That way if we need it, the phones are available, but we don't fall into our habit of just pulling them out and using them- it has to be a conscious choice.

    So projecting forward to when my kids are old enough to use devices on their own (which admittedly is a very very young age) then I think we'll keep doing what we've been doing. I'll bring in the phones with a few apps for the kids and leave it in the bag in a reserve capacity. When you finally reach that point where they, or you, need a break from everything, then the phones come out... again- a conscious choice. Maybe it'll be at a meal which is taking a little too long, or in a queue where you're on your second or third iteration of the in queue entertainment, or waiting for fireworks, or just that moment when you need them to hang in there for another 5 minutes for the bus to take you back to the hotel... keep the phones and the entertainment in reserve, but in the parks, keep them tucked away.

  2. By Jimbo996

    "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?"

    No, because they are not old enough to safeguard them. Also, the attractions are not designed to hold them. You don't want to be responsible for an expensive item breaking or falling out of the ride vehicle.

    They should be kept in the room safes to be used during the downtime in the hotel rooms. Is there a hard and fast rule? Perhaps keep the same rules that you apply at home.

  3. By ericles

    I've got a 16 yr old & a 17 yr old. They both have phones cause they have a 45 minute drive to school (and home), are often 2 hours away from home with school soccer / tennis teams, and often go hunting & fishing....so them having phones makes ME feel better, so I can get ahold of them and vice versa, especially since they are driving now. So long as they don't abuse it, they get to have them on them all the time. However they dont' have internet access on them, nor do we allow facebook. If they were out with us, standing in line at a attraction, or at the dinner table whether home or out and were messing with their phones that would be the end of the free reign with them! I may be in the minority of parents, but I think it's a real shame if your child can't deal with being in line/at a restaurant/or a two hour plane ride without all that. Think about it...for some reason in the last 10 years or so we as parents have stopped interacting and replaced conversation and interaction with technology. I'm always seeing kids with their faces shoved in a ipad/ipod or phone. I'm not really seeing kids - God forbid - engaging in conversation face to face with another living human being.
    All that being said, maybe I'm the dinosaur. I'm the "go outside and play" Mom. The Mom who doesn't allow facebook (gasp - somehow the kids have survived THAT). The Mom who doesn't let them have a TV in their rooms, or play video games on school nights. I think part of it is my reaction to friends who have/had little kids who literally could not got 5 miles down with road without the TV on in the back of the minivan. I just didn't want to raise those kinda kids.

  4. By Mermaid

    My kids are little (3 and 19 months). I had never given them access to our devices until pretty recently (last 2-3 months). It started with the Disneyland app. Even the little one can swipe easily. My older one loves to watch the little videos. Then in my moms group, everyone started discussing all the apps their 3 and unders play and I started feeling pressured. Like, OMG, my kids are going to go to school and be cave people compared to their peers. Crazy, right?! So, I downloaded Monkey Preschool and Where's My Water. My 3 year old loves both of these but it spiraled pretty quickly to way too much. It was way easier when it was no technology then now that it is some and I have to limit it. They still never get our phones, so it is really the iPad. I keep it hidden most of the time now.... uh, yes, avoidance!

    As far as travel, we purposely bought our car with no DVD player but we do have a portable one for trips over 2 hours. I am unsure when we will introduce the Wii that hasn't been used since before kids or a DS. I just want them to play but I do still have a small concern that they should be exposed to some computer skills. And, I am no saint, Disney Jr is a good family friend!

    But, I imagine on our next trip (when they are 4.5 and just shy of 3), we will use the DVD player for travel, maybe the iPad in the room. I am not the mom that lets my kids use it in restaurants and I hope that doesn't change- I don't think it will, but now I really know once the gate is open, it is way harder to shut it down!

  5. By fairestoneofall

    We do bring our kids' iPods on vacation, always. It's invaluable on the airplane. It's a five hour flight (with layovers) usually to get to WDW from Southern California, so we bring their devices to help keep them occupied while they are forced to remain seated. We also bring books and puzzles that we can work on together. But, there comes a point in that long travel day when the iPods are a parents best friend. I admit it.

    We bring it for day trips to Disneyland if we anticipate having to wait to be seated for a meal. Otherwise we do not. If we are going to have dinner at Carthay Circle we'll bring the iPods, otherwise we do not. They don't play with them while in line for attractions.

  6. By DisneyGator

    We have never used any tech on our Disney Trips. That said, we've never had smart phones until last month! As for WDW trips, the only time I might be tempted to use them is if we're in a restaurant waiting for the food and the little one's getting restless. Fantasmic! might be a place to use it since you have to get there early. As for the other fireworks, I'm usually holding the spot with the double stroller and backpack while the rest of the family hits a ride or two. But really, we've trained our kids to behave and entertain themselves, so outside of the 2yo, the other two seem to sift through the waiting times pretty good.

  7. By adriennek

    Quote Originally Posted by DisneyGator View Post
    We have never used any tech on our Disney Trips.

    DisneyGator! I see you're from Waterford! I have friends in Waterford! Are you near the Bait Barn?

    As for DVDs in cars: My car has a DVD player in it but the kids know that the rule is - we don't put a movie in the DVD player unless we can watch the ENTIRE movie before we even get to our destination.

  8. By Malcon10t

    When the kids were growing up, they had Gameboys that could be used in the car, but not in the park. Now days, we do use the phones for games in the park, but like was mentioned, it is usually Heads Up. (It is addicting! We even get CMs and other guests involved!) I think we had about 20 people around us playing once while waiting for Mickey's Magical Map, and again while waiting for Fantasmic!

  9. By adriennek

    Quote Originally Posted by Malcon10t View Post
    it is usually Heads Up. (It is addicting! We even get CMs and other guests involved!) I think we had about 20 people around us playing once while waiting for Mickey's Magical Map, and again while waiting for Fantasmic!

    I haven't actually played it yet. We found out about it on Labor Day, in line for Toy Story Mania.

    I really need that app.

  10. By Malcon10t

    Quote Originally Posted by adriennek View Post
    I haven't actually played it yet. We found out about it on Labor Day, in line for Toy Story Mania.

    I really need that app.

    I think the kids all downloaded it over 4th of July. One of our "friends" who went with us showed us the game and would keep us playing. Act it Out was one of the favorite choices. That and Name Brands. We are a weird family. Yes, we got some strange looks when the hint we tossed out was "We kept them under the car" and the person got "PopTarts" without hesitation... (Long inside joke...)

  11. By candles71

    Even when A was little, she didn't need distractions inside the park. I did learn that the mile walk back to a hotel went smoother (less whining about being tired and dragging her feet) when I would pull out my phone and let her call grammie to tell her about her day. This even worked when she was 8 and she walked for an hour all over Manhattan, with no more whining, while telling grammie all about the trip so far and everything she was seeing.
    ETA: This only works when Grammie is ok with 10 PM phone calls ymmv

  12. By amyuilani

    I don't have children, so I can't speak to the same points as parents here can. However, for the 1-2 times a year I can travel to CA for a trip to Disneyland, I know I feel a little hurt when my friend starts playing Candy Crush while we are in line for Tower or something, instead of talking with me. I get that she's a passholder and it becomes a routine to turn to games when she's in long lines, but when we only get to spend so much time together face to face, I don't think it's too much to ask that that time be quality. The games aren't going anywhere. This moment, where we have such a finite amount of real time, will not be the same ever again. It speaks to the disconnect we have created as a society. There is no game or tweet that matters more to me than the people I have saved up to spend time with. I know it's something that the next generation will never really understand because they don't know what it's like to live in a world that is not rife with technology, and that's unfortunate. To allow the disconnect to continue is sad.

  13. By adriennek

    amyuilani - great. post.!!!!

    Quote Originally Posted by Malcon10t View Post
    I think the kids all downloaded it over 4th of July. One of our "friends" who went with us showed us the game and would keep us playing. Act it Out was one of the favorite choices. That and Name Brands. We are a weird family. Yes, we got some strange looks when the hint we tossed out was "We kept them under the car" and the person got "PopTarts" without hesitation... (Long inside joke...)

    We played this today. We bought an add-on deck "Famous Characters." It was a lot of fun. The boys wanted to play it the ENTIRE time in lines but I would occasionally say no. One thing that was fun was how it involved lots of people. Sometimes my kids didn't know what the character was, but an adult in the group did and could explain it to me. We did attract attention. Some people looked and seemed to be enjoying watching us play. Some people asked us the name of the game so they could load it. Definitely worth the $1.98.

  14. By Malcon10t

    Quote Originally Posted by adriennek View Post
    Some people looked and seemed to be enjoying watching us play. Some people asked us the name of the game so they could load it. Definitely worth the $1.98.

    I love the way people join in. (Sometimes you have to remember to announce the rules at the beginning of the new round since you have new players!) We were playing once while waiting for Mickey's Magical Map, and we had 2-3 CMs, along with people in line helping us play. We've had tons of people join us when we waited for Fantasmic!. I think it is a better than average game to play, especially for a family as it does encourage togetherness...

  15. By DisneyFunFamily4

    I just downloaded the app. Thanks for the Heads Up! (pun intended) LOL! It looks like a lot of fun!

  16. By GrumpyGoat

    Be careful what you give your children to play with...

    http://usnews.nbcnews.com/_news/2013...ads-phone?lite

  17. By rph13

    Can't open the link

  18. By GrumpyGoat

    Try this one:

    http://www.oregonlive.com/portland/i..._buys_car.html

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