On any given day, just getting your kids to unplug from technology can be more difficult than getting them to study for the SAT's.
On vacation (heaven forbid you're taking them away from their friends) getting them to turn off their phones, tablet's, iTouches, and games can be even more difficult. Let's not forget the fact that you spent an enormous amount of time and expense choosing fun things to engage your kids, but never mind.
Michael Matthews, founder and managing director of The Mobile Culture, says keeping the kids plugged in on your next trip may not be such a bad idea, after all.
You won't get them to unplug altogether, so he says, take a different approach to children and technology and turn their behavior into something that benefit the whole family.
"First, I assure the parent their kid is glued to their phone mostly because of habitual behavior, not because they’re bored with them, " Matthews said. "They use their phone just as much during their favorite band’s concert as when sitting next to you on the way to school. Don’t take it personally. Also, to a teenager, texting a friend is just as important as them emailing a co-worker, so you have to abide by the same rules."
Mobile Mike - as he's known by his advertising clients - says families should utilize the technology to enhance their experience and bring each other closer together while traveling rather than letting it be a source of contention.
Matthews gave Fox News Traveler some tips for how to incorporate your cameras, cell phones and iPads into the vacation with your kids. Giving the kids direction-and a job to to- can keep the memories alive long after you unpack your bags.
Create a 'mobile' scavenger hunt
Matthews says make a list of items or clues the kids could find as you're exploring a new area on vacation. Give the list to your kids, and then ask them take a picture of the items when they find them on their phone, iPad or camera. "At the end, the family can get together and either Dad loads up all the images/videos to display on his laptop or they can just pass around the cell phones," Matthews said. "This gives parents a great opportunity to further discuss, educate their kids on fun or historic things about that particular area, people or culture. The ideas are endless on the fun lists you could create."
Turn over the GPS or your iPhone to the kids. Matthews says don't be reluctant to give them the opportunity to help you with driving directions. "Since Dad is driving, challenge the kids to find interesting restaurants or navigate unfamiliar areas," Matthews said. "Kids are incredibly fast at finding information via their phones and will appreciate contributing." Just make sure you know what they're giving you directions to - or you may end up at a candy shop or Chuck E. Cheese's before your realize it.
Before going on vacation, Matthews says ask each family member to select a few songs that mean something to them. Use these songs to create a family playlist you can use in the car or download on everyone's iPod or MP3 player. "As the family drives, each member gets a chance to play his or her song and share why that song is unique to them," Matthews said. "We’re looking for conversation starters, right? So if we do have the music playlist and someone says, 'look, I danced to this with your mom …at our wedding' – all of a sudden the kids are interested in your wedding."
As you've probably learned, kids are often faster and much more technology savvy than their parents. Ask the kids to document the vacation by shooting short videos and editing them together to create a family movie. "Let them be creative and find their own angle on a story," Matthews said. "They have readily accessible editing tools to mash up photos, videos, music and sound effects. Once they’re given that challenge, they’re more likely to ensure a better vacation since they need better content than just hanging out at the pool." Allowing the kids to work on this together will not only enhance their relationships, but also create memories you can keep forever.
Many popular tourist destinations and resorts offer free or low-cost apps, podcasts or audio books. Help the kids download these and share with each other what they learn about the country or location they're visiting. "Apps tell us a lot about someone and we love sharing our favorites," Matthews said. "Parents can find out which their kids like to use and even how to use them." Matthews says if you're going to Disneyland or a theme park, find out if there is an wait time app for the rides. Then, hand over the phone and let the kids lead the way.
Email vacation journal
Before going on a vacation, Matthews encourages parents to create a family email address, such as email@example.com. Give each family member the email address so they can send pictures or stories from the trip as they happen. "We tend to forget the small moments and being able to preserve them with a fresh memory allows the family to reflect later," Matthews said.