We just got back from our yearly family summer vacation (a cruise to Mexico), and we racked up another bushel of memories that make us all cringe and laugh. If your family is like mine, family summer vacations are watershed moments in our lives that we talk about for years. Â As we rolled down the road this past week heading toward our week of adventure, we did what we always do. Someone in the van will say something like ‘Remember last year when…’. Â Then we all have a good time laughing and poking fun at the unfortunate one of us who is the subject of said memory.
This year though I noticed something that I hadn’t noticed before in years past. Â Maybe it was present last year or the year before that, but this is the first time I noticed it. Â I looked in the rear view mirror and saw all my kids buried in screens the entire trip. Â Cellphones, computers, tablets, iPods, and DVD players. Every kid in the van had multiple screens of some variety and interacted with them the entire time. I don’t recall one time the entire trip when one of my children looked out the window and said ‘hey, look at that.’ Â I do remember however multiple times hearing complaints about having to share the limited power outlets scattered throughout the vehicle.
I then harkened back to the days of my own family vacations with my brother, mom and dad. To be fair, if I had owned back then all the amazing devices that are available to kids today, maybe I would have been buried in screens the entire time too. (Who am I kidding? Of course I would have. I was a geek before there was such a term.) But what I remember the most about our family vacations was the Grab Bag.
Maybe you had one too. In preparation for the trip, my mom would wrap little toys of all varieties and put them in a bag. Â The Grab Bag. Each day of the trip we would get to reach into the bag and blindly grab one item, which we would then voraciously unwrap and pray that it was something cool. And that was it. One per day. Good or bad, cool or lame. We did get to pick the time that we reached in the bag, but only once per day. I don’t guess they make these things anymore, but my mom would buy toys that were meant to be used on road trips. Â Like a little chess board that wasÂ magnetizedÂ so that the pieces didn’t fall off during the turns. Or maybe that ‘I spy’ game where you could check off items that you saw along the road and be the first to find them all. Â Or if you were lucky, a mini telescope that you could use to look out the window at stuff along the side of the road. In fact, that’s what I remember most… looking outside the windows of the car at what was outside.
As I have written about before, we had that iconic station wagon that most families had back then, since there was no such thing as a minivan. And my parents drove that thing all over the country on those family vacations, from the Grand Canyon to Myrtle Beach. Â I have seen many strange things and interesting places outside the windows of that station wagon. And that is my point. I was looking. Again, to be fair, that was pretty much all we had to do anyway besides beat on each other, but I can’t help but think that it is aÂ metaphorÂ for our lives today, specifically our children’s lives.
I think we spend too much time today focused inward instead of focused on the world around us, and I think it’s our duty as parents to make sure our kids spend time doing that. I have hope in this generation in that regard because I see that today’s kids have much more compassion and interest in the general well-being of others, much more so than we did as kids. Â But I think that technology may be doing our kids a measure of harm by building bridges to other sides of the worldÂ while at the same time buildingÂ walls between them and the world around them.
I am not naive enough to think that a Grab Bag would suffice my children today. The little plastic telescope can’t compete with Angry Birds or Facebook. Heck, even I would rather play Angry Birds. But maybe next time I’ll make everyone turn off the screens, at least for a little while, and play ‘I Spy’. Â They will think I have lost my mind, I am sure, but my mom will be so proud. You were a genius, mom. Genius.