I've always taken the stand that a happy child makes for a happy family. If Junior is grumpy - everybody is grumpy! If you don't believe me, try taking a five hour road trip with a baby who screams for most of it! We parents become pretty adept at doing whatever it takes to ensure that our children are entertained and in good spirits for the sanity of everybody involved. I myself have done things I swore I'd never do in the name of preserving peace and quiet. I allow my son to watch movies on long road trips. I give him my i-Phone when we're shopping or waiting for our food to arrive in a restaurant. I also bring a portable DVD player on camping trips. (your cue to stop reading if you think this should be the 11th commandment - Thou shalt not bring technology into the backcountry!)
I'm one of those people who don't really see life in black and white. I can list the things on one hand that I think are always wrong or bad. I try to look at the circumstances behind the scenes instead of judging people who might make different choices than I would. That child who takes his Nintendo DS system with him and chooses to play video games rather than socializing with other kids might have mild autism and really struggle with social interaction. The child who takes his portable DVD player camping might be one of those highly sensitive children that need a few creature comforts from home in order to feel safe and secure. For that child, their favourite TV show might be one of those comfort items at times when they're feeling overwhelmed. Is it our place to judge the reasons parents bring gadgets into the backcountry? Do we know the underlying reasons?
For me, kids using gadgets while camping, hiking, or out in nature isn't a given evil. There are so many amazing things children can learn through the use of technology. Take for example the new sport of geocaching. Thanks to this educational activity, many people who would not normally be interested in hiking are heading to the wilderness in search of hidden treasures. We haven't tried it yet but it's a brilliant concept and teaches children skills such as backcountry navigation and route finding. In order to participate in geocaching though you'll need a GPS enabled device - in other words, your kids will have to use gadgets in the backcountry.
I have definitely seen the downside of kids having access to electronic gadgets and think caution is of course required. I once watched a boy walk around the Calgary Zoo with a hand held video game system in his hands. While walking!! And instead of actually looking at the animals his parents brought him to see. Seriously, I can't find anything positive to say about that as hard as I try not to judge. For me it comes down to a couple of simple guidelines for families:
One - SafetyI know we all love our i-Pods but seriously, it isn't safe to ski or snowboard while listening to music. You can't hear what is happening around you and I really don't feel safe if you can't hear me coming up along side. I'd say the same for cycling while listening to music. It's important that you connect with your surroundings in order to avoid collisions with other cyclists, hikers, and wildlife. It's hard to know what's around the next corner if you can't hear anything. Meanwhile, is it such a big deal if a toddler is listening to an i-Pod in their Chariot while mom or dad takes them out on the cross country ski trails? Presuming the volume isn't cranked, if the child is happy, not screaming, not fussing, and letting you actually ski, I say - awesome, keep at it! It's hard to keep kids happy in captivity and you do what you have to do. Otherwise, I guess you leave them at home if gadgets bother you so much and you get a babysitter every weekend.
|Skiing with the kids|
Two - ModerationMy child is allowed to watch movies on road trips greater than 2 hours. Most day trips to the mountains are shorter than that and so we don't even pack the DVD player. Does my son ask for it? No. Honestly he doesn't. He knows it's a special treat and that it only comes out on the big trips so that we can all have some sanity. Think of it from the kid's perspective - how boring is it to stare out the window of a car for 4 hours? Even I bring a book or something to do. My child is only 3 years old and can't exactly read his way through a book that whole time. When we get to camp he is only allowed to watch a movie during his mid day quiet time or before bed if he's having troubles falling asleep. This is after he has played in the creek, gone for at least one hike, maybe taken a swim in a lake and played at a beach, chased his friends around - and is totally exhausted! He seriously needs a nap but since he fights those like the plague these days, we resort to other methods of keeping him in the tent quiet and resting. We choose to let him watch a movie. Maybe you have other things you choose. Either way - should we really be judging each other? We are all good parents trying to do our best. It doesn't help when somebody says they'd never go camping with people like us because we bring gadgets.
These days my son is quite content to fall asleep in the tent without a video and likes to read books but that wasn't the case a year ago. He also sleeps in until 7am now which is a blessing. Last summer he was waking up at 6am and I certainly wasn't getting up at that ungodly hour. However, if there are problems going to sleep or he wakes up early, we know we can pull out that secret weapon - Barney! Judge me or congratulate me for finding a way of sleeping in until 7:30 when camping. Whatever. You do what you've got to do to survive. And if you really have a problem with it, please, come by my tent and offer to take my child for a morning hike at 7am. I'll even give you my car keys to grab the cheerios from our food stash.
|My son running off his last bit of energy before bed|
I guess in summary I'd just like to say that if it's ok for adults to have gadgets in the backcountry or while camping, it has to be ok for kids. Otherwise it's a double standard. Below are just a few gadgets that most adults would agree are acceptable - and they aren't all educational or for the purposes of saving your life. Many are purely for entertainment!
- GPS enabled devices
- Personal locator beacons
- Avalanche beacons
- Kindle Readers
- Headlamps (try using a candle on your next trip as you read your e-Books)
- i-Pods (Ask a mountain guide how popular their use is on long mountaineering slogs)
- Digital Cameras
- Watches (complete with an alarm to wake you up for that alpine start)
- Cycling Computers (to track your speed, distance, and trail stats)
- LED lanterns
- Heart Rate Monitors
- Video cameras or helmet cams
|Beautiful kids enjoying the beautiful outdoors|
|However you do it - just get outside.|