Kids Use Ipad in Car?

Long car trip, many miles to go
with 1 dog and 2 kids..should we bring out the Ipads?

Are we there yet? Displayed in text as a green road sign. There are puffy white clouds in the background.
It’s a sign of a long trip. Are we there yet?

Dear Ms. Smartphone: We have a long cross-country trip ahead of us. We have two kids and one dog.  Our dog can’t get on the airplane, so we decided to take him with us. I think it is OK to let the children have their own Ipad in the car to watch a kid’s show or play games. My wife says I am taking the easy way out and we should not allow them to have the Ipads. What would you do?  The children, by the way, are ages eight and four.  Max, Boston.

Dear Max: You asked me what I would do- seriously, I would fly, but then there’s the dog, and keeping the family Covid safe. It’s good that you and your spouse are having this discussion about digital media before you set out. 

It is hard to peer out of the back-seat window for days on end. But, it’s also hard to drive with noisy, restless kids. Perhaps download a number of family-oriented books-on-tapes before you go. That way, as you drive, you can share the content together. If you give them Ipads, it is one-on-one media. You lose the ability to talk together and bring an adult view to the kid content. 

Let’s Get Bored!

But, importantly, do not underestimate the power of kids getting bored. Each person has to solve it individually and learn that feeling bored is normal. It can also become the gateway to creative thinking and focus. There is so much media to entertain young children today (and keep them quiet) that we overlook the value of downtime. A noted clinical psychiatrist says that boredom, not mental health, is the real issue bubbling up from the pandemic. So, in these times, we need to teach children that it’s OK to be bored. The psychiatrist notes that teens seems to need more novelty and sensation seeking, and their understimulated state opens the door to recreational drugs. So, a few days in the car without the Ipad may set younger kids on a better path. 

IRL Geography

Finally, there’s real educational value in experiencing the vast expanse of this country first-hand. It’s the IRL geography class. You’ll find lots of sites online for making it useful, like this one.  I would personally stop at each state’s Welcome Center so that Fido gets to stretch his legs, and the kids get a souvenir, and pick out free brochures and maps to then study in the car. Maybe your eight year old will want to keep a diary of the trip- either digitally or on paper. The point is to experience it first, record it later, and share it together. Have a good time and drive safe. 

Is Move To Suburb Good for Kids?

An urban Grandma asks when kids move out do they use the Internet less?

This is a book cover from 1997 titled "Better Place to Live" by Philip Langdon. How should suburbia be reimagined?
Suburbia is Good? Philip Langdon, 1997

Dear Ms. Smartphone: Is it good for kids to move to the suburbs? My son and his family plan to move out of the city to a home about 20 miles away. He said his three children are spending too much time on the Internet and also when they move they will each have their own bedroom. I think where they live today is just fine even though they share rooms.  Do you think this move will really help the children when it comes to using the Internet less? As I see it, there are so many fun things to do here in my neighborhood.  Judy, Brookline

Dear Judy: Your son is not alone- there is a narrative that families are doing an exodus from big metro centers these days. Working from home in tight quarters is a chief reason to move out with the closure of favorite restaurants and hangouts. But to answer the question you pose, what are the differences of  urban vs. suburban? The picture at the top is from a 1997 book that argued that the suburbs were stressful, unhealthy places to live. Now the pendulum swings back.

This chart, which comes from an extensive U.S.  time-use study in 2019, shows little difference in what people do in suburbs vs. cities, even with an outdoor activity like playing sports. You asked about media, and that’s not exactly captured, although the categories of watching sports and leisure/relaxing are closely related.

Behind Closed Doors:

In a bigger home with separate bedroom parents will have less ability to see and watch what their kids are doing on the Internet, particularly if the kids used to browse from a shared computer or tablet. Today, bedrooms often do double duty as arcade and game rooms.  But, it’s a balance for families- if Mom or Dad telework, they need to be able to shut the door too.

In the suburbs your son and his family will be spending more time driving, either to see you in Brookline, or for work and school. Kids playing with phones in cars, even as a passenger, is not a good habit. The car is an essential place for conversation, for looking out the window, and managing in-between time. I sometimes wonder if parents who talk a lot on their own phones as they drive, and/or let little kids use their phones in the car imbue a habit that lasts for a lifetime…. when these kids grow up, they become drivers on phones, and drive unsafe.

Inside Closed Cars:

And, speaking of driving, when people move to suburbs with children, kids are generally less independent, unless there are safe sidewalks and bicycles to travel on. Otherwise, these children need to rely on their parents or caregivers to drive them almost everywhere. When children can’t socialize in person or go places,  they might spend more time on their computers or phones, either playing video games or going on social media.

Ultimately, it will be up to your son and his family to set new rules, and to manage how much time the children spend on the Internet. I hope that the move works out well for the family and you will be there helping them manage the changes.

Uber for Flip-phone?

Are you able to get Uber or Lyft if you only have a flip phone?

This is an picture of a flip-phone with a rotary dial. It is not common, but here is the link:
From Hackaday, 2014. This phone does exist!

My older sister lives alone out of state and does not drive. She uses taxis about once a week but they are very expensive and somewhat unreliable. I have suggested she try using Uber which is available where she lives. I have offered to pay for her Uber account which Uber tells me is possible, My sister unfortunately can’t figure out how to put Uber on her flip phone Do you have any tutorial on how to do this? Fran, Burlington

Dear Fran:   It will be nice once the lockdown ends to get back to teaching our rideshare classes and we will be working on a video. This column began two years ago as a way to augment our classes and  expand upon the role of phones in transportation.

As you mention, many communities are now experiencing shortfalls in taxi service. That is leaving those who depend on them for trips, like your sister, high and dry. Not only are they expensive, they are also unreliable. Many taxi companies have ceased the call-in dispatch service, even though there are drivers with cars who wish to pick up passengers.

GPS to the Rescue

That’s where Uber and Lyft, the rideshare companies, become a fine option. But, summoning them does require a phone that can receive and send GPS (global positioning system) data. The “dispatch” takes place electronically instead of through a call-in center.

Since your sister is using a flip phone, it does not have GPS capability built in. She will not be able to call Uber or Lyft on her own, since the Uber or Lyft driver needs  geo-coordinates to know a physical address for pick-up. However, you could be a ride hero and place the call for her.

Location, Location

To do so, you need to know exactly (and I mean exactly) where she is locationally when she wants to be picked up…..say 123 Main Street, Janesville. The rideshare app will send your phone a text message indicating that a pickup is occurring, distant from your own location. You will receive a text messages once the trip is confirmed, and when the rideshare vehicle picks up your sister you can use its “breadcrumb” trail to track her trip in real time. That’s a service taxis can’t provide.

Lots of people book rideshare trips on behalf of family members. And, there are more formal entities like Lyft Concierge, Uber Assist, and GoGoGrandparent that do this too.  That said, it’s often a win-win when seniors get their own smartphones and learn how to use them- not just for rideshare but to stay more active and connected. Once they see the benefits and potential of the smartphone, many of them become eager learners.