Child in CarBefore setting out on a long car trip with children, many parents pack freshly cut carrots and celery. These would come in handy if a hungry deer wanders up to your car at a stop sign. Otherwise, the first time you stop for fuel the kids will want to load up on confectionary items like thirty-two ounce shaved ice drinks topped with sugary syrup. Which reminds me that when you see a sign saying “Last Service Station For A Hundred Miles” keep in mind that it’s probably the last public restroom for a hundred miles, too.

Kids today have personal DVD players showing movies re-mastered by cinematic geniuses for superior audio and video; when we were kids on long distance car trips, we had a game called “Spot The Different License Plate.” There was also a game specifically for rural driving where children on one side of the car competed with kids on the other side by counting horses. Whoever passed the most horses won. This kept us busy and was fair, so long as dad didn’t start playing and become competitive himself. If there was a commercial horse pasture with dozens of fillies on the passenger side and dad was really into the game, it could become ugly when he made a three-point turn around just to drive past the horses again on his side to even out the count before going around the county block to resume our direction of travel.

There was a time decades ago when kids amused themselves on road trips by singing repetitive songs like “A Hundred Bottles Of Beer On The Wall.” Now with MP3 players and even “old school” ghetto blasters kids can bring their music with them. Scarier still, they can share it with you. A simple purchase of a personal listening device with a set of ear buds or headphones so your child can keep his music to himself can easily save you a fortune in therapy later.

Traditionally during long rides kids have asked “Are we there yet?” These days, if your ten-year-old has Google Earth on his Blackberry he can tell you not only if you’re there yet but what your coordinates are as well. And somehow reminding him that the satellite pictures he’s showing you aren’t “live” doesn’t take the wind out of his pompous little sails.

You could try to control outside influence on your en route offspring by limiting the electronics they bring. While banning their cell phones from the car would eliminate that particular distraction, chances are you’ll need all the free cell phone minutes you can get if you need to call your auto club hotline to check directions when you can only describe your current location as “between rows of corn.”

Long distance driving is tiring to all involved. Children like to break the boredom by prompting truckers to honk their horns. It’s usually a harmless exchange between fellow road travelers. A child mimes the pulling of the horn cord and enjoys the anticipation of the deafening horn. The trucker also likes the break in the monotony of a long haul by amusing the youngster with his truck’s features. But if the driver of the car isn’t aware of this visual exchange, an unexpected blast from a trucker’s horn has the effect of several cups of coffee on him, particularly if he’s in front of the truck in the passing lane driving anything under eight cylinders. All involved can benefit from it, really. 

The main thing to remember is that it’s more difficult to discipline children during road trips these days. If we try to do what our parents did, namely threaten to “turn this car right around” your eight-year-old may simply roll her eyes, pull her cell phone and call a cab… Or worse yet, “A Child Help Line.”

By Rick Dickert.