TVs in Vans? Are you a fan?

And by vans, I mean "cars"... It's just, you know, van + fan rhyme and TVs in Cars? Remember SARS? seemed a little WTF for a title. Anyway! Today I'd like to discuss the whole TV/DVD in the family vehicle situation. We will be purchasing our (minivan) at the last possible second before the babies are born to prolong having a car payment until it's absolutely necessary. However! We have already decided on the make/model/color we want and because we're purchasing and I'll likely drive the thing for the rest of my life, we're going Bells and Whistles Edition all the way. Of course, "Bells and Whistles" in minivan speak = "You want a TV with that, right?"

Meanwhile, we're like, "No! NononononoINFINITYNO!"

I know people who swear by their car entertainment systems and that's also cool but I'll admit I find it (personally) depressing that the TVDVD Car unit is pitched as a "zone your kids = awesome!" device, which is just... I don't know, I mean... isn't there anywhere left to escape the screen? Is NOTHING SACRED ANYMORE!?? What happened to being entertained by the view of a changing landscape out a window? (That is seriously something my mother would say. I am SO my mother's daughter, holy shit.)

I can list a million incredible memories that would not exist if our summer road trips were provided by Disney DVDs. Of course, I hated, at the time, that my parents dragged me off the beach every summer to road trip, but in retrospect, some of my fondest memories were on the road, Mad Libbing with my brother or listening to Pearl Jam along windy Colorado roads and beyond. I mean... Pearl Jam's TEN came out when I was ten. Would that have been half as profound if I wasn't staring out the window of a rented Ford Aerostar in an Arizona lightningstorm?

I guess I feel like we owe it to our kids to give them a collection of hellish road trips; where there's fighting and punching and "I spy with my little eye something... topless!" (A convertible, hello.) Where there's boredom and thinking and "Are we there yet?" and "DON'T MAKE ME PULL THIS CAR OVER!" and yes, even tantrums. Because that's ALL part of the experience. Because we're setting our kids up for dependency on screens to keep them entertained instead of finding those tools in themselves. Boredom after all, is the gateway drug to an imagination well-used.

What do you guys think? Did you invest in a Home Entertainment system for you car? Why or why not? Is this something you have an opinion on? Call me nostalgic (if I could buy a 2012 Odyssey with a tape deck I'd be pumped) but I feel that enabling my kids' boredom is one of my greatest gifts as a parent. I want them to feel SO bored they have no choice but to think and watch and listen to the world outside their windows. In the car and also in life.

Please feel free to disagree wholeheartedly with me. Like I said in the video, it's easy for me to say "hell no!" to car screens with two kids. I may change my tune with four.



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Kelly | 1:57 AM

This topic made me remember long drives with my dear grandpa. He used to pay me a penny for every cow and a nickel for every oil derrick I saw on the trip. That kept me busy and quiet the whole time! Even if it was a bribe, I say counting cows beats TV any day.

Candace | 5:12 AM

On airplanes I am totally 100% down with my toddler watching videos because trying to wrangle a tot and a baby on a plane is way fucking hard without it! Besides you have to consider the other passengers!

As for the car I think vids in moderation on long trips is ok. This summer we took our 2.6 year old and 8 month old on a 12 hour trip. It was HELL for the toddler without a little help from her video ipod. We only used when as a last resort but it was definitely a necessity.

I hope that our future road trips will be better and when they are older they will be better at playing games but videos do make life easier!

Anonymous | 5:19 AM

We didn't invest in a home entertainment system in our van either and it's turned out just fine. We have a 2 year old and a 4 year old (ours is a Mazda 5) and I simply hated the idea of a TV in our car at all times. However, we do take about 2 big road trips a year and have once borrowed a contraption with two screens to go on the back of the seats in front of the kids. It certainly helped us out quite a bit, but after a while, I got sick of having it in the car during our trip. So, once we got to our final destination, we took it out of the car and stashed it away. We only used it for the trip to, and from our destination which was a 10 hour ride.
I bought stories on CD which I had the kids listen to for part of the time. We also have XM and there is a kid channel on it that plays music and stories throughout the day.

Kris | 6:00 AM

I say no TV's in cars.

My four year old niece has a portable DVD player which she takes everywhere with her. It's really sad how zombified she can be when that thing is on. The flip side is at least the portable device can be taken away from her... a TV in the car is there to stay.

Whats wrong with listening to music or books on CD in the car, or *gasp* talking to each other? And unless the kiddos get carsick like I do the backseat is a great place to read a book.

Anonymous | 6:08 AM

I say no tv in the van. But do buy and Ipad and use that, sometimes in the van and sometimes not in the van.

jamie | 7:03 AM

we *just* bought a 2011 honda odyssey (do you know how hard it is to find a new one??). we opted out of the entertainment package. we do have those portable dvd players that strap onto the back of the driver and passenger seats. i refuse to let our sons watch tv in the car unless we are going on a long trip (hours, not minutes). i'd rather they use their imagination and only use the dvd in emergencies =)

CallieAnnie | 9:45 AM

I will say we've traveled alot by plane and our FisherPrice DVD player was a gift from a well-meaning relative; however, it was a pain to lug along and counted as another carry-on. We stopped taking in on trips after the first time. I was glad to have the option, but my son just wasn't that interested. He thought the plane and looking out the window and the whole experience was way more exciting than another episode of PBS Kids programming. In a van is kind of a different thing, as the car might get more monotonous and you don't have to haul it. I'm not afraid of boredom with kids and I do think a certain amount of it inspires creativity, sure, but being seat-belted into a confined space for 11 hours can feel like torture. Believe me, I was that kid and it was pretty miserable going across rural areas where there isn't much to see, i.e., very few towns and a practically identical desert landscape is basically the same (west Texas, Wyoming, Kansas). Until I learned to read, it wasn't that great of an experience. I always looked forward to car trips later because that mean uninterrupted reading time and QuikTrip candy and going somewhere to do something fun, but wow. We had to travel three hours each way for groceries when I was a kid, from Wyoming to Montana. That trip was usually done once every two months and we shopped in bulk. A limited amount of TV wouldn't have hurt, particularly on our 16-hour trip from Wyoming to Denever; it was brutal for my sister and I at 7 and 5 and I think that was the trip on which we learned to pull hair. I agree in theory that boredom can do good things, but in practical reality, a little of something in moderation isn't a bad thing. Around town? Never. On a 12-hour trip? Absolutely. Break the monotony with one DVD for each day in the car.

Gina | 11:23 AM

I would venture to say that beer cooler they showed in the promotion video you posted would be way more effective than the dvd player in making your long trips more tolerable. :-)

Anonymous | 5:48 PM

No. No. NO. Honestly? No way. It's insanity.

Anonymous | 6:18 PM

I agree with you 100%. I would never want a tv in my car. Ever. We had gameboys when we went on long car trips, but honestly we got bored of them. There's only so many times you can play pokemon on a tiny screen. We saw so many wonderful things driving out to Colorado from PA. Lots of cornfields, but also mountains, tunnels, massive thunderheads, storms that later in the day spawned tornadoes, farms, etc. Learning to deal with long periods in the car is part of growing up. I think there is something stunted about sticking a kid in front of the screen just to shut them up. Having kids isn't easy, but neither is marriage: sitting in front of a TV the whole time won't fix either!

I mean obviously kids need something to do besides sit, but what about a coloring book or paper and crayons, silly putty, cards, car sized board games, roadtrip scavenger hunts, etc?

Meredith R. | 7:27 PM

First off...LOVE,LOVE,LOVE our new 2012 Honda Odyssey!!! I looked at every single minivan out there and I am so happy with our choice. The little cooler also comes in so handy for long road trips when you want to bring healthy snacks like fruit and veggies.

TV in the van...Totally a fan (but with rules)! We don't have the Touring model, but the one below it with the entertainment package. I loved the fact that the screen is from the ceiling, and not on the back of the headrests. When we first got the van, we didn't even tell our kids that there was a DVD player. We decided to wait until we took a road trip that was 3 hrs. or longer to put it down and surprise them. Our rule is that for short car trips to school, camp, etc., we will NOT put it on. We are big fans of word games in the car. However, for long road trips it does come in handy. I also monitor what we watch. Someone else mentioned that they put Leap Frog videos on...We do the same thing. They can watch a movie of their choice, AFTER my choice. My kids have actually learned all of their site words by video, and my 2year old already knows her vowels, skip counting and rhyming words. They would not normally sit and watch that at home.

laura | 11:17 PM

I agree with you, no to screens in cars!

We've gone on a few road trips this summer and my 2.5 year old has started just watching out the window for long periods of time. When he wants to, he's got a big basket of books beside him to look at. Ive been going to the library before a big trip and getting a bunch of new ones. Or playing withe a small toy, a little stuffed doggy, or a matchbox car, or a toy dinosaur ("Rooowr! Mama he ate my seatbelt with his biiiiiiig teeth!"). Or playing I-Spy. Or drawing on his magic erase board thingy. Or listening to the radio ("mommy I wants some mooooosic on!") Or you know, actually talking to him and asking him questions about what he sees out the window.

There are many ways to keep a young child happy on long rides and if you dont give them the option of tv, they will find a much more stimulating, fun way to pass the time. Or, they will fall asleep and you can ride in peace! haha.

Kris | 5:54 AM

I used to be of the HELLS NO variety.

But then I had a little guy with the most intense colic any human being in the history of parenting has ever had to deal with. And we, as his "advanced maternal age" parents, didn't even know how to work the DVD player in our minivan. So we suffered through it.

Looking back, I could beam myself for not putting in a Baby Einstein DVD, just to try to bring him down a little.

And now? My beautiful boy child has autism & sensory processing disorder & is obsessed with repetitive numbers & patterns. If he's having a hard time, I *love* knowing that I can pop in his Team Umizoomi DVD while I'm driving to help him re-center.

Just because it's there doesn't mean you have to constantly use it. I mean, we have a microwave in the house & I can count on one hand the number of times I've warmed something up in it. :)

Anonymous | 10:19 AM

I could not agree with you more! My sister has a tv-dvd player in their van and my nephews can not be in the car for 30 SECONDS without begging for it to be turned on. So sad! I agree - boredom makes you think!

April | 11:47 AM

we don't have built in tv's in our mini van, but i did buy the kind you strap on the back of the seat for long trips. i take the kids to my parents' place for visits a lot by myself and it's a 3 1/2 hour trip, so it's a lifesaver on those occasions.

we don't let them use the video players unless we're going to be in the car for a long ride though. most occasions i want them to engage with me and each other while we're driving!

(just for some comment perspective - i have an almost 5yo, 3.5yo, almost 2yo, and am due with #4 in a couple months)

Jessica Townsend | 2:46 PM

I am definitely a tad old-fashioned when it comes to these types of things. I have no children of my own, but I have been working with special needs kids ranging from 3yrs to adult for over 10 years now.

I see no reason for television in a vehicle.
I'm sure it does make long trips easier...but if you've already taught your child how to think creatively and entertain him/herself...well, then it probably won't be unbearable to take a long trip with them (minus the tv!).
In my experiences, the families who find those sort of "innovations" so life-changing tend to be the ones who have kids who: a)are extremely spoiled /unreasonable b) don't have independent play skills.

I'm not dogging people for using them...I am just thinking maybe they don't know how to teach/encourage the play-skills needed to ward off those extreme behaviors that occur out of boredom.
Now...would it be great to watch a movie during say a 10-15hr trip? YES! And if you can afford it, it might come in handy on such occasions...however I wouldn't want the kids in the habit of wanting tvs on every time they get into a car.

Good luck!

Ineka | 4:13 PM

We're still running a car with tape deck (for our sins!) and I've got a stack of old story and song tapes which used to be mine plus extras picked up for cents at op-shops. Also, we add audio-books and pod-casts onto the Ipod for some up-to-date stuff. And lots of music, because that's our thing. Lots more scope for the imagination for kids, and I would also say it helps with teaching listening skills and concentration too.

Having said that, I'm from New Zealand and the travelling distances are nothing like those in the US!

Laura R. | 5:32 PM

My husband and I have a Honda Odyssey w/ a built-in DVD player....but we don't have kids yet. We got it super cheap from my parents, so it made sense. When I'm alone and driving 9 hours to see my best friend, I LOVE playing movies and just listening to them- like "You've Got Mail" (cuz I've seen it so many times that I can picture the scenes in my head). When my husband I drove over 20 hours on our honeymoon, we occasionally popped in a season of Seinfeld and we laughed and laughed. It SHOULDNT be standard, but like most people on here say - it is nice to have now and then.

Ness | 8:29 PM

I don't actually own a TV or a car for that matter. I don't have children either and I've been warned I might sing a different tune if I ever get pregnant. But I'm not convinced about the TV (I admit a car might come in handy eventually).

Stephanie Precourt | 8:55 PM

I have four kids and still am not on board with dvds in the car. We are using an Acadia Denali (courtesy of GM) this week and it has a DVD player. We just took an 8 hour road trip to Michigan and never once put in a DVD. I just prefer not to. Maybe if it was a SUPER long trip- maybe I could see it as a help. But for everyday or for shorter trips? It's just not my thing.


Ray | 11:30 PM

I, wholeheartedly agree with you on this. I was in my cousin's car yesterday and he was playing, "Bolt" for my cousin's in the back. And while I thought it was kind of cool (for entertainment purposes), I thought: "Is it really necessary...?"

Nope, it's not.

And this is coming from a movie/tv show lover.

Kailee | 5:35 AM

I'm like you, Bec. Some of my most fond memories of family vacations were the games we played on the road! We would take the question cards from our Trivial Pursuit game (adult AND kids versions) and play on the way to the mountains. The person who won the least amount of games had to buy ice cream for the family once we arrived!

I don't want a TV in our car. I'd rather my kids read, play games or listen to music. But, I only have one small baby, so my tune may change eventually. One thing motherhood has taught me is to never say never.

Anonymous | 7:43 AM

Right now, I am ok with the portable TV we use. We only turn it on when we are stuck in super awful traffic. Miss L asks for it sometimes, but we just say no and move on. I am not ok with it being on all the time, though. Too me, everything is ok in moderation, but it is definitely important to set boundaries!

Lindsay | 7:44 AM

I am the oldest of 5 kids and we had a summer cottage about 8 hours away from where we lived so there were many road trips. No tv, no dvd player... lots of games and one thing we always looked forward parents bought us a new tape - a mix of music and stories - "psalty the singing songbook"... we would all pile in and then they would turn it on. So many good memories... we plan on continuing the tradition...

Amelia | 10:27 AM

We will likely need a van sometime soon, and I am totally against it. I could read all the pros and cons, but I won't, because my decision is made. We don't even have cable, and I loved those road trips as a child. My parents always had awesome, seemingly "adult" conversations with us and I think it helped us to become analytical adults.

cmkerwin | 2:32 PM

Nah...those things will be soon be obsolete! They can watch movies on their ITouch electronics or their phones. (ha) I find that people who have them in their vans use them all the time even for short trips to the grocery. I have great conversations in the car with my girls, and I'm glad we don't have the player.

Anne-Marie | 3:03 PM

I, personally, have been horrified by the blue glow emanating out of cars on the freeway that can ONLY be seat screens.

I mean, if I had to suffer six hours of losing "Make Me Laugh" with my brother over and over again down to my grandmother's house, so should everyone else! Yes, I had a great sense of humor. And a terrible poker face.

But I get annoyed when my aged cat yowls all the way home to my parents, which is half the drive. And he's a cat. In a cage. I can only imagine how much worse it would be if he were actually able to say "Are we there, yet."

Just because you have the DVD players does not mean you don't control them and have to be the grocery store movie parent. That is seriously out of control. Plus I can see that turning into a serious meltdown eventually when the parents wish to actually exit the car.....

Clara | 4:27 PM

Bah. Entertainment and distraction in cars? That's what books are for. Even when my brother and I were too little to read, the parent-not-driving would often read aloud to us on long road trips to break up the alphabet game/i-spy/my little pony dinosaur wars/staring out the window/squabbling that always happened on the summer-long road trips that we took. And when we learned to read we took turns. It was absolutely wonderful: some of my fondest memories are of reading and being read to in the car... something about the words + the landscapes + the sense of movement was absolutely magical, particularly when we were reading something fantastical like Narnia or Oz.

Of course, tvs in cars weren't an option when we were young, but gameboys were, and my parents were steadfast about refusing us those. I'm glad they did. I doubt I'd be quite the person I am today if I'd spent months of my life every summer plugged in to devices instead of learning how to entertain myself.

Sarah | 6:08 PM

I'm in agreement with you. While many of my friends had/coveted tv's in the car, I just can't do it. When I was 10 and my little sister broke our home TV, my parents refused to replace it. When I was given one for my high school graduation, it had to stay in the box until I moved out. I have one, and we watch plenty (too much) at home, so I don't feel any need to take that on the road with us.

Mama Cas | 8:57 PM

We leased a van with the whole entertainment thing and rarely used it. Most of our driving is local and it would be ridiculous to put on a video for a 10 minute drive. However, it came in really handy for those 2 hour drives. I am wholeheartedly in favor of severely limiting screen time, but I have to admit that the tv in the van DOES have some advantages. That being said....our new van (a Honda that I love more than life itself) doesn't have one and we don't really miss it.

kellie | 10:47 PM


I mean, we have the minivan and when we bought it with our singular 2yo, my DH was like "Of COURSE we're getting the tv and the GPS", and I said no, actually, we are not. Because I'm going to have to be the one who explains for the hundredth time that no, we don't need to watch Little Mermaid for a 5 minute drive to the grocery store. Or listen to the (hopefully, eventually) arguing between the hypothetical future siblings over what to watch. No thank you.

They are 11 and 7yo now. Same minivan. Instead of an entertainment center, we had a one screen tv/vcr thing that hangs between the 2 front seats. We bring it in the car if we're going farther than Santa Barbara or Yuma (ie, 4hrs+). Later we replaced it with a single portable DVD player & screen. Yes, one, for 2 children. It doesn't hang from anything. If they want to watch something, they have to agree on it, and they take turns holding it where they both can see it. They can have 1 movie a day (while on a road trip).

We don't have DS, iPod Touches, phones, laptops, etc but we do let them bring as many books as they want, they can use my Kindle and this last trip, they each had an iPod Nano to use. I really feel like this is plenty.

I drive carpool, have 3 Girl Scout troops, take kids to soccer, swim, water polo, etc... and most other minivans tend to have the tvs in them. I think they come in handy, and if it won't bother you to have to say no to screen time in the car, then it's nice to have. Otherwise, I'd skip it.

Anonymous | 5:43 AM

No we wouldn't and haven't used a DVD in the car. My kids love books on CD and the old view finders with reels. They also love to fight and sing with each other. I wouldn't take that away from them. I also only have two but I think that even with four if you have older ones who are good examples the younger two will follow in their foot steps. Maybe I am naive to believe that.

Emily | 10:26 AM

I don't think I'd want one in our car (ie installed) but we have a portable dvd player that we can mount in the car for my daughter for long trips. She's 2.5 and my in-laws are 4 hrs away (and that's 4 hrs if you don't stop for potty-breaks, etc). We couldn't do it without that. I definitely was against it before I had a kid bc I never had one, and I only use it in the case of long trips, but I hope when she's older we'll have times when she can amuse herself without it as well.

Rbiggs | 2:12 PM

We purposely said no thanks you. What we did instead was buy the cheap $100 variety that can be stowed in the floor of our Honda Odyssey. Often it is much, too much work for our kids to drag that puppy out and hook it up themselves. When they do decide to indulge in the DVD experience, then it is a chore and a task that requires them to work together to figure out. WE do travel across the country most summers, so they have learned to be great travelers with or without the screens.

House rule - NO screens unless it is going to be at least a two hour ride!

Katie | 2:46 PM

Couldn't agree with you more! I grew up north of Sacramento and we drove down to Vista (that's 12 hours, minimum) at least twice a year to see our Grammy and Boppa. My sister and I made tapes interviewing one another, listened to music, tore up teeny tiny scraps of paper and had a contest to see which one of us could gently place more of the pieces on our parents heads without getting caught -- just to name a few in car adventures. I absolutely share your penchant for giving children the gift of boredom. It breeds a shit ton of silliness, and a chunk of creativity (at best). Good luck in your car buying! And with the twins, too!!

Caroline | 3:28 PM

i don't have one but my boyfriend does have an ipad with a case that will hang on the headrest of the passenger or driver seats to let the kids watch a movie. they never really ask for it too much, so i really only put it on when mommy needs a little bit of quiet time.

Christy | 4:39 PM

As the mommy of 5 little girls 7 and under, I say go for the DVD in the van and just skip TV at home. Driving in peace and chatting with my husband is LOVELY when you have a huge brood. With that said, we usually don't let them watch until we are 6+ hours into a trip and we need the distraction. The chaos that comes with a large family is only intensified in the car. SERIOUSLY..get the DVD.

meredyth | 8:31 AM

I agree with you. Some of my favorite memories are of road trips with my family (a brother and three sisters, just like you guys soon enough!). I read and listened to music and we read to each other and listened to books on tape. I think it made us closer as a family. But just as you are willing to bet you might want one at some time, so am I. Although if they're going to ignore the scenery I'd rather them do it while reading, like I used to.

lonek8 | 12:33 PM

I completely agree with every argument you have offered against having a tv in your car. In theory. In practice, having had to drive 12 hours straight through from Omaha to Dallas by myself with a 4yo, 3yo, and 2yo I can attest that having dvds to keep the kids entertained was probably the only reason I made it. But that is also because they were so little, their attention spans were too short for any other decent activity, and I did not have time to stop and let them run out any of their energy. so in that instance complacent was kind of what I was aiming for so I could just make it through the drive. personally, I would probably get the tv in the van just to have the option - there is nothing that says you have to use it, but on the off chance you really want it, it might be nice. nothing wrong with watching one measly movie in the middle of a fifteen hour drive - there is still plenty of boredom there to engage their imaginations!

ps: I took a ton of road trips when I was a kid too, obviously without a tv, and we would play the soundtracks to broadway musicals on the cassette player and all sing along. I know every word to Les Miserable, Chess, Evita and Phantom of the Opera. Fun stuff

sweetbugfarm | 7:31 AM

I'm with the portable DVD player. Big sister holds it, little sister can have the pillow hold it. We do 8 hour trips to Oregon on a regular basis and least from the Bay to, we let them watch the dvd and then they watch the scenery.
It's been good and I wouldn't change up to the installed versions, hopefully ever. There is enough tv in the world already and if my kids can't keep it together in the car to the grocery store/school/farm, then there is something to be said (not good) about my parenting.

J Sweet | 10:27 AM

Thank you oh so very much for bringing this up. This is one of my pet peeves that is actually a major peeve indicative of every social and cultural malfunction of our era oh my god!

It's so part of our entertained every second of the day mentality and it's so bad for our kids and their brains and their future imaginations and ideas and intellects.

Soon railing against TVs in vans is going to sound archaic and fussy-duddy, like an old hippie who thinks we should just call our friends instead of using Facebook or whatever but rail I will until I'm too old and fussy-duddy to.

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