from Star-Telegram at DFW.com

Posted on Tue, Jul. 09, 2002
 
 

                     Car trips turning kids into game boys and girls
                      By GORDON DICKSON
                      Star-Telegram Staff Writer

                      When the Ahsanullah family hits the road, batteries are not
                      included.

                      In May, the Euless family set out for a two-week, 4,000-mile
                      vacation. They shunned laptop computers, GameBoys and in-car
                      movies. Instead, they whiled away the hours looking out the car
                      windows and playing their versions of popular car games such as "I
                      spy" (the version they played is called "Riddly, riddly Randy, I see
                      something dandy.").

                      With handheld electronic games now more affordable than ever,
                      and many cars being manufactured with built-in video players, it
                      would have been easy to pacify the children with high-tech
                      distractions.

                      "We did look at DVD players for the car, and we thought about
                      taking a laptop in the car and letting the kids play games, but
                      decided against that," said Christy Ahsanullah. She has two boys,
                      Daniel, 5, and Adam, 2. "We just made that decision. It was like
                      turning technology off. We played cloud games - picked images in
                      the sky - and that alone would occupy them for two hours.

                      "We feel that they get too much TV as it is. On this trip to
                      Washington, D.C., to Vicksburg [Miss.], to Alabama and Kentucky,
                      we wanted them to use their imaginations."

                      Parenting experts who worried that the mass appeal of electronics
                      would rot the minds of youth may have underestimated the
                      modern-day parent, some counselors say. The same adults who
                      allow television to babysit their children at home may forbid such
                      artificial stimuli, or at least restrict it, on the road.

                      In accordance with this retro-philosophy, the long hours on the road
                      are not only tolerated, but embraced. Supermario, Star Wars and
                      Batman Vengeance take a back seat to old favorites such as the
                      ABC game, the cow game and the license plate game.

                      Gina Swann, who frequently travels to Houston and Austin, has
                      been surprised just how little interest her 6-year-old son, Tony,
                      shows in his GameBoy while riding in the car. Instead, he prefers to
                      open a coloring book, or play the sign game with his 2-year-old
                      sister, Gillian. The goal of the sign game is to be the first to spot
                      signs of a certain color, or signs containing a predetermined letter
                     or number.

                      "We have some of our best conversations in the car," said Swann,
                      who lives in Fort Worth near the Euless border. "My 6-year-old
                      brings his GameBoy but he doesn't really play it much. My 2-year-old
                      brings her books. We play games where we look for a red sign, or a
                      yellow sign, or we look for specific letters. And, we listen to a lot of
                      music. We take turns choosing a CD."

                      Laurel Smith, whose Web site (www.momsminivan.com) offers
                      dozens of ideas for keeping children busy on long trips, keeps a box
                      of travel supplies that her children are only allowed to play with
                      while on vacation. Among the favorites: car bingo.

                      The children also are given laminated maps so they can trace the
                      family's progress during a trip, and they write in their travel journals
                      at the end of each vacation day, said Smith, who lives in Slidell, La.

                      The children are only allowed to see the journals while on trips, and
                      they often are fascinated to read their entries from previous
                      journeys, she said.

                      "They are just for use in the car . . . they're extra-special," Smith
                      said. "My son still brings his GameBoy with him, but he really enjoys
                      all the other games he does in the car," she said. "I think you need
                      to have a balance."

                      Gordon Dickson, (817) 685-3816
                      gdickson@star-telegram.com