For Christmas this year, I decided to skip the meal prep, mall nightmares and cocktail circuit and opted instead to book my family on a seven day, Caribbean cruise (fortunately not a Costa cruise!). Given it was a Christmas sailing, we were pretty much guaranteed a non-stop parade of kids. The thundering hooves down our stateroom hallway short minutes into the trip confirmed my hunch. While my teenagers mostly wanted to lock them up, as a youth researcher I saw unleashed kids as a bonus and was excited at the prospect of viewing my target in the wild.
As we saddled up to the various buffets, burger bars and dining halls scattered around the ship, I couldn’t help but notice the number of “connected” kids. Headphones and earbuds were de rigueur, and really, was there a teen on board who didn’t have an iPhone? Of course, if they were using their iDevice to connect with land-locked friends, the ship’s WiFi connection was running them (or more accurately their parents) a mere 75 cents per minute. Let’s hope they were good friends!
Also on the “can’t leave home without it list” were the ubiquitous Nintendo DS handheld games with boys around every corner engaged in networked gameplay. There were also many children poolside and in buffet lines swiping and tapping away at their iPads and other tablets. One lovely little girl from Venezuela whiled away a glorious afternoon at the beach in the Virgin Islands playing the It Girl app. She obligingly showed me, but mostly she ignored everyone and everything around her in favour of choosing inappropriate clothes for inordinately skinny, pixilated models.
At an on-board performance, another little Spanish boy left me speechless as I watched him navigate his way through a Blackberry menu. He snapped half a dozen pictures of the performance, transferred them to a series of photo albums and then one-thumbed his way through a game of Smurfs. Did I mention he was seven? Certainly the ease with which this child navigated his smartphone gave new meaning to the term “digital native.”
So perhaps it’s a good time to ask this:
On a cruise ship, where children have access to four swimming pools, a waterslide, mini golf course, basketball court, volleyball court, kids’ club and video game arcade, is all this technology really necessary?
A quick review of cruise comment boards, where parents debate what “toys” they should pack for their children, indicates a huge rift on the technology question. Some parents suggest tech toys are perfect for downtime. Others argue it’s excessive and not necessary given all the other distractions and activities on the ship. Do these parents object to the platform or the content? Would they object if a child read a book or coloured?
Certainly, what gave me great pause was the number of children in the ship’s dining hall who gamed their way through dinner. That’s seriously offside in our family. As parents, my husband and I have worked hard to keep the dinner hour media-free. However, for many parents, media is about buying time. It pretty much guarantees peace and quiet and ameliorates the risk of, gasp…“bored-child-syndrome.” But is this excessive or just part of our children’s new 24/7 connected reality? How a parent answers this question clearly traces back to sanity and yes, I suppose, family values. It’s true, cruises are excessive by design, but should that excess include a glut of technology? If your child is so lost in their technology that they’re not sure whether they’re on a cruise or at the food court in the local mall, maybe it’s time to recalibrate the tech-life balance.
TIP: Why not get your kids to document your trip using a digital camera and then turn it into a slide presentation with audio accompaniment when you get home.