Why kids hate long car rides, according to science

This is revealed by research into the way the little ones perceive the passage of time and the influence of actions on the sense of temporality.

For parents of young children, long car journeys, like those faced by millions of Italians these days returning from summer holidays, can be a real nightmare, not only because of heavy traffic and queues waiting on roads and motorways. Those who travel with children know that traveling with them requires more planning and a good deal of patience, especially if the transfer takes more than a few hours. But why do kids hate long car rides? And what can we do to avoid our trips becoming too tiring for the little ones?

The reason why children can’t stand long car journeys

Given that in the car, according to current legislation, children up to the age of 12 or 150 cm in height must be secured in the child seat – which, for their safety, unfortunately limits freedom of movement – to clarify the reasons for a journey by car can seem endless for the little ones , is the English psychologist Ruth Ogden from John Moores University in Liverpool, who for the past ten years has studied the perception of time in people and how our actions affect the sense of temporality. Especially in an article published on The conversationthe expert clarified some of the most important aspects of how each of us, depending on age, can imagine an event (in this case, the end of a road trip) more or less distant in time.

Before going into detail, however, Ogden was keen to point out that one of the reasons our perception of time changes with age is due to age itself: a phenomenon that, e.g. is due to the feeling that over the years it seems to us that time goes faster. ” It is believed that time passes faster with age because as it progresses, any duration becomes a smaller part of our life to date. – says the expert -. To understand, at age 7 a year represents 14.3% of life, while at age 70 it represents only 1.43% of life.“.

A five-hour car journey can thus seem longer for a 5-year-old adult than for a 55-year-old, simply because the travel time itself constitutes a larger percentage of a person’s life than a 5-year-old child.

Besides this phenomenon, another reason for this different perception of time is related to the knowledge of distances and geography. ” This gives us indicators and information that we use to understand what part of the trip has been completed and how much we have left. – Ogden continues –. On a trip from Manchester to Devon, for example, I know I’m about half way as we pass through Birmingham, and this knowledge helps me structure the time I spend. I also have access to the satellite navigation system which gives an arrival time and warns me of impending delays. The absence of this knowledge in children indicates that they are more dependent on asking adults how much time they have left to judge the progress of the journey.“.

Children’s uncertainty about how much time has passed and how much time they have left is also exacerbated by their lack of control over the journey itself. ” Adults choose which gas station to stop at and which route to take – states the expert -. It can also contribute to the perception of travel time for children […] which can still be slowed down. As adults, many of us have a similar experience when, for example, we are sitting on a train that inexplicably stops in front of a station, or when we are collecting luggage after a flight, we do not know exactly when our suitcase will arrive. Not knowing exactly when we will arrive at the station or when we will get our luggage adds to these waiting times“.

When there is uncertainty about the weather, it also happens that we are much more alert at the same time, which gives a feeling that things are going much slower. ” With children, the weather is more often uncertain, so without anything to distract them, they will focus on the duration of the journey. – Ogden added –. The time in the car can therefore be extended further, simply because they can do nothing but look out the window. Therefore, parents are advised to stock up on games to provide their children with a constant stream of entertainment. And prevent our car journey from becoming an endless and hateful experience for our children“.

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