Kids in the Backseat: What the Hell Is Going On Back There?

What is it about the backseat of a car that seems to instigate bad behavior? Most parents would agree that they would prefer their kids to be on their best behavior in public and act out at home rather than the opposite. But what about the car? It is neither home nor out. They feel the freedom of the open road, and yet are confined in their seat. Mom and Dad are there, but out of reach. It is the wild west, where children seem to think that rules don’t apply.

A Backseat Turf War

My kids could be having great days, being nice to each other, and in great moods, until they get in the backseat of a car. Once they are buckled in, they suddenly feel the need to engage in a car seat version of trench warfare. Much suffering is inflicted, but there is nothing to be gained. The sacred space that is the two inches between their seats is never possessed, only fought over. On a few occasions I’ve told my kids to pretend there is an invisible wall between them, but it presents more confusion than solutions and it becomes a game to go through the wall. On the bright side, it stops them from fighting each other. However, they’ve stopped fighting each other because they are now united against a common enemy – me and my wall.

All things being equal, I’d rather they be against me than each other. The front seat can handle their aggression and is equipped to squash any rebellion, but a backseat divided against itself cannot stand.

The Worst Words You’ll Ever Hear

In my 7th grade history class it was permanently impressed in my brain that World War I was precipitated by the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand by Gavrilo Princip (shout out to Mr. Coles). It is now permanently impressed in my brain that Backseat War to End all Wars is precipitated by three words – she’s touching me.

Physical contact, not matter how accidental, is not tolerated in the backseat. Never mind the fact that when they are playing they literally sit on each other, the page of a book grazing somebody’s hand is an indisputable act of aggression. Crossing legs is just begging to be kicked. Using somebody else’s arm rest? Get ready for scorched earth.

Short Trips: A False Sense of Safety

I understand kids acting out on long car trips, but I also prepare accordingly. Books, toys, and snacks are must. They still have their moments, and I completely sympathize with that. If you’re in the car for several hours, you can’t expect your kids to be good the whole time, just be glad you have modern conveniences that previous generations of parents didn’t have. What completely blows my mind however, is that by my calculations roughly 103% of all back seat arguments happen in the 10 minutes or less ride to school.

On most days, I have three kids to drop off at three different places. I drop my son off first, and his day care is 5 minutes from our house. It is extremely common that somebody is yelling at somebody by the time we are half way there. When I take my son inside, I leave my two girls alone in the car for 2 minutes. It is extremely common that somebody is crying by the time I get back. Apparently the four sentences they would have had time to say in that time period were very offensive.

Again, what is it about the mix of freedom and confinement of the back seat? They know Dad isn’t in the car so they feel they can say what they want, but they are strapped in their seat and can’t remove themself from the situation should it go south – which, of course it will. They aren’t home, so the rules of home don’t apply, but they aren’t in public so the social pressure of manners doesn’t apply either. They are neither indoors nor outdoors, so inside voices aren’t necessary.

No. No you won’t.

Perhaps most importantly, they face no immediate repercussions for their actions. They can’t yet make the connection that once we get where we are going they will need to answer for their actions in the car. If they are being little jerks on the way to school, the threat of going to their room once they get home from school 7 hours later is too far off to matter. As popular of a threat that it might be, lets be honest, you are not turning this car right back around. You’re an adult on a weekday, you’ve got places to go.

I am sure they will grow out of this, at least I hope so. I’ve got three kids and none of them are big enough to sit in the front seat yet, so a vehicle big enough where each kid can get their own row is not practical. Would it be kind of fun rolling up to the pre-school drop-off in a limo – absolutely. Is preventing Operation Car Seat Storm worth getting a CDL – probably not. I guess I’ll just keep trying to achieve peace in our time, and if I can’t do that I’ll just turn up the radio a little louder.

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