Have you heard the EE Christmas advert promoting their new Wi-Fi for the car? Allow your passengers to stream their favourite shows from the backseat, it suggests, and you’ve solved the problem of kids being bored, making car journeys much more fun for everyone. Or the one for Sky Movies, featuring a dad who wants to play charades? His suggestion is met with derision by his kids whom, the ad implies, would be much happier if he downloaded the Sky Movies package for £9.99 a month.
Hmmmm…..I have a BIG problem with these ads, which I heard this week in quick succession of each other. It shocks and saddens me to think that parents are being increasingly encouraged to “buy” themselves some quiet time by palming their kids off with technological entertainment instead of actually, you know, interacting with them.
Earlier this year, research by bespokeoffers.co.uk revealed that almost half of UK parents depend on a ‘nanny tablet’ to occupy their children on long journeys. Nearly a third of parents said using a ‘nanny tablet’ helps to keep the cries of ‘are we nearly there yet?’ at bay and a quarter believe they stop any back seat tantrums.
Of course it’s not pleasant to hear constant whining from the back seat, and there’s nothing like the sound of siblings squabbling to push those stress levels up, but passing back the iPad isn’t the only way to ease your pain. Whatever happened to good old-fashioned games? Or songs? Or just plain old conversation?
Why are we no longer using unstructured time at home and long car journeys as an opportunity to engage in a positive way with our children and each other? I’m not denying that the suggestion of a game of I-Spy is likely to be met with a groan from a kid who’s used to the buzz of screen entertainment, but with perseverance, encouragement and a little creative thinking, you’ll find something that will get them interacting and having fun.
One of my Granddaughter’s favourite car games is Who Am I?; she’ll happily play this for ages as we ask endless questions to find out her secret identity (this is not difficult as she’s usually Elsa from Frozen, but we stretch it out before guessing correctly!). And games like Who Lives There? In which players make up stories about people who live in the houses you pass, is a great way to stretch those lively imaginations. Take a look at the RAC’s suggestions for other ideas.
Please don’t get me wrong, I’m not suggesting that we should eschew all forms of technological entertainment in favour of a return to 1950s style family amusements – that would be unrealistic and, well, silly. I have enormous empathy for busy parents, and I know how difficult it can be to manage the demands of family life. I know that there are times when the TV or an iPad is a godsend, and that technology can be a great developmental tool. But a lack of face to face interaction is leading to a generation of young people severely lacking in social skills, so when the opportunity arises to really interact with each other, we must make the effort, even if it’s just taking 5 minutes to have a cuddle and a chat.
And when it comes to a child being bored, let’s rid ourselves of this notion that it’s somehow down to bad or lazy parenting! Boredom gives kids the chance to use their imagination, to explore their inner and outer worlds to figure out what to do with their time. Left to their own devices – NOT the electronic kind – they might complain, but they’ll eventually find something interesting to do. Children are resourceful, creative and inventive – let’s not assume that boredom is a “problem” that needs to be alleviated with TV or electronic games.
Most of the activities I enjoy with my Granddaughter and now Grandson are free and don’t require a plug socket: baking, gardening, reading and playing games. They might get a little messy, sometimes noisy, but they’re great for their confidence, their creativity and good for my soul. Christmas may be hurtling towards us at a frantic pace, but, in all the buying and the wrapping, the cooking and the cleaning, there will be opportunities to talk and to play – it’s a question of recognising those times and making the most of them.
Remember that parenting isn’t supposed to be easy; kids aren’t meant to be quiet, and there’s NOTHING quite like a good old sing-song in the car!
Wishing you all a very merry, fun-filled Christmas with cuddles and conversation galore!