Are your kids glued to computers, tablets and phones? It’s time to hide the gadgets, get outside and let little imaginations run wild.
'I've forgotten his cars,' I said, scrabbling around in my rucksack and glancing up at my wife with a look of mild panic. We were trapped, in a metal box, on a flight to Greece, with our lad Jake, a fractious two-year-old who seems to require near-constant stimulation. He’s so advanced, after all. And his father had failed to pack the most basic of tools to placate and feed his little mind.
Children need to have downtime. They need periods where they can discover the lost art of patience. But for a burst of brain stimulation, there is nowhere better for exercising their imaginations than the great outdoors.
We live in safe times, but children need adventure. Turf any moaning, bored children outside and force them to play, dig and create.
At home, if anyone extends sticky fingers for a smartphone, get them out into the garden. Or follow some sage advice I received from a wise old traveller: take a cup, upturn it on a map of your area, centred on your home, and draw a circle around the rim. Then get the children out and explore your area in forensic detail. With or without you, they’ll soon have a completely different take on their home zone.
If you’re trapped on a plane, the options are limited. When I forgot Jake’s cars, I was tempted to surrender and hand him the iPhone. Then I looked across the aisle from us at a couple of young children watching DVDs. They looked mesmerised, almost zombiefied.
It’s not just toy cars that we parents now rely on. Jake shouts ‘Photos!’ when he wants to scan through family pics on our iPhones. He has been happily grabbing gadgets and swiping screens since he was 18 months, a frightening sight for us parents, who immediately feared we were raising a cyber-boy.
We do, I confess, chuck Jake a phone occasionally when we want to keep him quiet. But other parents seem willing to use iPads and smartphones as almost constant electronic soothers.
The length of time even young children are using technology seems to be completely out of control. There are even cases of recognised addiction. A four-year-old girl has been treated for compulsive behaviour after becoming utterly dependent on the family iPad. She was described as being ‘distressed and inconsolable’ when the gadget needed to be taken away for a recharge.
I found two blank pieces of paper, ripped them into balls and used my hand as a digger for the small boulders. We even managed a half-hour game of flick snooker. I was desperate, but it worked. The lad got to use his own imagination and played happily. And I, along with the other passengers on the plane, breathed a long sigh of relief.
Broadcaster and author Simon Reeve (simonreeve.co.uk) is the presenter of the new BBC TV series Australia.