I was sitting in front of a microphone in a small sound booth, all alone, and I was getting annoyed. At the other end of the line, the lovely folk of the West Midlands were listening to me blathering away on their radios. It was heavy stuff. I was presenting some worrying new research conducted for the Caravan, Camping and Motorhome Show (CCMS), which reveals that even during holidays, children are spending ludicrous amounts of time in front of an electronic screen.
I had chatted amicably to 26 concerned radio stations around the country, but then a couple of presenters didn’t seem to be taking the issue entirely seriously, which wound me up. A third of children are spending between five and seven hours every day staring goggle-eyed at a screen. If it’s not the TV, it’s a tablet or phone, game or gadget.
We’re talking about a national crisis. By not getting our children outdoors and into nature, we’re letting down an entire generation and turning them into couch-potato, tablet-addicted wusses. ‘Yeah,’ said one DJ, ‘but it’s risky and cold outside.’ He was talking nonsense, of course. We’re more conscious of risk, but life is safer now than ever. And when you can buy a thick fleece for a tenner, it’s crazy to use the shivers as a reason to stay indoors.
For me, the most frightening stats uncovered by the CCMS survey, for which more than 2,000 parents were questioned around the country, are that 63 per cent of children haven’t climbed a tree, 57 per cent haven’t swum in the sea and 42 per cent haven’t ridden a bike or a scooter outside in the past year. This is madness, and unacceptable. One in 10 parents questioned even said they were unsure of any ‘suitable activities/ outdoor spaces’ to enjoy with their children.
I was chatting about the research with a colleague a day later. He’s had his fair share of adventures, but seems content to let his children sozzle their minds with an iPad during the hols. I asked why. We’re car-less in central London, he whimpered. I cuffed him around the head with a camping guide. I’d had enough by then.
It’s crazy that people say they don’t know how to get outside with their kids It’s our duty as parents to fill the minds of our children with magnificent experiences, and that doesn’t just mean putting them next to a crowded, sterile swimming pool. They need to get out in Blighty, climbing trees, swimming in the sea and mucking about in mud. Spell it out to everyone you know: an hour in the real world can offer more excitement, thrills, happy memories and soul-building than a week on a screen. No excuses this lovely summer. Cut the plug off the telly. Get the family outside, and having fun.
There are hundreds of cool campsites and adventure playgrounds around the country, many within a short drive of grimy towns and cities. You can leave an office on a Friday, get to a campsite and wake up next to the sea or in a forest. Even inner London is close to nature. Less than two hours to the south is the magnificent Wowo Campsite. Great for rope swings, fires, climbing trees and natural adventures. It’s such a life boost, it should be offered as an NHS prescription.
It’s our duty as parents to fill the minds of our children with magnificent experiences, and that doesn’t just mean putting them next to a crowded, sterile swimming pool. They need to get out in Blighty, climbing trees, swimming in the sea and mucking about in mud. Spell it out to everyone you know: an hour in the real world can offer more excitement, thrills, happy memories and soul-building than a week on a screen. No excuses this lovely summer. Cut the plug off the telly. Get the family outside, and having fun.
TV adventurer and author Simon Reeve has presented multiple award-winning BBC TV series, including Australia, Sacred Rivers, Tropic of Cancer, Indian Ocean and Caribbean.
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