TONIGHT, all across the UK, parents will be sat on their bums eating pizza and drinking wine. And when their bored offspring plead with them to “do something” they will bat their children away, handing them a DVD or games console and telling them to get on with it.
And they’ll be upsetting those children.
A new report, The State of Play, Back to Basics, carried out by Professor Tanya Byron, of Little Angels and The House of Tiny Tearaways fame, has revealed some sorry facts.
One in five parents say they’ve forgotten how to play with their children. And a third say taking part in games and activities with their family is boring.
Contrasting with that, more than half the children questioned said they want more quality time with their parents and one in 10 said they know their parents feel family playtimes are dull and a waste of time.
What a sad picture, and an increasingly common one.
We really are a lazy society. We’ve become so sedentary as a population that just bending down and picking something up has become a major effort. Activity has become something we think is a huge deal. A stroll outside is now a huge effort instead of a regular part of our everyday lives.
And our idleness is spilling over into our relationships with our children.
Is it the fact that we now expect our entertainment to just appear literally before us? Via iPhone, Mp3, Sky+, games console etc – so that any effort just feels dull, a waste of time?
We’re deadened and dumbed- down to lumps of inactive meat surgically attached to a sofa while a bewildering array of images, noises, and sounds appear before us at the press of a button.
Meanwhile, our children, who aren’t yet dead to the beautiful world around them, plead with us to enjoy and participate in it until, disappointed and frustrated by their parents’ complete lack of interest, they finally give in to the lure of the square screen and comfort-eating snack foods.
But I think most people aren’t bad. They have just forgotten how to play, and engage themselves, without electronic help. It is just easier to be lazy.
Over-worked and overstressed parents get home and often can just about make some food before they slump.
It takes a big effort to get off the sofa and engage with your child, but it’s an essential effort to make. It shouldn’t be optional.
And at least part of the weekend should be spent as a family.
The other problem is in today’s fractured society there’s often no one around to demonstrate to parents how to play. Many people haven’t come in contact with children from their own childhood up until they reproduce themselves.
I’m thankful I have my mother who, after three children and three grandchildren (and being one of five siblings), has been an amazing source of knowledge on how to keep a toddler happy: from saved yoghurt pots and a bucket of water, the joys of a sandpit and sticks to enlisting his help to wash cars. I’ve also a neighbour with a child a year older than my own and I’ve seen the joys of getting a little one to help you in the garden.
These experiences have also been essential in re-igniting my own childhood memories including den making with cushions and blankets and the simple pleasures of looking at a spider scuttling down a cobweb.
The fact is you have to relearn how to play, outside the electronic world we now live in.
Dr Byron commented: “Nearly one in three parents choose to play computer games with their children thinking that’s what their kids will most enjoy.
“However, nine out of 10 children said computer games were something they would rather play on their own, while three-quarters said they would prefer to spend time with their parents enjoying more traditional pursuits.”
It may be a sorry state of affairs that parents need to learn how to play, but the important thing is that they just do.
It is essential for our children’s emotional and physical wellbeing.
Page 2 - Your opinion >>
Re. Family Matters - Wednesday, August 18, “Why smacking your toddler should be against the law”.
ANON by email: What a lot of tosh! I feel sorry for the little boy holding the placard. His parents obviously believe in free expression; from birth he no doubt lived a life free of restrictions, unchecked and unpunished. In other words, he has had no guidelines as to what is considered acceptable behaviour.
You only have to see the outrageous behaviour of young people today to realise what this lack of sensible upbringing has done.
I quote from the article: “If I hit him I’d feel I had as little control as a toddler”. Does Hannah Davies not realise that it is up to her to teach the child control? And surely a sharp smack is preferable to having him grow up out of control and with a total lack of respect for his parents or anyone else in authority?
Compare the children of today with those of years gone by. We were taught to respect our elders; we were taught good manners; there was no disruption in classrooms. We were happy, healthy and active and obesity was unknown among us. A few smacks as youngsters to bring us into line had done their work and, most importantly, they were never resented and were quickly forgotten.
Denying well-meaning parents the right to chastise their children will in no way deter those who ill-treat the helpless mites, unhappily in their care.
:: To give your opinion on this or any other topic in Family Matters email email@example.com, or write to Hannah Davies, NCJ Media, Groat Market, Newcastle, NE1 1ED.
Page 3 - Five things to do with your family this week >>
Five things to do with your family this week
Enjoy 30 minutes of sitting under the stars and seeing the planets and constellations at the Planetarium Show at Life Science Centre.
Free with entry into the centre, showing at 4.30pm this Saturday and every the first Saturday of every month from now on, tel: 0191 243 8210, www.life.org.uk
The Karate Kid showing at The Customs House. Showings at 1pm and 4pm. With no friends in a strange land, Dre has nowhere to turn except to the maintenance man Mr. Han, who is secretly a master of kung fu.
Current there is a family ticket offer – £10 for two adults, two children, or one adult and three children, tel: 0191 454 1234, www.customshouse.co.uk
Design and make a stained-glass window with inspiration from medieval glass makers, at the Old Fulling Mill, Durham. Running all weekend from 11am-4pm. Entry for adults is £1, children aged five to 16 years and over 60’s is 50p, children under five go free. Family tickets are also available for £2.50, tel: 0191 334 1823, www.dur.ac.uk/fulling.mill
The National Railway Museum at Shildon, County Durham, are hosting free family learning activity sessions suitable for children aged five to 11, on a range of environment and science themes.
Running at 1pm this Thursday and Friday, all places are free but limited so pre-booking is essential, tel: 01388 771439, www.nrm.org.uk
All the family can enjoy a mid-week evening out with Hairspray the musical at Sunderland Empire, from Tuesday. Sing and dance along with star Edna Turnblad as she takes you swinging back into the 60’s. Tel: 0191 566 1040, www.sunderlandempire.org.uk