Cold turkey on Christmas menu this year as I serve up digital ban
Can my children survive a year without using the iPad and will this prohibition bring family harmony, wonders Jemima Lewis
THIS Christmas, those of us with young children can expect to be repeatedly squirted in the face by a malevolent lavatory. Stranger still, this will make us feel quietly relieved.
The Toy Retailers Association has released its annual list of “musthave” Christmas presents, and this year it’s all about prising children away from technology. All the biggest sellers are expected to be games or toys that must be played with in real life (or IRL, as the young folks say). Sales of board games are already up by 30pc: these include the aforementioned Toilet Trouble, which squirts water at players if they flush the plastic loo at the wrong time, but also traditional games such as Cluedo.
The toys on the list are either modern variations on old-fashioned themes — toy guns and finger puppets — or just plain old-fashioned. Stretch Armstrong (a muscled doll made of latex rubber, whose limbs can be pulled about most satisfyingly before recoiling back into place) has been around since my own 1970s childhood. And yet here he is again: number 11 on the Dream Toys Dozen list.
Much of this is bogstandard nostalgia. We all tend to ascribe a nearsacred quality to the artefacts and activities of our formative years; and the lens of memory has a particularly soft, Vaseline glow at Christmas. But my generation of parents is, I suspect, unusually vulnerable to nostalgia because we really did grow up in a different world from our children.
We are the last generation to have endured a childhood without computer games (or only ones that required you to type in 5,000 lines of green code to make your cursor jump left). We are the last to have written letters, memorised phone numbers, shared one telephone between a family, looked things up in an encyclopaedia or missed a favourite TV programme because we got the time wrong.
Nostalgia and anxiety often go hand in hand. It is worrying enough that our children are going into an unknowable future shaped by robot overlords.
Worse still is how alien they seem already, at least when they have an iPad in their hands. The addictive qualities of television, much fretted over during my childhood, are as nothing compared to the crack cocaine of a digital screen.
My own children — by day, a sweet and handsome brood — are transformed by the blue light of the iPad into a series of Hogarthian tableaux, illustrating the downfall of the digital junkie. Here is my fiveyear-old, with red-rimmed eyes, stabbing desperately at YouTube to get her gazillionth hit of Malibu Barbie. Here is the sevenyear-old, gone suspiciously quiet, hiding under the bed playing Monster Legends on Daddy’s stolen phone. And here is the nine-yearold, who really should know better, kicking the sofa in petulant fury at being asked to put down Minecraft and pick up his toothbrush.
Last week, for all these reasons, I announced a yearlong ban on iPads.
“I won’t survive a year,” declared my seven-yearold, throwing himself theatrically on to his bed. I’ll be dead before then.”
Yet he didn’t argue, and he hasn’t mentioned it since. I suspect he might even be secretly relieved. Grown-ups aren’t the only ones who long for family harmony.
With or without the squirting lavatory, we all deserve an old-fashioned Christmas.
‘I won’t survive a year. I’ll be dead by then’
DIGITAL DETOX: Children should play with traditional toys at Chritmas time