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

Sunday Independent (Ireland) - - ANALYSIS -

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

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