Tom Hodgkinson: The boys seem happiest surrounded by screens


Related Topics

What's wrong with children? However much you attempt to instill an anti-consumerist philosophy into them, they still hurl themselves unthinkingly at the latest fads, costing you an arm and a leg in the process.

Take packed lunches. My own ideal packed lunch would be a nice sandwich made from brown home-baked bread, an organic apple, a beaker of water, some carrot sticks, maybe a pork pie made by a farm which treats its pigs humanely, possibly some Burt's crisps, and a bit of expensive dark chocolate for pudding. But my children would turn their noses up at such a lovely collection of carefully thought-out treats. In fact, the last time I needed to make a packed lunch, the child in question wrote out a list precisely detailing what I should put in it. Needless to say, it was one long catalogue of horrors. It ran like this: "Ham sandwich (bland ham from supermarket) with chemical white bread. Wrapped in clingfilm (not paper). Peperami. Dairylea Dunkers. Crisps (Walkers). Corner yoghurt. Coke."

It's the same with toys. No matter how much I encourage them to play with wooden toys sourced from renewable forests, or simply to go outside and play in nature's vast and magical wonderland, using their fertile imaginations to create their own stories and invent their own games, they seem interested only in toys made from oil-based plastics, and which preferably involve a screen.

While I'd happily spend an evening in front of the fire singing the old songs to them, accompanied by my ukulele, they would far rather play Minecraft for two hours, preferably with a couple of friends on Skype. They appear to be able to watch television and play on a laptop and a phone simultaneously.

I have to say our daughter is better than the boys in these respects. She will happily draw, paint, colour and make cards for relatives and friends for long periods, whereas the boys seem happiest under a duvet in the sitting-room, surrounded by various screens and electronic devices. I think with sadness about the electronics kits and chemistry sets that sit ignored in the cupboard.

Lego is perhaps a good halfway house that pleases child and adult. It is admittedly plastics-based, but children can spend hours putting the toys together, and marvellous creations they are, too. But even Lego – is it really creative? Or is it simply a matter of following instructions? And does forking out 70 quid on a Ninjago dragon merely buy you two days of non-computer time?

What are they going to do when the world ends, when the electricity and the oil run out – when Armageddon, so long wished for by the Greens, comes to pass? Will they be like battery hens, which, when released into the wild, simply look at the world and immediately keel over and die? Will they be unable to cope with their freedom and without the stream of sensational entertainment that dominates childhood today?

I worry as well that the "entertain-me" culture leads to spoilt behaviour. They are so used to getting what they want now, that if they don't, they tend to throw a tantrum. Should we not teach them to postpone their pleasures, and think about other people?

Admittedly our eldest son, who is 12, plays his guitar, which is good. He works out songs by Green Day. We knew he was growing up when one evening he stormed out of dinner, went up to his room, and played "God Save the Queen" by the Sex Pistols at top volume in his room. In fact I was a bit proud at that point, as I thought he displayed good taste in music. And that is not always the case. He has taken to reading Kerrang! and is a fan of a cartoony heavy metal band called Black Veil Brides, who, in my view, are a trifle uncool. But what is good about these musicians is that they constantly tell the kids to practise, practise, practise: greatness is not achieved without work. I count Flea of the Red Hot Chili Peppers as a positive influence in this regard, judging from his YouTube clips.

I suppose in the end we have to accept that children are going to be fascinated by "the world" and will not be ready to retreat from its temptations before they have tried them. Even though we adults believe we know better, it perhaps ill behooves a freedom-seeker to ban worldly delights from the house, like a totalitarian East European state before the fall of the Berlin Wall. As long as I can force them occasionally to stack logs with me, talk about Aristotle, get them into American hardcore punk of the 1980s, and do a bit of Latin, I should count my blessings.

Tom Hodgkinson is editor of 'The Idler'

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Volunteer Trustee opportunities now available at The Society for Experimental Biology

Unpaid Voluntary Position : Reach Volunteering: Volunteer your expertise as Tr...

Early Years Educator

£68 - £73 per day + Competitive rates of pay based on experience: Randstad Edu...

Nursery Nurse

£69 - £73 per day + Competitive London rates of pay: Randstad Education Group:...

Primary KS1 NQTs required in Lambeth

£117 - £157 per day + Competitive London rates: Randstad Education Group: * Pr...

Day In a Page

Read Next

Scottish referendum: To the victor, the carping and the criticism

John Rentoul
Into the blue: Alex Salmond resigned as First Minister and SNP leader in Edinburgh on Friday  

Scottish referendum gives hope for the dawn of a new, cleaner politics

Kenneth Roy
Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

Scrambled eggs and LSD

Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

New leading ladies of dance fight back

How female vocalists are now writing their own hits
Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
How to make a Lego masterpiece

How to make a Lego masterpiece

Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam