A phone free Christmas would be the best gift

The excitement a child experiences on Christmas morning can only be matched by the unabated joy of their parents watching the magic unfold.

Shrieks of jubilation, gasps of anticipation, frantic unwrapping, merriment. Santa came, he saw, he brought the games and new toys, teddy bears, robots or whatever lying scattered across the living room floor. Even if he didn’t get everything, it’s enough.

As any parent will attest, this is as good as experiencing it the first time, but with added nostalgia, empathy and unbiased ebullience. Seeing children in their happy place, overwhelmed by a post-gift glow is marvellous.

But at some point in the proceedings, modern life takes hold and once loud scenes of exuberance become quiet. The phone, the iPad or the screen come on.

As a member of the last generation to enjoy uninterrupted child’s play, it’s difficult to accept that no matter how much you try to change it, this is life now.

Our days were guided by our imaginations without our parents having to initiate how we configured our playtime. When they were busy, we played. When we met friends, we played, free of modern fears.

How lucky were we?

Now the phone fills the vital boredom gap, where ideas are born.

The effects of lengthy screen time is unequivocal. Preliminary data from an Adolescent Brain Cognitive Development (ABCD) study in the US found that increased screen time, is not just bad for the brain but can affect a “child’s psychology, thinking patterns, sleep cycles, and behaviour, shortening their attention span and potentially encouraging violent or aggressive behaviour.”

A survey in October 2021 by the University of Colorado Boulder’s Institute for Behavioural Genetics analysing 11,875 nine and ten-year-old children found that children who spent more time on screens were more likely to have “attention disorders, disturbed sleep or lower grades.”

Pre Covid-19, Pew Research found that 71 percent of parents of a child under the age of 12 say they are at least somewhat concerned their child might spend too much time in front of screens”, including 31 parents who are “very concerned” about this.

“But they watch good stuff too”, I hear some parents say. “My son plays Minecraft”. Well my daughter watches a teenage girl unwrap toys, with a high pitched shrill voice from the Abu Ghraib torture chamber of shrill voices.

Sure, sometimes she plays educational games too, but I regularly have to pay for them. Children playing with each other, or alone is better.

“There’s nothing you can do about it,” many say. That’s progress. Even the most holistic parent will capitulate to screens.

I too watch watch numbing futile nonsense. Only yesterday I was usurped by Whoopi Goldberg and Caitlyn Jenner discussing Will Smith’s open marriage after a clip from some daytime TV panel appeared on my phone uninvited.

How can I expect my six year old child not to be sucked in? Obviously, I initiate play, get outside a lot, paint and do arts and crafts, but there’s still plenty of time for the phone.

It makes me feel guilty. Between society, phones and vigilant mollycoddling we rob children’s precious playtime and that’s before their adolescence is infused with ID politics and PC and surveillance culture. 

Am I being a dinosaur here? After all, back in the 1980s, Freddie Mercury mourned the loss of radio as we all sat in front of the telly in the song Radio Gaga. “And everything I had to know. I heard it on my radio”, so stick around, ’cause we might miss you, when we grow tired of all this visual”.

If Freddie could us now. Groups of children huddled together, starting at screens, his heart- brimming with whimsey, glamour and playfulness would break. “Dullness is a disease” he’d shout. There’s a reason why we don’t have personalities like Freddie anymore and technology is it.

“Take them away,” he’d insist. I agree with my hypothetical Freddie. Childsplay is sacred. So this Christmas, I will try my best to ensure the sound of endless child’s play, of laughter and silliness and that will only happen without a phone.