Sometimes a couple of random things coming to my attention at the same time can be enough to get me writing, and this happened last night: first I read a short article by toy industry writer Richard Gottlieb about kids and the fight for time when it comes to play, he basically points out that the upsurge in app play over traditional toys might be due to the stretched schedules of children, the next thing I read (literally about five minutes later) was one of these viral stories from facebook (I’ll post the transcript at the bottom of this post) which describes the lengths that a little boy had to go to to get some time with his dad. Normally I don’t spend much time looking at that kind of thing but the timing was strange so I read on. Mixing these two together I started to think about how hard it is for parents of even fairly young children to fit in some quality play time with their kids.
Thanks to Orchard toys we’re now the proud owners of brand new boxes of Baa Baa, Pirate Shapes and Rocket Game and I’ve got to admit we’re all playing a lot more games at home now. Finding the time to sit down and play a board game always used to seem like a bit of a struggle. We’d be running the boys round different clubs/ groups etc., getting Logan to nursery, getting them to sit down and eat their meals, in amongst this we’d let the boys decide what to play, so board games, puzzles or anything else that sat away in the book case often didn’t get looked at. Thanks to the time management it took to get our first couple of ‘Toy Testers’ reviews done I’ve now realised that it’s OK for daddy to pick what we play sometimes and it’s made it so much easier to fit in things like games, puzzles and non-bedtime stories.
I’m not saying that these things never got played with before, it was just that they normally didn’t get looked at unless it was a day when the whole family was together and we hadn’t arranged to be heading out anywhere. I’m not sure if I’d go so far as to timetable the boys’ play from now on but having a deadline meant that I had to sit them down and play with something specific and they both loved it. In the past I’ve confessed to a lack of confidence about doing crafty stuff with the kids (mainly because of the chaotic mess I can imagine whenever I think about it) but I’m starting to see how it could work. Maybe it’s because the boys are a bit older now too and they’re starting to appreciate a more timetabled play time, trying out new things and getting some one-on-one time with us.
All I can say to Gottlieb’s article is that although parents do feel more obligated to get kids along to clubs we need to think about the motivation for that. I was a telly addict as a kid and gradually moved on to be hooked to my games system and when I became a dad I decided I wanted to try and expose my son to more than just TV and other ‘indoor’ stuff. With this in mind we signed Logan up to a whole bunch of activities, groups and classes from when he was very young to try and make sure he socialised with other kids and also (an important one for me) we didn’t want him to feel intimidated by sports. I’m not sure if the motivation for clubs etc. is the same for other parents.
I often hear (from parents of older children than my own) how much they despise the games systems their kids are hooked to and that they’ve signed them up for this class or that group to try and get them out of the house and away from their computer games. Gottlieb points out that the more kids are signed up to classes the more time they’ll spend travelling to these classes and the more time spent travelling the less complicated the toys they use on the way will have to be; here entereth the app. An iphone, tablet or whatever can be handed to a child in the back of a car and they will stay occupied until they reach their destination. This simple fact could easily be a big part of the rise of the children’s app. With this in mind lets just stop and think for a second; parents are signing their kids up to more clubs etc. to get them away from games systems only to hand them a computer game to play with on the journey, am I the only one that finds this strange?
Gottlieb suggests that the toy industry needs to adapt to this market and I heartily agree, since an industry that doesn’t adapt is set to fail. However a toy shop can’t join in with this without ceasing to be a toy shop, so for those of us who still sell toys we are faced with a challenge. We need to show parents how easy and fulfilling it can be to step away from the games systems and apps for a few minutes.
Once you play a board game with your kids or spend some time doing crafts it becomes clear that these activities aren’t just about keeping them occupied; it’s about maintaining a relationship and keeping the lines of communication open. For all the TV I watched and all the computer games I played as a kid I still cooked with my parents, played board games, read stories, went on days out; in short I still had quality time with them. This went back a long time, it wasn’t a last ditch attempt to connect once I hit my tweens/teens, it was a part of my day-to-day life for as long as I can remember and because of this I had a real relationship with my parents. I told them everything I did throughout my teens, and they were there with advice and support when I needed it. The old adage ‘talk to them now and they’ll talk to you later’ definitely holds true.
Apps are fun, they’re a clever little diversion packed comfortably into your phone/tablet for those times that you just need to keep your child occupied for a few minutes but that’s all they can do. They will not keep you bonded with your child, they won’t stimulate their social abilities and they won’t make them feel loved. I don’t think I’m being over-dramatic when I say that an app will keep them occupied but a board game could keep your family together. Time dedicated to your family should translate into a dedicated family and there’s no harm in trying at least. After seeing how easy it actually is to slot in a wee bit of structured play I’ll definitely be doing more myself, time will tell if I’m able to hold my own against the wave of computer games that will be heading Logan’s way in the next few years.
Here’s a link to the board games sections for wee ones, for older kids and to our ‘family games‘ section on our web site, if you don’t have any board games kicking about the house or if you fancy trying something new it’s worth a wee look. I’ve even thought of a slogan; ‘Board games, a box of family therapy’ (yeh it’s not very good is it? Ah well you get the idea).
Have I angered you, made you feel contemplative or do you now feel superior because you already schedule quality time with your family into your day. Whatever the case I’d love to hear from you so feel free to pop a comment in the comments box below. Once again thanks for reading, Cheers, John
Here’s the viral facebook post:
The little boy quietly went to his room and shut the door.
The man sat down and started to get even angrier about the little boy’s questions. How dare he ask such questions only to get some money?
After about an hour or so, the man had calmed down, and started to think:
Maybe there was something he really needed to buy with that $ 50 and he really didn’t ask for money very often. The man went to the door of the little boy’s room and opened the door.
DAD: “Are you asleep, son?”
SON: “No daddy, I’m awake”.
DAD: “I’ve been thinking, maybe I was too hard on you earlier. It’s been a long day and I took out my aggravation on you. Here’s the $50 you asked for.”
The little boy sat straight up, smiling.
SON: “Oh, thank you daddy!”
Then, reaching under his pillow he pulled out some crumpled up bills. The man saw that the boy already had money, started to get angry again. The little boy slowly counted out his money, and then looked up at his father.
DAD: “Why do you want more money if you already have some?”
SON: “Because I didn’t have enough, but now I do.
“Daddy, I have $100 now. Can I buy an hour of your time? Please come home early tomorrow. I would like to have dinner with you.”
The father was crushed. He put his arms around his little son, and he begged for his forgiveness. It’s just a short reminder to all of you working so hard in life. We should not let time slip through our fingers without having spent some time with those who really matter to us, those close to our hearts. Do remember to share that $100 worth of your time with someone you love? If we die tomorrow, the company that we are working for could easily replace us in a matter of days. But the family and friends we leave behind will feel the loss for the rest of their lives. And come to think of it, we pour ourselves more into work than to our family.
Some things are more important.