Jayne Dawson: Why a plastic toy beats the digital world every time

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The saddest thing happened to me last week.

I was with my grandson, normally an occasion for exhausting fun. And it was, it was fun.

We were balancing a plastic dog on top of a tower of plastic bricks, which was wobbling about on top of a plastic train. I mean, who wouldn’t think that was a hoot?

But in the middle of our toddler fun my mind wandered. I remembered something I had to do and picked up my laptop.

I was scrolling down a website when two chubby little hands appeared in my eyeline, grasped the laptop, and took it from me.

You’re probably thinking that he wanted to play with it instead, this object, but he didn’t.

My grandson tottered to the other side of the room with my laptop, placed it out of my reach and then came to sit back beside me on the floor, directing my attention - quite firmly and with the aid of a lot of pointing - at the plastic dog we had hilariously placed in such a precarious position.

So there you go. His grasp of most things is still at the rudimentary stage and as far as I can tell he is very normal and no child prodigy. When I tell you that he is currently classifying the world mostly into two camps, “cow” and “not cow”, you will realise that his language skills have not developed all that far.

But still he managed to make me feel ashamed. Because that is what happens when a child who is not yet two years old shows you the right way to behave.

I told his parents. I know, I should have kept it to myself, but I compulsively reveal all the bad things. Like the time I gave him my car keys to keep him quiet while I strapped him in his car seat and then, in the second it took me to close his door and walk round to the driver side, he pressed the button that locked him in there. That was a a bad day, him inside clutching the keys, all doors locked, smiling at me standing frozen on the outside, experiencing a strange mixture of fear and embarrassment at what I had allowed to happen.

So I told them about the laptop incident and they said, yes, he does that all time, and with phones too. He has realised they take adults away from him. Their attention disappears into what appears to him to be a strange void, so he removes the offending object. Simple really.

Of course, in a few short years the tables will turn. Then he will be the one whose head is down, eyes fixed on screen, attention definitely out of the room, and we will be the ones trying to prise the tablet out of his unwilling fingers and put it to one side.

We will be the ones worrying about the deadening effect of the digital world on his brain cells as we try to snap his attention back to us.

Because the digital world is a big worry, a vast world of vast unknowns. So I think that actress Kate Winslet is right to say that children should have their tablets wrested from them. She is mum to three children aged from 15 to 23 months, and though she has named the youngest Bear, she does sound pretty sensible.

“Take the device out of their hands, play Monopoly instead,” she says. I wouldn’t go that far, Monopoly being the most boring game on God’s earth, but I get where she is coming from.

She has banned social media from her house, saying it allows young people to shred each other’s self esteem.

You might say every age, every generation, has its dire warnings about the impact of modern ways on the nation’s youth. 
Over the decades, parents have worried about the evil effects of 
everything, from the tango to the talkies and from rock music to raves.

It kind of goes with the parenting territory. But when that warning is also coming from the babes themselves, before they have had time to grow and be seduced by the dark arts of all 
that is digital, I think it might be time to listen - not just the youngsters, but all of us.