Gary, of HimUpNorth fame, wrote this excellent post last week about our children’s reliance on gadgets and gizmos that we couldn’t have even dreamed of when we were kids. When he told his teenage sons that Playstations and the like didn’t exist back when he was a boy, one of them remarked: ‘But how did you survive?’ Priceless! And depressing: I’m old enough to remember calculators being invented!
His post prompted a trip down Memory Lane to recall how I used to keep myself entertained, but more than that, how I virtually abandon my three kids to the distractions of technology because, well, it’s easy. My two youngest, in particular, spend way too much time on the laptop, playing games on Friv, or Moshi Monsters, or Club Penguin, and I don’t intervene because, well, it’s easy.
But I’ve come to the conclusion now that, in too long doses, it might be damaging them in the long term. My four-year-old, especially, has the attention span of a goldfish with Alzheimer’s. Getting him to concentrate on a story, or drawing, or anything that involves focusing for more than a few minutes is frustratingly hard work. Tempers get frayed on both sides and I often end up throwing in the towel and allowing him to go back to his beloved computer game because, well, it’s easy.
This is something that’s been playing on my mind for a while. A couple of weeks ago, I initated my Housedad’s Homework Club, dedicating an hour to each child on Saturdays and Sundays, with half an hour each after school. It’s hard work – for me more than them – but we’ve established a routine and the results are beginning to show. They know this is something that’s not an option, so they grit their teeth and get on with it, so they can indulge in their ‘reward’ of an hour or so playing on the laptop.
But I want them to have fun, too. Non-computer fun. So I decided it was time to delve back into my past to facilitate my son’s ability to make his own entertainment.
Because the way I made my own entertainment was by playing guitar.
I think I was 10 or 11 when I nagged my Dad for a guitar for my birthday. I wanted to be a guitar legend like the heroes my dad listened to all the time: blues legend B.B. King and rock ‘n roll superstar Buddy Holly. Until finally, on my 12th birthday I unwrapped a guitar-shaped parcel to reveal a nylon-strung classical beauty. I was in my element. I didn’t have any lessons, but I learned as best I could to get to a standard that by the time I was 16, me and a schoolmate formed a band called Minataur. We only played a couple of gigs, because by that time I’d been bitten by the writing bug and wanted to be a journalist, but I have never regretted learning that skill of playing an instrument. I’m not very good, but I’m good enough to enjoy myself with a few tunes whenever I need to unwind.
Then in 1990, at the age of 26, I iced my axe hero cake by bringing home from the States, where I was working, a stunningly beautiful cherry red Gibson Explorer. It is THE one possession I would rescue if the house was burning down.
Fast forward to last week when I decided it was time my seven year-old found an interest more useful than acquiring virtual coins from whatever computer game was his plat du jour.
As my dad had done all those years earlier, I brought home a shiny new guitar – kiddie-sized – to whet my son’s appetite for the acoustic arts. He was thrilled.I played him a few songs, showed him a few chords and the torchpaper of his imagination was lit.
I signed him up for some guitar lessons, but to get him ahead of the game bought a beginner’s book. And he was hooked. Initially. Because, unfortunately, there are no quick fixes and instant rewards as there are in computer games. After our first session, he was buzzing and raring to go for his second – and then he stalled.
‘It’s too hard,’ he said.
‘Yes, but it won’t be forever. One day you’ll be able to do this…’ And I took the guitar from his hands and gave him a quick demo of the Duelling Banjos masterpiece from Deliverance.
‘But I can’t do that. I’ll never be able to do that,’ he stropped.
‘OK,’ I said, disappointed. ‘If you want to give up, then that’s fine. I’m not going to force you to do something you don’t enjoy.’
‘Well,’ he said. ‘If you forced me, then I wouldn’t have a choice would I? I’d have to do it.’
I wasn’t sure where he was coming from. Did he want me to crack the whip and get him to soldier on, so that if he ‘failed’ it would be my fault? That’s not my style. So instead, I rummaged at the back of our closet and brought out the one possession that I truly value.
As I unlatched it from its hard case, I saw the beauty that I hadn’t set eyes on for many a year. And his already-huge blue eyes became azure lamps.
‘WOW!’ he said. ‘WOW, Dad!’
I adjusted the strap and hung my pride and joy around his skinny neck.
‘Son,’ I said. ‘Learn to play the guitar and one day this will be yours.’
And with that, he went straight back to his instruction book and with walking fingers played E, E, E, E, B, B, B, B, G, G, G, G. And, as I write, he’s still doing it now.
Now, THAT’S enterainment!