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With all these gizmos, when do children get to use their brains?

Have you just ordered your kids out to play for the umpteenth time? Have you hoovered up the tenth plastic part from that robot child No1 had his eye on for months and found the toy that took you weeks of searching to find, jammed behind a sofa cushion, unloved and ditched as soon as St Stephen's Day was over?

And where are the kids? Glazed eyes pinned on the XBox, television or PlayStation, no doubt. Do they meet your cheery suggestion of a long walk with groans or greet the option to ride that new bike which cost a fortune with a tired 'nah, I'll do it tomorrow'? Are you dying for school to start this week?

Well you're in good company. It seems that children have never had so many toys and modes of entertainment to keep them busy but they still go for the passive option every time.

Before all the electronic gadgetry was invented, we found plenty to play with, thank you very much. An old box became a spaceship or a train; a set of pots and pans and we were a drummer and a couple of climbable trees in the back garden and you'd be gone for days.

Parents didn't just divvy out household jobs for fun -- they were expected to be done, but they were fun. Peeling root vegetables, raking leaves or, in my case, being given the important duty of transferring dried pasta from one enormous container to another, let us believe we were a part of household life while also keeping us busy for a precious hour while mum did something else.

Yes, there was telly of course, but four channel-land isn't nearly as occupying as 400 channel-land, even if there's still nothing on. Just flicking between them can take up hours of time.

Have our children lost the ability to be bored? Because it's only by being truly bored we go out and seek things to do to relieve it. Now, if we need a few minutes to ourselves, we can be guaranteed that the offer of an hour of PlayStation or Xbox time will be met with cheers -- only to have to dig them away from it amid howls of protest when you are actually ready to go and do something imaginative.

Even the very act of turning it off forcibly and ordering them to go and read a book or play outside gives them the impression that even you believe these are second-rate activities.

An adult learns to deal with being bored. Indeed, occasionally we crave it -- especially over the busy post-Christmas period. For most of us, the very last option would be switching on an electronic game. We'd potter about the place, perhaps call an old friend to catch up; tackle those household bills we've been putting off or make a list of things that have to be done next week or, if all else fails, do a bit of shopping in the sales. All in all, not much, but there's a sense of accomplishment and relief of boredom to have completed a small task.

Are our children growing up with the ability to do the same, or will a console or remote control be their only alternative?

Being self-contained is an important asset. Just sitting and being, thinking, whatever. Having to 'do' things all the time or have our minds constantly occupied is much harder. Partly because we need more and more stimulation each time but partly because we simply cannot always be busy. It's exhausting. Having a child's mind constantly buzzing with flashing images, or bombarded with noise is a recipe for disaster. One electronic game out there is Brain Train where you do quick-fire puzzles to supposedly keep your brain young. Wouldn't it be so much better, though, when you actually are young, to train your brain to do far more imaginative things than clicking a screen?

Isn't it time that we got out the jigsaws and the old boxes and household items and let them learn what a brain can really be used for?


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