I was at a friend’s place for a party and enjoyed catching up with what everyone else had been up to. All of a sudden, we were interrupted, as our kids trooped into the room from goodness knows where, to ask if they could watch TV. From force of habit, some of them began reaching for their parent’s phones and tablets, to engage in some video game or online pursuit
"I’m going to be the bad uncle today", I announced, "but no TV, phones or tablets for children. Everyone go out and play!" They looked at me like I was from another planet and asked in puzzlement, "what do we play with, they don’t even have bikes!" Sounding like my dad must have, once upon a time, I said to them, "In my day, we would go outside and climb a tree or play with a ball or something!" Sullenly, they trooped out looking extremely persecuted. Three hours later, they showed up again, this time looking rather tired but happy. "What did you do?" We asked curiously.
"We made a ball from plastic paper bags and played kati, then we played cops and robbers", one of them said with pride, as if they had invented these ageless pursuits. We congratulated them on their creativity and sent them outside again. This time no one complained! In our strange modern world, all-too-busy parents baby-sit their children with TV’s, smart-phones, and all manner of technological gadgets. Kids are forgetting how to have a conversation, and prefer to sit quietly staring at a screen, engrossed in some video game or social media network.
And how can we blame them when we their parents have become like robots, always looking distractedly at our phones or laptop screens? I’ll never forget a stay my wife and I had with a middle-class German family. Both parents were well educated, an engineer and an architect. I was struck that on a whole wall of their living room was a shelf full of board games, puzzles, crafts and children’s books. Their eleven-year-old son proudly showed us a rather complex model alarm kit he had worked on for months to put together. We noticed there was no TV in their living room; they didn’t seem to watch much anyway. When we remarked on this, the lady of the house told us in their culture, it is a value to bring up children who will be future inventors and creators of solutions to society.
In contrast, middle-class Kenyans seem to be bringing up their children to be consumers of other people’s inventions! It’s not for no reason that when the TV was first invented, people called it the ‘idiot box’. It’s time to turn off the TVs and take away the phones. It’s time to ensure our children don’t grow up vacantly consuming other people’s content!