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Home > Culture and Society

Parents: Shut up and play

6 August 2004

Rigorous unbiased research this week revealed that most parents are not only neglecting their children by never making enough time to play with them, but they are even going so far as to lie to themselves, fooling themselves into believing that they actually play with their kids all the time.

Feel the shame, parents. You monsters.

Carried out on behalf of the Children's Society and the Children's Play Council, the survey was released to publicise Wednesday's national Playday event, organised, weirdly, by the Children's Society and the Children's Play Council. Scientific surveys can sometimes be so poignant.

Playday, just so as you know, consists of thousands of children across the UK taking part in 'play celebrations'. Or, as we used to call them, games. These play celebrations can be large, or they can be small. The important thing is that children get to mark the day in a special way, through play. For 'through play, children learn about themselves and the world around them. Play helps children develop confidence, self-esteem and creativity.' Well shit the bed. Are we really that far removed from any semblance of civilisation that we actually need to be *told* to play with our kids? Apparently so. Not only that, we also need to be told how.

The people at Playday are so convinced that we've lost the ability to connect with our offspring that they have prepared a handy list of 'Top ten play tips'. These include such pearls of unpredictable wisdom as: '*Do* get out of doors and play: it's healthier and more fun'; '*Doing* something for a child isn't playing';'Try to keep games enjoyable and let them win too - sometimes!' and 'Forcing [children] to do something they don't like, or find too difficult, just isn't fun.' This is fascinating stuff. But why stop there? 'Try not to imprison your child against his or her will. They won't thank you for it.' 'Touching your child *there* is right out.' Dur.

Now in its sixteenth year, Playday is 'Britain's biggest play celebration, involving over 100,000 children every year'. Also, for added fun, each year there is a theme. This year's theme is 'Families at Play'. Last year's was 'Get Out and Play'. The year before was 'Take a Chance on Play'. Theme in the vaguest sense of the word then. But Tim Gill of the Children's Council cuts through the verbiage and spells it out once and for all: 'Playful parenting is about putting to one side our adult cares, engaging with our children and having fun.' It really is that simple.

You're forced to work a 50-hour week? Put it to one side. Your kids get mugged every time they leave the house? *Engage* with them. Come on, have some fun! Lighten up! It's easy!

Incidentally, the Children's Society were also fundamental in putting together the government report,'Getting Serious About Play - A Review of Children's Play', which was published in January. Frank Dobson, who chaired the six-month review concedes in the forward that Tim Gill did most of the work. Good old Tim. Lazy old Frank. The report outlines a national strategy for what to do with 200m of lottery money from the New Opportunities Fund. It's going to go toward helping disadvantaged kids have better play opportunities. Especially disabled kids. Which is great. Genuinely a good thing. It's always especially sweet to see a disabled child smiling.

We should probably make it clear at this point that we genuinely consider arranging for masses of kids to get together and enjoy a beautiful day filled with laughter and fun is no bad thing. Even if it is only once a year. And the fact that events are sponsored by Lego shouldn't darken our view of this wonderful gesture one bit. Even if playing and paying do often go together like Barbie and whatsisname. You know, the new one, the surfer. You don't know? For shame.

No wonder your child hates you.

Comment on this article: letters@thefridaything.co.uk

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