Who wants a pet?

Away with the virtual pets... good or bad?

This blog is by Nicola Baird sharing ideas about thrifty, creative and eco-friendly ways to raise children. This post is a big rant about computer pets (for more info about my book Homemade Kids click here)

Most school governor meetings I go to now see me sitting beside someone with two phones – the Blackberry (or whatever) for work and their other phone (for the bit left of their life they call home). It’s obvious my colleagues are watching too many screens as they struggle to concentrate on the agenda, but are our children copying us over new screen excesses?

Looking back at an article in an old copy of the Daily Mail (1 Feb 2011) the high-charging number crunchers at ChildWise find that kids spend around four and a half hours a day looking at TV or computer screens. With this amount of time spent immobile it should be obvious that this cuts into the rest of their life. No wonder kids can only manage two hours a week doing sport if they are spending almost the same amount of time each day (one hour and 48 minutes) online.

Let’s walk the dog
To avoid the screen argument, get a bit of exercise and fundraise, I suggested joining a sponsored walk for the Dogs’ Trust – famous for it’s catch phrase “A dog is for life not just for Christmas”. The route was around a local park with options for 5km or 10km. Walking with our dog, Vulcan, who likes to sniff we guessed we’d probably manage 1km in about 15 minutes.

Lola, 13, had her friend Izzy, 14; Nell, 10, asked her friend Fernanda for companionship.

Within minutes of arriving at the Waggy Walk registration desk a young woman was offering Nell and Fernanda a go on a Nintendo game with an imaginary dog. I was speechless as the woman, barely out of her teens, showed the 10-year-old girls how to pat, feed and walk the dog surrounded by real dogs.

“I want a dog like this,” said Nell immediately. As Meg Rosoff puts it in her most recent book, There is no dog.

It’s a screen!

“Has it got any educational value?” I eventually tried. The suggestion in my book Homemade Kids: thrifty, creative and eco-friendly ways to raise children, is if it’s got a battery (except bike lights), then it’s not welcome. But I felt there had to be some reason that Dogs Trust would be joining up with this horrible product (let me just warn you know that the “dog” barks, incessantly. Maybe that reason was learning about dog care? Turns out I was wrong.

Barking mad?
“Oh yes,” said the young woman enthusiastically, “you can go shopping and find other Nintendo dog owners to speak with.” Let me spell this out: shopping isn’t an education, it’s a leisure activity, and a pretty dodgy one at that.

Why are kids are selling kids imaginary 3D pets? And why do they think shopping is educational? What sort of school did they go to?

I’ve now found that these Nintendo dogs and cats games cost about £24, but you also need the console which costs £120 approx. So, a 3D pet is cheaper than Vulcan (and of course I have to feed him, deal with his veterinary needs, pick up his poos and insure him). But it’s the biggest time waster for a young child – who could be guffawfing at Walter the Farting Dog, or reading Eva Ibbotson’s last work One Dog & His Boy, or simply playing spot the dog in the park (or from their window) rather than pointlessly patting an inanimate game.

Over to you
What do you think about these types of games? And if you’ve given them to your kids do you regret it – or have you come around?

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One Comment on “Who wants a pet?”

  1. nicola baird Says:

    This came from Facebook:
    Caspar: Intensive negotiations continue with our daughter. Currently, via arbitration at ACAS, we have agreed to talk about the possibility of having a goldfish when she turns five.

    Nicola Baird Well a fish sounds nice, I bet even ACAS would agree! My girls have done well looking after pet mice. But every pet we’ve had has involved a steep learning curve (eg, all the hens kept dying to begin with and the dog to take ages to train)….

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