Fiona McCade: If only real life had control, alt, delete

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NOT so long ago, I was driving along a country road when I came face to face with a very large tractor. It was taking up a lot of space and travelling about as fast as a tractor can.

It was a tense moment, but as I pulled the car into the verge as tightly as possible, praying that we would survive, I heard a little voice from the back seat, squealing: “Control, alt, delete! Control, alt, delete!”

That was the scariest thing of all. Not that I could have had a head-on crash with something that would have rolled right over me and barely noticed, but that my seven-year-old thought that everything could be put right, reset and generally sorted out by pressing some sort of magic button.

Later on, when I was explaining that Life can’t be rebooted and controlled, I realised that for many seven-year-olds today, computers are such an integral part of their everyday existence, that perhaps the concept isn’t quite as bizarre as it seems.

Littlewoods recently published sales figures showing that by the age of seven, most children have moved away from the kind of traditional toys their parents grew up with and are playing with more technologically-based amusements.

This is younger than ever before. If someone like me – with a natural aversion to all things electronic – can produce a child who is on the verge of treating life like a computer game, then how must some other children view reality?

Looking back, I can see that the writing has long been on the wall. Even as a baby, Junior loved playing with calculators. Then came operating the DVD player and then, one by one, various other skills that he seemed to pick up easily and effortlessly.

Almost every day, I have to instruct – and re-instruct – him about how to put his trews on the right way round, and the lesson never seems to stick. Then I go into the menu on the TV recorder and find that, unbeknownst to me, he’s recorded a whole series of The Amazing World of Gumball.

I was gobsmacked. “How is it that you constantly put your pants on back to front, despite me showing you again and again – yet you can work out how to digitally record exactly what you want without any instructions whatsoever?” “Dunno,” he shrugged. “S’just obvious.”

So, pants are an ongoing problem, but interactive television needs no explanation. It’s a mystery to me, but normality for him.

Then again, perhaps when my generation was playing Pong, there were parents looking on and tutting “when I was your age, I was playing with Meccano,” and grandparents muttering “when I was your age, I was up a chimney”.

I fought a long, hard battle against Junior getting a Nintendo DS, and then I struggled to stop Wii invading our lives, but I finally gave in, mostly because – like it or not – these games hone the sort of motor and cognitive skills that will be useful to him one day. Today, in fact.

For some time, I was scared that having these sorts of amusements in the house would stifle my son’s imagination.

So far, it hasn’t happened, give or take a few “control, alt, deletes” when things go wrong. He’s still happy to make up games with his myriad action figures (that’s “dolls” to us girls), although the Littlewoods’ data suggests that by the age of nine, he will have entirely abandoned those for computer-based entertainments. Not as long as there’s breath in my body and a trampoline in my garden, but if I really can’t stop that happening, I’ll just have to keep calm and carry on.

The kids aren’t scared of technology, so why should I be? Is an iPad so much worse for my son’s brain than an Etch-A-Sketch? At least it’ll help him learn to spell.

Children seem to be hard-wired to enjoy using technology. Since it is the future, and so are they, they may as well get on with it.

I’ll always remind my little one where the virtual world ends and the real one begins.

At least, I’ll try, but I can’t really be sure the lesson has been learned until the next power cut.