Ellie Harrison: Children do what they see, not what they’re told

The challenge for parents this summer holiday is to ditch the phones and remember how to have fun, says the Countryfile presenter

Man with his family using smartphone on the beach
Published: August 15th, 2022 at 2:11 pm

I love my phone. Love like an addict’s dopamine-junkie love. I carry it with me from room to room. And when I leave the car to start filming, it’s on my essential checklist, along with radio mic and shooting script. I once locked it away for the weekend and actually felt real stretching pain across my chest.


It’s my fault and it’s their fault, the tech baddies. I was terrified of being dependent when I was younger, so I never tried anything that had addictive tendencies. But smartphones and software grew in strength over the years, so it was difficult to notice what was happening. And yet when the school holidays come, I’ll be the first to hypocritically put checks and measures on screen usage at home. It has become part of the national narrative to discuss the problem of young people and screens, but adults suffer just as much. And so it is, with the long school summer holidays stretching before us, that we must check ourselves, before we check our children.

It could well be that when we’re on a beautiful beach, we’re actually using the phone to pay, to take a photo, to use the map or to message loved ones. Indulge my hit when I say that phones are amazingly good fun compared to being bored.

Young girl playing with daisies in back garden

It’s just that the transition from a virtual world to the real one is uncomfortable, like wrestling off a wet wetsuit. Nevertheless, porting back to being around our children is a journey always worth taking. Screens bombard our senses and make us overstimulated so, particularly for children, there needs to be something to buffer the comedown before we get back down to Earth. Being on a phone looks bloody awful, too (ever accidentally had selfie mode on?), especially at a table or when children are nearby. Research shows that the blank expression on our faces when we use our phones causes harm to very young children, who are learning the world through our reactions to it.

All this being said, I am not about to switch off with a flourish and become that mother. A wonderful and professionally successful mum friend of mine said once that she wished she could “just play toy figures with her children all day”. All day? Ninety seconds of toy figures is too long for me. Looking up online (yes, I know) for wholesome ideas to entertain children, it seems that many require the summoning of tremendous amounts of inauthentic energy or are kitchen-wreckers.

But one thing I have come to know for sure, over the years of parenting, is that if you like it, they will get into it too. And everyone wins. For adults, that’s not as easy as it sounds, because we are all busy, a ubiquitous badge of honour. Ask many working adults what their hobbies are and most will draw a blank, recalling the word only from GCSE French.

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But it’s worth taking 10 minutes of silence to recall what it was you actually liked doing on your holidays when you were young. Or better still, what it is you would do, if there were no restrictions at all, to wind down after work? Because in that answer lies the gold. Our young people will get along with it precisely because we demonstrate how to enjoy something. As ever, children do what they see, not what they’re told.


That 10-minute contemplation has set a boredom-bashing agenda this holiday. I would actually get off my lounger to make a fairy house. Likewise set a treasure hunt, draw, sculpt something better than a sandcastle and make an assault course. And woe betide whoever gets in the water, because I would definitely do an underwater handstand competition.


BBC Countryfile Presenter Ellie Harrison
Ellie HarrisonCountryfile presenter

Countryfile presenter Ellie Harrison has appeared on the show since 2010. A keen naturalist and lover of the outdoors, Ellie also writes a monthly column in BBC Countryfile Magazine.


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