Parenting in the 2020s – Games Without Frontiers

‘It’s plain as day to me. These services are killing people… and causing people to kill themselves.’ Tim Kendall, A Social Dilemma, Netflix

‘Mummy, I don’t know how to say this but everyone born before the year two thousand is so… so… You just don’t get it.’

He’s right. I don’t get it. I don’t get how spending every waking hour possible on TikTok and YouTube is even vaguely enjoyable, let alone acceptable. Quite aside from potential threats from trolls or paedophiles, I simply don’t get the pranks, the jokes, the inanity. There are some YouTubers more palatable than others (showing experiments or cooking) but, on the whole, the fast imagery, the high-pitched voices, the laughs and OMGs and WTFs drive me just a little bit crazy. And I don’t think I’m alone. To many of us pre-2000ers, whole lives are seemingly being swallowed up by these vacuous videos and never-ending addictive games: Minecraft, Roblox, and, worse, Fortnite. This is the new reality. And I’m not even going to mention Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and all the chat-chat-chat apps. WTF. Welcome to parenting in the twenty-first century.

We older adults keep trying to warn them, the ‘Glow Kids’, as Nicholas Kardaras, calls them. He writes that ‘an ever-increasing amount of clinical research correlates screen tech with psychiatric disorders like ADHD, addiction, anxiety, depression, increased aggression and even psychosis. Perhaps most shocking of all, recent brain-imaging studies conclusively show that excessive screen exposure can neurologically damage a young person’s developing brain in the same way that cocaine addiction can.’

I wish I’d known that eleven years ago when I proudly showed off my iPad. For sure, sometime in the future, these devices and games will come with a warning. Steve Jobs (as I recently discovered) didn’t allow his kids his most ingenious creations until they were sixteen. After all, their brains are still developing until they are twenty-five. Most of Google employees and other Silicon Valley engineers do not allow their kids screens until they are older. And no social media. Waldorf schools (with the belief that kids should not have a computer until they can build one) are becoming more popular. Us pre-2000ers are worried, but unless you have money and a Waldorf school nearby, you are caught in the storm. The i-Genie is out of the bottle and juggling algorithms to reel in the kids, million upon million. And we are left desperately trying to grab hold of their hand as it clutches the mouse or phone.

It may be an exaggeration to say that social media and never-ending games are killing young people but I have no doubt about the addictive nature of those screens. I have seen the way the kids clutch at them. They drop everything, but never their phones. I have seen the reactions when it is time to switch off the internet. They scream. They raise their fists. Pick up a knife or an ex-caliber rifle. Their brains are becoming like the computer games they play: they find shortcuts, they learn how to jump, they learn when to fire.

As Tristan Harris says on A Social Dilemma, ‘I mean we can do genetic engineering and develop new kind of human beings in the future but, realistically speaking, you are living inside of a hardware, a brain that is millions of years old and then there is this screen and, on the opposite side of the screen, there are these thousands of engineers and supercomputers that have goals that are different to your goals and so who’s going to win in that game. Who’s going to win?’

We’re not, that’s for sure. They know how to hook the little ones. The kids think they’re winning – even when they die. I believe that people, even little ones, should learn to make their own choices, take responsibility for them, but it is hard to seriously hold them accountable when they are being fed computer-refined algorithms, offered bright colours and flashing lights, sounds that resound, action shots that carry the player into this other much more exciting alternative realities and rewards that hit the dopamine big time.

I have seen little lives being taken over and I feel powerless to stop it. The dog isn’t walked, the bed left unmade, mess everywhere. The bicycle rusts in the garage. The football makes a rare appearance. Why kick a ball when you can play FIFA – and win. Dishes? What are they? Homework? Hate school. Teachers are stupid. A whole generation is using their phones as a digital dummy. They come home from school and they are on their devices. Where we live, they are on their devices in school, as well as out. Not to mention the bus and cars, to and from where they are going. Try limiting it. Good luck.

What about books? At least read sometimes. Are you stupid? Who reads books? Books are for idiots. Books are rubbish. Actually, shit. More than two thousand years of written literature only for idiots? Charles Dickens? Rubbish. Dostoevsky? Shakespeare? Whothefuck? Tolstoy? Jane Austen? Edgar Allen Poe, Lewis Stevenson, Mary Shelley? George Orwell? Blank, blank, blank. Okay, Harry Potter? Boring. Roald Dahl? Okay. Philip Pullman? Not real. Diary of a Wimpy Kid. A shrug. Greg’s mum has banned the internet at the weekend. She’s also a pre-2000er.

But books, of course, are not shit. These kids, this generation, are being manipulated. Yet, maybe, just maybe, there is hope. Socrates also hated the written word. He also said we would become stupid. Our memories would atrophy. Are these 2020’s kids re-righting or unwriting a wrong? By returning to an oral tradition are they reclaiming the Word. Even better, these platforms are demoncratic – I mean democratic. There is a societal democratisation going on. The BBC is out. ITV is out. Channel 4 is out. CNN is out. In fact, all TV is out. That belongs to us twentieth century idiots. Even Netflix is teetering. The kids are choosing their own heroes. They choose who they want to watch. And their heroes are not held up by any institution. Anyone can be a YouTuber, an influencer. That’s way ahead of us. Our rebellion was piercings, punk rock and listening to Radio Caroline. Anarchy. But we couldn’t choose our own channels. We couldn’t choose our own Media. We couldn’t be that Media. Imagine.

So relax. They’ll be fine. This is the next generation. They are smart. These are the guys who are going to be working with AI. Their war games are not real. Unlike ours. They are finding their own communities, their own villages, international, inclusive. Maybe they’ll share their real worlds one day too. Zoom-pals. And, surely, it’s better than eleven-year-olds puffing on fags on street corners, drinking booze, roaming the streets. They were the dummies, the pacifiers, of our generation.

Parenting in the 2020s is really tough. We are different. Our world was different. But who’s to say which is the better world? Maybe our reality was harder. So much has changed in the last forty years. Traditional structures have been torn down. Fathers do not rule the roost. Authority is questioned. Cars drive themselves. We are all products of our generation. This time literally. But if we are to understand these kids of the 2020s and perhaps lead them away from the virtual world occasionally and show them the old world of books and films, and quality documentaries, we need to stay connected with them. And hope, in the meantime, the lawmakers and supercomputers will start making healthier choices for our children.

‘I like your books though, Mummy. And that fisherman story.’

Hemmingway’s The Old Man and The Sea. Don’t give up.  Keep reading to them.

The Magic Campervan

Many years ago in the days when Corona was a beer, a virus was an annoyance, and no one believed Brexit would really happen, I used to travel from Portugal to the UK in my campervan with Leo. My mother lives not far from the M25 so, inevitably, we would spend several days a year glued to the motorway. One rainy day, we went to visit some friends in Cambridge and we snailed along the M25 and then the M11. I spent many hours while accelerating and breaking redesigning the UK travel infrastructure by creating covered raised tracks above the motorways for electric bikes (just in case any road planners read this) while Leo flew aeroplanes on his iPad. It should have taken us one hour and forty-five minutes. It took us five hours and forty-five minutes. For a journey of 82 miles, we were achieving about 13 miles an hour. A bike (electric or not) would have been quicker.

But then I had a better idea. Wouldn’t it be fantastic if the campervan could fly! Just up and go and say goodbye to all these thousands of cars lined up bumper to bumper.

‘Hey, Leo! Imagine we could fly off?’ I said, excitedly

‘Can we?’ said Leo, crashing one of his planes.

‘No,’ I said, breaking hard.

And so began the idea of The Magic Campervan.

I decided there and then that my characters would be from non-traditional families. I had IVF and being an older mum is amazing but also, at times, difficult. I began to think about different characters, different nationalities, different genders, different cultures. I wanted a wide representation. I would write a series of maybe six books, each one an adventure, a journey, connected somehow by the campervan. I have travelled to the tips of Africa and Asia and lived in many countries from Japan to Russia and, of course, Portugal, and I wanted to include a slice from all. Then I realised I needed to be a little bit realistic and crossed out most of the map. I would stay mainly in Europe.

I like my fiction to have its toes in reality but for it to jump high. My campervan would fly but also have its wheels on the ground.

‘A helicopter, Leo, like a chinook.’


I’m intrigued by extraordinary events that happen to us. I believe that everyone is special. Little ones especially so. They are still forming themselves/being formed, busy absorbing all the good and bad we give them, intentionally or not. I wanted my books to be positive, but realistic. Many kids have a hard time at school, at home. Many adults have a hard time being parents. Some kids (and adults) have a hard time writing, reading, concentrating, communicating, drawing… Some kids (and adults) are explosive. These are all issues about growing (adults) and growing up (kids) that interest me and that I wanted to include. Of course, these days many kids (and adults) are diagnosed with ADHD, ODD or ASD and we are learning more about the differences in how our brains are wired. But on a personal note, I learned much from Edward Seymour about how we have been passed down imperfect behaviours from our parents, who, in turn, had received similar treatment and how we do the same. He helped me see things that I hadn’t seen before and understand that we can rewire our brains. That was ten years ago.

The Forbidden Slide is my first fictional work in ten years and my first attempt at younger fiction. It has taken more than five years from the M25 to publication. Of course, You-Know-What hit us in the meantime and I was busy teaching both university and primary school students. I attempted to find a publisher in the UK but no luck. I almost forgot about the manuscript but then, stuck for something to read earlier this year, I remembered it and read it to Leo, my heart thumping. He normally stops me after the first chapter of any book, but this time didn’t. ‘Read more!’ he said excitedly. Then a Portuguese publisher offered to publish it in Portuguese so I finally decided to publish the English version myself.

A huge thank you to Nuno Rosalino for translating and to Paula Watt for the illustrations and many thanks to Richard Zimler, George Szirtes and Ian Nettleton for writing reviews.

The English version is out and available online or through me. The ebook and the Portuguese version (printed and electronic) will be out at the beginning of 2022. Book 2, The Enteldont’s Skull, is on its way. If anyone has any feedback I would love to hear from you.