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Let kids play video games to "save the country", UK spy chief says

"Your poor parenting may be helping them…"

We're used to civil servants warning parents that playing video games rots their kids' brains. We're not used to them encouraging parents to let them get on with it because it might just save the country.

Robert Hannigan.

That's exactly what Robert Hannigan, the former boss of the Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ), said in a column published in The Daily Telegraph (paywall). He said Britain lacks sufficient cyber skills. What do do? Let kids play video games.

The UK is in desperate need of computer scientists and engineers, Hannigan, who warned against parents clamping down too hard on their kids' online time.

"Gaming and social media can be as sociable as mooching around the streets with a group of friends," he said.

"If you are spending a disproportionate amount of your holiday unsuccessfully attempting to separate your children from WiFi or their digital devices, do not despair.

"Your poor parenting may be helping them and saving the country."

There's a serious point behind Hannigan's somewhat dramatic quotes. He warns Britain is struggling to keep pace with its digital rivals, and without giving children more time to embrace and master the virtual world, the UK will fall further behind.

Still, his comments will likely fall on deaf ears among those who call on the government to do more to encourage parents to limit time spent playing video games.

Children's Commissioner for England Anne Longfield recently called on parents to moderate their children's time on the internet.

Your kid, upon hearing this news.

Earlier this month she launched the "Digital 5 A Day" initiative, which is designed to help parents establish boundaries for their kids' use of smartphones, tablets and computers.

Hannigan, in contrast, said parents should care less about the time their kids spend online than what they're doing online.

"Traditional methods will not solve this. There are many excellent computer science and engineering teachers, but not enough," he said.

"Fortunately, today's young people have become good at learning through seeing and doing online.

"They are teaching themselves in new ways. It follows that the best thing we can do is to focus less on the time they spend on screens at home and more on the nature of the activity."

So there you have. Next time you see your kid saving the world in whatever Lego game they're playing, don't stop them to play a spot of football in the garden. Let them get on with it. You never know, they might end up a real life James Bond and save the country.

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