With the holiday season just around the corner I thought now would be as good a time as any to think about how the volume of acquisition of toys for our children has changed over the generations. Is this a good or bad thing and I think you can probably guess that I won’t have a lot of positive insight as to how this is affecting children in the modern age. I am however open minded should anyone wish to dispute my opinion. And I must add, it is just my opinion, I have no psychological training or data to back this up. I am therefore only speaking from experience. I also know that my examples of general and that not every family follows this pattern.
As I recall from my childhood my siblings and I had toys, not rooms of toys or cupboards full of toys but the odd smattering of toys with which we sometimes amused ourselves. I vaguely remember Christmases and birthdays and loving receiving gifts, what kid doesn’t but there are only certain toys I recall that seemed to be a permanent fixture in our home. We had some building toys similar to Lego, a Meccano set, another more juvenile construction set, some board games, jigsaw puzzles, lots of packs of playing cards, my eldest brothers adjustable tin roller skates, a set of electric trains, the odd tricycle, my sister and I had a doll each and some cubby house toys. Other toys must have come and gone over the years but none memorable. I am almost certain the we never received any toys at other times of the year between these two celebrations. We spent a lot of time making our own fun building cubby houses by the river, playing board games and cards, riding bikes and playing with the other neighbourhood kids.
My children however did have a cupboard and the odd basket full of toys plus the odd outside ride-on toy like tricycles and later bicycles. I recall my mother-in-law never arrived at my house without a bag of something for the kids. Sure they were often inexpensive items picked up at garage sales and thrift stores but there was always something. I don’t actually recall there being such things as garage sales when I was a child perhaps that was a sign of the emergence of the consumerist generation of which I willingly took part for a while. People had to get rid of their excess some how and I imagine that is how garage sales came into being. I don’t recall having bath toys when I was a child which was another thing the my children enjoyed but at home and at grandmas. My kids also had a nice set of art supplies such as paints, markers and colour pencils with which we would all enjoy being creative with together for long stretches of time . Oh and I almost forgot we also entered the age of home computers, hand held electronic games and full on video games at this point. It was very easy to justify that odd computer program in the name of education in between normal gift giving times in this generation. And I am not forgetting here that I was the parent during this period and I have been told more than once that I spoiled my children by giving them too much. My daughter, on the other had, could not at first believe there was not Santa when her two year younger brother told her this was the case. She couldn’t believe it primarily because she didn’t think there was any way the I had paid for all those presents. In her opinion that was completely beyond my generosity limits. So I have to wonder how much I really spoiled them and how much of the stuff they had came from elsewhere.
Now this generation or what I have seen of it, as most of my friends don’t have small children anymore nor grandchildren yet, tend to have toy rooms rather than cupboards or boxes in which their enormous collection of play things are stored and enjoyed. The outside of the houses are also often littered with trampolines, trikes, bikes, pavement chalk, every type of ball known to man, roll playing toys and sometimes even small inflatable jumping castles. Often these items aren’t bought in the name of fun during the holiday season or on birthdays but appear continuously throughout the year as well. Some are also thinly disguised as educational props in order to give child that creativity/imagination/literacy boost that they can’t grow up in the modern world without. I have noticed when I have experienced this situation that many toys end up broken due to the choas that the sheer volume of toys amounts to. I can only imagine the horror on these young kids faces when there parents say ~ It’s time to put your things away.
Here are what I think are the negatives in this situation
- The instant gratification of giving toys all year round does not teach a child to be patient , respectful or grateful for what they are given. Easy come easy go is a likely attitude outcome, which is priming the children to be future willing participants in the hamster wheel of rampant consumerism.
- The modern day attitude of forever wanting and getting the next best thing sets these children up to be even worse clutterers than current generation of adults.
- The reality shock when this generation reaches an age when they have to provide for themselves is bound to induce severe credit card debt. Realising it requires a lot of cold hard cash in order to live in the matter to which they have become accustomed will no doubt be hard to deal with at first.
- Sometimes kids can associate receiving these toy treats as there main symbol of love if they are continuously offered as compensation for the absence of a parent due to work or other commitments that separate them on a regular basis.
- Having worked in retail for many years I have witnessed many times the in-store tantrums of children who have got into the habit of being bought something every time they are taken shopping. Bribes for good behaviour are bad enough but giving in after one of these performances therefore rewarding the behaviour is a huge mistake.
- Robbing children of the joy of a special occasions. If they are getting stuff all the time wouldn’t special occasions because just another day. I know that the novelty of Christmas wore off for me a little bit once I could afford to buy things for myself and I imagine the same would be true for kids who get stuff all the time.
- Lets not forget the negative effect that producing this magnitude of mostly plastic junk has on the environment.
Why do we fall prey to this behaviour of “spoiling” our children?
- One reason is to use toys to keep the children occupied so we don’t have to entertain them ourselves.
- We get fooled by the marketing hype that all these various toys boost there creativity, imagination and general intelligence in different and important ways. I have a counter theory to that in that perhaps too much variety actually stifles their imagination and creativity because they don’t need to find ways to play with each toy in many ways so that it remains interesting. Instead they have a toys for every situation with built in purpose and instructions for use. When I was a child, with one pack of cards, I could play solitaire 24 different ways, play numerous other games with my siblings and then when we got board with that we would build card houses.
- It is safer to keep the kids indoors or in the safety of our backyards rather than allow them out into the big scary world where they might get hurt or worse. Having plenty of indoor entertainment makes this bearably possible. As a parent I can understand and have willingly gone along with this behaviour because after all it is our job to protect our kids and keep them safe. As a child though I know that I had way more freedom to explore the outside world than I allowed my kids. Bicycles were a form of transportation for kids once, now they are mainly a recreation activity to enjoy in the company of parents on the weekends.
- We want our kids to feel special and loved, and what makes us adults feel special, shopping for new exciting stuff of course. So what better or easier way to show how much we care than a quick “new thing” fix.
- Just as we do as adults with stuff we don’t want our kids to suffer from not keeping up with the Jones’s kids. If Johny down the street has one my kid is going to look lame if he doesn’t have one too so we had better keep up appearances.
I am sure that people who have known me personally for a long time might read this and say ~ “What a hypocrite!” ~ and to a degree they would probably be right. But the thing is that just means that I am speaking from experience and don’t want others to make the same mistakes. Clearly over the last 30 years this habit of over-endowing our children with stuff has gotten somewhat out of control and it is time as a society we started turning it around. So please think rationally about what you are buying your children this holiday season and what you buy them in between occasions in the future. If they want something give them ways to earn the money to buy it for themselves so they at least learn how to strive for what they want rather than having it handed to them on a silver platter.
Today’s Declutter Item
This box was used as a charging station for cell phones and ipods. Now the whole family uses apple products so we just plug them into our computers or sit them on the iPod dock/player so we have no need for this box any more. It didn’t even make it off the counter where I was processing it at the thrift store before some one wanted to buy it.
Tonight as I finish this post at 10:30 I will just be grateful to lay my weary head on my pillow and have a good night sleep. I have had a busy week and that situation isn’t going to change between now and next Tuesday so I need my rest. And will someone please remind me to phone my mother-in-law today as it is her birthday and in all my haste to do other stuff I just might forget.