TGrowing up, I was a “Toys “R” Us kid and now that I’m a grown up OT, I see why that place is basically heaven. As I’m sure most of you have heard, Toys “R” Us has filed for bankruptcy and many critics have their reasons on why. But let’s leave the economic opinions to the experts; this pediatric occupational therapist’s mind goes straight to the kids. Why are kids not playing with toys like they used to and what does this mean for them?When you sit at a restaurant or are waiting in a waiting room, look around, what do you see? I’ll give you a hint it starts with TAB and ends in LET or even better it starts with SMART and ends in PHONE. That’s right, we now have a personalized babysitter named electronics. And every parent automatically hands it to the crying or whining child in hopes or limiting the judging looks of other parents. I get it, I really do. But what ever happened to the little girls who carried around their pretend purses filled with toys? Or the little boys with pockets filled to the brim with trinkets and pieces of toys even their parents couldn’t identify?
As parents, you want the BEST for your child. The best no longer means the newly released Giga Pet that my mom had to feed while I was at school. Instead it means, buying the newest tablet/smartphone or downloading the newest App and having it constantly at our fingertips. But what does this mean for our children?
First, think about how you feel when you are sitting in a movie theater watching an intense, action movie. Your heart it pounding, your hands are sweaty, and you’re at the edge of your seat waiting for the good guy to win and the bad guy to lose. The feeling that I just described is called “Fight or Flight“, which is our brain’s way of telling our body to “GET READY”. Our brain is basically sending messages to our body that we are at war and need to prepare. As adults, post-action movie, we are able to settle our body down during the few minutes it takes to walk to the car from the theater. This is not the case for our kids, especially those that come to therapy.
Instead, our children’s bodies are being told, “GET READY FOR WAR” as a way to play. Their brains are being exposed to constant “heart pounding” situations via intense colorful screens, out of this world graphics, and louder than loud music blasting right to their faces. Now, I hear what you are thinking, “my kids only play educational games and watch videos on child-geared streaming applications”. But guess what weary parents, the auditory and visual stimulation that you are exposing your children to on a constant basis, even when educational, is A LOT for them! And the them we are talking about are nuerotypical kids, we haven’t even begun to touch our a-typical kids yet.
For our a-typical kids, their body is often in a slight state of “fight or flight”. They typically have higher resting heart rates, become startled/upset easily, and are sensitive or under-sensitive to their surroundings. Now we are exposing them, using their fancy Apps and videos, to constant stimulation. While their brain is still trying to process the everyday environment nuerotypicals don’t even have to think twice about.
Basically, what we are creating is a recipe for disaster. Whether your child is typical or a-typical we are seeing them have a hard time with transitions (moving from one thing to another i.e. away from the phone to (insert task/activity here), become obsessed with electronics, and can’t play with children their age. But the 2-year old can open and unlock a phone faster than any of us can figure out how to work the new phone update.
It truly breaks my heart that Toys “R” Us is going out of business and it’s not just because I grew up and am still a Toys “R” Us kid. The true reason why is because as an Occupational Therapist, I know exactly how important it is for ALL children, typical or a-typical, to play with physical toys. Parents and therapists, let’s take this as a wake-up call, drop the tablets and smartphones, turn off the TVs, and get your children a toy from the nearest Toys “R” Us (or order it online *sorry Toys “R” Us). I promise you, their brains will thank you.