Doc­tors pre­scribe low-tech toys to stim­u­late child cre­ativ­ity

The Washington Times Weekly - - National - BY LAURA KELLY

Play Doh or PlayS­ta­tion? Board games or Game Boy? Col­or­ing books or “Call of Duty”?

Pe­di­a­tri­cians are telling par­ents to go old school in buy­ing gifts for chil­dren this hol­i­day sea­son and fo­cus on sim­ple toys that stim­u­late cre­ativ­ity in­stead of com­pli­cated gad­gets.

Toys that pro­mote imag­i­na­tion and in­ter­ac­tive play among chil­dren and par­ents are es­sen­tial for healthy de­vel­op­ment, the Amer­i­can Acad­emy of Pe­di­atrics said in a re­port.

Board games, col­or­ing books, dolls and ac­tion fig­ures are some of the best op­tions for op­ti­miz­ing brain de­vel­op­ment, im­prov­ing mo­tor skills and stim­u­lat­ing prob­lem-solv­ing, said the re­port, adding that com­puter ap­pli­ca­tions that pro­mote ed­u­ca­tion and de­vel­op­ment are no bet­ter than old-fash­ioned, 3D fig­urines.

“Par­ents are un­der pres­sure to be su­per­par­ents — at the same time par­ents get all this con­flict­ing in­for­ma­tion what’s best for them and their chil­dren,” said Dr. Alan Men­del­sohn, co-au­thor of the re­port and as­so­ciate pro­fes­sor in the De­part­ments of Pe­di­atrics and Pop­u­la­tion Health at NYU Lan­gone Health. “A lot of that in­for­ma­tion is com­ing from the idea that apps are go­ing to some­how make their chil­dren smarter in some way. … There’s no ev­i­dence, par­tic­u­larly for young chil­dren, that these apps are do­ing any­thing.”

A 2015 sur­vey found that nearly all chil­dren, even be­fore age 1, had used a smart­phone de­vice be­cause par­ents pass their own elec­tron­ics to ba­bies to dis­tract, oc­cupy or calm them.

Dr. Men­del­sohn un­der­stands that smart­phones can pro­vide nec­es­sary dis­trac­tions dur­ing try­ing times — “Be­ing a par­ent is in­cred­i­bly over­whelm­ing,” he said — but the acad­emy’s rec­om­men­da­tion points out that tech­nol­ogy isn’t ben­e­fi­cial for very young chil­dren.

“I think what we’re try­ing to say in the state­ment is that for chil­dren 2 and un­der, there re­ally is no ev­i­dence of any kind that screen time is good,” he said.

A study pub­lished last year found that chil­dren younger than 2 who used hand­held screens for about 30 min­utes a day showed delays in speech and lan­guage.

The Amer­i­can Acad­emy of Pe­di­atrics, the largest as­so­ci­a­tion of pe­di­a­tri­cians in the U.S., rec­om­mends no screen time for tod­dlers ex­cept for video chats.

De­spite tech­no­log­i­cal toys that go above and be­yond imag­i­na­tion, trend watch­ers are observing that mil­len­nial par­ents — those born from 1981 to 1997 — are look­ing at retro and tra­di­tional toys for their own chil­dren.

“Mil­len­nial par­ents are re­ally finding com­fort in hav­ing their chil­dren play with toys and even video games that are re­flec­tive of things that they had when they were chil­dren,” said Ken Seiter of the Toy As­so­ci­a­tion, an in­dus­try group that tracks trends and pur­chases for chil­dren’s play­things.

Last year, Amer­i­cans spent more than $3.24 bil­lion on in­fant and tod­dler toys and about $600 mil­lion on elec­tron­ics, ac­cord­ing to mar­ket re­search by the group NPD. Yet in the first six months of this year, youth elec­tronic sales in­creased 43 per­cent com­pared with the same pe­riod last year.

While dolls and ac­tion fig­ures are largely in de­mand, NPD es­ti­mates show that sales for build­ing blocks, games, puz­zles and plush toys are de­creas­ing.

Mr. Seiter said the toy trends are mov­ing to a bal­ance be­tween tra­di­tional and dig­i­tal, with cer­tain com­puter and video games that en­cour­age chil­dren to move and in­ter­act and can mon­i­tor whether they are strug­gling or suc­ceed­ing.

“Some dig­i­tal prod­ucts are ac­tive, where they’re ac­tu­ally get­ting the kid to get up and get­ting in­volved in games, us­ing aug­mented re­al­ity and ar­ti­fi­cial in­tel­li­gence,” he said.

Shop­ping re­cently at Danc­ing Bear Toys in Asheville, North Carolina, a store that doesn’t sell elec­tronic toys, Leah Gra­ham Ste­wart said she sup­ports the acad­emy’s ad­vice even if avoid­ing dig­i­tal toys and games is tough.

She said her two young boys tend to mis­be­have af­ter play­ing on an iPad, which she typ­i­cally re­serves for long air­plane flights.

“We try to keep it as min­i­mal as pos­si­ble,” Ms. Gra­ham Ste­wart said. “I just tell them to go out­side and play.”

Erika Evers, Danc­ing Bear’s co-owner, said the store’s mis­sion is to give chil­dren an al­ter­na­tive to tech toys.

“Not that video games and elec­tronic toys don’t have their place — in mod­er­a­tion, in our opin­ion,” she said. “But we feel like kids re­ally need op­por­tu­ni­ties to so­cial­ize and in­ter­act with their en­vi­ron­ment in a way that is hands-on and tan­gi­ble.”

Dr. Men­del­sohn said the dis­trac­tion of com­puter voices and flash­ing lights some­times in­ter­rupt key op­por­tu­ni­ties for par­ents or care­givers to in­ter­act with chil­dren, prac­tice so­cial skills, ex­pand imag­i­na­tion and cre­ate a bond.

“I think the main take-home is that many of the bells and whis­tles on toys, like flash­ing lights, can be a dis­trac­tion,” he said.

This ar­ti­cle is based in part on wire ser­vice re­ports.

AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

Teddy bears and other plush toys are be­ing left on shelves to make way for new trends.

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