Doctors prescribe low-tech toys to stimulate child creativity
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.
Teddy bears and other plush toys are being left on shelves to make way for new trends.