A large toy retailer recently began airing a commercial where a group of school children board a bus for a field trip to a nature park. Along the way the guide relieves the children’s boredom by revealing they will instead be going to a large toy store where they may pick out any toy they would like.
Now the toy retailer doesn’t hate Nature, or field trips for that matter. Their message is that if you want to be a hero to your children, turn them loose in a large toy store and buy them what they want. In much the same way, fast food restaurants promise busy parents hero-dom if they will only purchase their children “fun” meals.
Surely every child enjoys a toy. And a fast food meal now and again is a necessity for on-the-go families. But both solutions are quick fixes. They momentarily satisfy a desire but do little to feed larger, more essential needs.
Parents who continually feed their children fast food expose them to health risks such as obesity. Likewise, indulging youth with toys and gadgetry confines them to a solitary, artificial and ultimately unfulfilling environment.
Just as we need regular meals to balance our diets, youth need to share meaningful experiences with others to balance their lives. These can take place in environments that contribute to long term growth and development. They may be guided by caring, interested adults.
Returning to the TV spot, what if the fictional field trip had gone to one of the many natural areas in our region? And the kids on the bus had been given the opportunity to see majestic forests or spectacular water falls. Wouldn’t this experience, connecting youth to the natural world, be more enduring and beneficial than a trip to a toy store?
Research tells us we remember and value experiences over material possessions. We are happier when we invest in experiences rather than “toys”. These experiences can connect youth ( and all of us) to a larger, more interesting and ultimately real world.
Children should receive their share of toys this holiday season, but if you really want to make a difference in a child’s life, make a commitment to spend time and give them an experience that will stay with them. This could be as simple as taking a hike along a local trail instead of walking the aisles of a toy store.