The lovely locally-owned toy shop in my suburb is closing. It's such a shame; over the years I have spent many a happy hour browsing its shelves. When pregnant with my first, it was where I bought the sort of cute-but-impractical toys that only someone without children would buy, and when he was a newborn, it was where I obsessively analysed every baby toy trying to decide what a 6-week old needed to reach his full potential. Over the past four years I've bought bikes, toy cars, gifts for family, board games and even a tin with a photo of a cat on it. The owners recognised me, and I them, making the toy shop feel like an essential part of our community.
I visited this morning to see what stock was left and to say goodbye, and while there had a long talk to the owner about the shop's closure. Was people buying toys online the problem? I wondered. Was it the ability to buy cheap goods elsewhere?
No, she replied. Apparently, even some online toy stores are going under, unable to sell enough toys to stay afloat. The problem is that children are playing with toys less than they used to. The problem, she said, is that as soon as children hit school age (if not earlier), they are more likely to get gadgets for gifts instead, and more likely to entertain themselves in front of a screen than with a toy.
I could wax lyrical about how terrible that is on a number of levels, but what I would say isn't new. Most people already know, on an abstract level at least, how much children who are too connected to screens are missing out on in terms of fine motor skills, cognitive development and attention span. I know that the amount my kids watch tv isn't ideal, but all of that knowledge doesn't stop me reaching for the remote when the dinner needs cooking, I'm tired or the kids won't stop fighting.
Instead, all I will say is that the idea that children are playing with fewer toys is sad, and has made me resolve to limit my children's screen time a little more. Starting today!