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12 Dec, 2020 04:44

Small children prefer toys to experiences, study finds, assuaging parents’ lockdown guilt

Small children prefer toys to experiences, study finds, assuaging parents’ lockdown guilt

Young children prefer toys and other material items over “experiences” like vacations or trips to theme parks, a recent study has found, surprising approximately no one, while covering for the ongoing Covid-19 isolation of kids.

Children aged three to five prefer material gifts to experiential ‘presents,’ according to a recent study conducted by the University of Illinois at Chicago that neatly soothes parents’ guilt at keeping their children isolated from the world (including the usual child-oriented “fun” activities) for the better part of a year.

Because very young kids’ memories aren’t fully developed, they don’t necessarily remember experiences like a trip to Disneyworld or the zoo in the same way an older child would – no matter how much fun they had during the actual experience, the researchers claimed. 

Toys and material gifts, however, serve as a continuous reminder of positive feelings the child has come to associate with the object. The preference for material goods persists until the age of 12, though the study suggests it is most intense between the ages of three and five.

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Parents hoping to make happy memories stick in the minds of their children can take photos and videos of joyful times that the child can then watch, helping them to recall these enjoyable experiences with family and friends. And as kids age and their memories mature, they increasingly cherish new experiences and adventures, the researchers said.

Child welfare experts have attempted to raise the alarm for months about the detrimental effect lockdowns and isolation policies associated with Covid-19 have on children, especially young kids who are still learning empathy and social cues – a task that is all but impossible when one’s fellow human beings are either seen only through a Zoom chat window or covering half their faces with a mask.

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While the scientific consensus suggests that schools are not at high risk of spreading the novel coronavirus and children are far less likely to become seriously ill than their parents, many US schools have nevertheless switched to all-remote education, depriving children of the mental and physical stimulation that comes with spending time with peers. From physical exercise to the immune stimulation brought on by playing in the dirt, children are missing out on experiences that are key to normal development, experts say. Some children are even developmentally regressing due to pandemic-related stress and a lack of constructive stimuli. 

Theme parks and other child-oriented destinations remain largely closed across the US, except in Florida, where Disney World, Sea World, Lion Country Safari, and other parks reopened during the summer. But even where such destinations are open, many parents are leery about visiting, fearing infection with Covid-19.

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