When I was a kid, there were many stores I liked to visit on special occasions. If I had a little extra money, I enjoyed going to Walmart or Target. But even better were the times my parents took me to Toys ‘R’ Us. Star Wars toys were my favorite, and just after them were Marvel and DC action figures. Toys ‘R’ Us was the high point of my action figure interest. It was the one store that had more than a mere section dedicated to things I liked. I felt like the entire store was made for me.
This emotion is shared by many people who I have spoken with. Toys ‘R’ Us was the favorite place for many children in the past. When I went there as a kid, the store was always busy, filled with children smiling ear to ear.
But early this year, Toys ‘R’ Us closed its many stores. When a store like this closes down, its easy to see it in a purely economic and business-minded way. But there is another layer to events like this which are often left unexplored.
I went to Toy ‘R’ Us a few times before they announced that they were shutting their doors. The store seemed totally dead. There weren’t many people there, and the people there didn’t seem glad they were. This may seem unimportant, but if you look closely, you will see a deep layer of truth that is quite saddening.
Childhood is in decline. The children I see around me no longer play with toys. Instead they are playing with tablets. They are playing with phones. When I was a kid, parents complained that children never played outside. Though this was sometimes true, playing with toys still required something which the modern post-childhood era lacks: imagination. I would be lying if I said that the stories I write now, and the love I have for imaginative creation, do not often remind me of my childhood times when I closed my bedroom door, pulled out my super hero, Lord of the Rings, and Star Wars action figures, and created cross-over events that not even Avengers: Infinity War could match. The stories I created on my bedroom floor helped to create my own story, and they helped to formulate much of who I am now.
But now, when I stroll through the toy aisle, I see that it is nearly empty. Children seem to have little desire for toys nowadays. This is a new time in which we live. Children are no longer encouraged to be children. Creativity, imagination, the arts, the exploration of reality have all been replaced with glowing rectangles which act as nothing more than mental pacifiers. We do not yet know the kinds of adults that this post-childhood society is creating, as many of these children are still growing. But it is no secret that public school life has been progressively worse for children.
Aside from all the developmental issues which come with children being exposed to too much screen time, another issue is that it robs children of imagination. Whereas playing outside, or with toys, requires a child to be physically and mentally active in order to have fun, tablet games, and other forms of digital entertainment do all the work for the child. No imagination is required. Even in educational games, they still do nothing for developing the child’s imagination.
This new form of childhood is what has led to the closing of stores like Toys ‘R’ Us. Children don’t see the point of toys when they have tablets. Parents don’t seem to know better, because most parents spend more time on glowing rectangles than even their children do. Children just want to be like their parents, and that used to be a good thing.
So how do we deal with this? It really is a shame that many parents do see this as a problem on some level, but not enough to do anything about it. As we raise awareness about this issue, its important that we do not follow in this same habit of raising children using the path of least resistance. We are the shapers of the world for our children, and they deserve better than a world of glowing rectangles. Imagination is far more beautiful than anything a screen has to offer.