Childrearing

Sorry Sweetheart, Mommy’s Working. Have This Toy Instead

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To buy a Wii or not to buy a Wii? That’s been the question plaguing me for the past year. My son is dying for one of these Nintendo gaming devices – every person he knows has one – but I keep saying no because he’s overly obsessed with screen time as is. Does he really need yet another electronic distraction when he should be frolicking in the yard? And, besides, does he really need more stuff?

A report by Unicef UK is making me feel much better about my own silly dilemma. It warns that materialism is dominating family life in Britain – that parents are buying their children obscene amounts of toys and designer labels when all these kids really want is to spend time with mom and dad.

Mom and dad, however, are too busy working long hours to provide their children with quality family time. Hence, the stuff. Lots and lots of it. Which it turns out is doing nothing to make these kids happy. Sad, isn’t it?

A rather eye-opening piece in The Telegraph explains that the study, which was jointly funded by the Department of Education, was commissioned after an earlier Unicef report ranked Britain as the worst country in the industrialized world to be a child. (I was shocked to hear this!) Unicef went so far as to blame Britain’s obsession with materialism as one of the underlying causes of the London riots – and widespread looting – that plagued the city last month.

Researchers found that British parents work longer hours than those in Sweden and Spain, and they are then “too tired” to play with their children. The article points out that families across the country, regardless of social class or race, are less likely to spent time, eat or play games together – and children are often left to their own devices. It also points to one British mom who worried that her three-year-old son would be bullied if she didn’t buy him a Nintendo DS handheld game.

Report author Dr. Agnes Nairn told The Telegraph that there’s an “enormous difference” between Britain and other countries when it comes to consumerism. “While children would prefer time with their parents to heaps of consumer goods, [their] parents seem to find themselves under tremendous pressure to purchase a surfeit of material goods for their children. This compulsive consumption was almost completely absent in both Spain and Sweden.”

As a result, Unicef is asking the British Government to ban advertising aimed at children under 12 and to encourage parents to work less hours and spend more time at home. Sounds simple, right? If only that were the case. It’s an alarming situation that should serve to remind parents everywhere of what’s truly important.

(Photo: Aliaksei Lasevic/Shutterstock)