And, that in Britain alone.
Are children given too many toys?
Retailers are starting to gear up to sell the latest generation of Christmas toys, but some campaigners are advocating a change in attitude. Do some Western children have too many toys, asks Joanne Furniss.
Excerpts from BBC News
So why do we have so many toys?
Psychologist Oliver James, author of the parenting book Love Bombing, believes children don’t “need” a vast panoply of toys.
“Most children need a transition object,” said James, “their first teddy bear that they take everywhere. But everything else is a socially-generated want.”
It seems we are keen to generate our children’s wants – the Toy Retailers’ Association reports that the British alone spend £3bn each year on toys.
…”Young children discover their identity through fantasy play. If their toys offer a limited repertoire, this process is eroded.”
It is the “play value” that is most important, says Liat Hughes Joshi, author of Raising Children: the Primary Years. “There are enormous benefits to toys – they bring joy, creativity and learning.”
…She sees three factors that make a brilliant toy: “Social value – a dolls house allows children to play together, versatility – Lego bricks can be made into anything, and durability – such as a wooden train track that the child will use for years.”
But James says it’s even better for children to “colonise objects”. A quick glance into the bedroom shows me that my two have recently colonised my baking trays (drums), towels and pegs (den) and a large plastic storage box (my son’s ark, decorated with a portrait of God). It also explains their fascination with sticks, the Swiss Army knife of the imaginary world.
We had toys when we were younger, but they mostly stayed untouched. We “colonised objects” they were the mainstay of our childhood.
Hanging out in the big hedge beside the house, was much more fun than trucks in the sandpit. Exploring the local council yard and playing in the old rusty machinery there, gave us much more value than hanging around home, it forged friendships and allowed us the freedom of mischief (not malicious).
Toys are not appreciated. Well, they are, when they are given, but depreciate rapidly to eventually be abandoned in the toy cupboard.
If you really want to give your child a treat, let them play in the woods, they’ll find a stick and it will be magic (as said in the article).
Toys, generally, destroy a child’s imaginative powers; or at least hamper them.
The current X-Box, Playstation addiction is a dangerous, and sadly, enduring fad. I never let the kids have more that a Tetra game, and that was addictive enough, even to me. The oft heard cry “Dad, wheres the ‘game’?” Dad sitting on the toilet, “Quiet, I’m busy!” $300, 400, 500 games, where never even considered in my house, but the junk box of cardboard, polystyrene, old pens, tubes, and assorted bottle tops were in demand. Give the kids that box, a bottle of glue, a roll of sellotape, the stapler and some paints on a rainy day and the veranda became a hive of industry, messy, but a hive of busy happy bees.
One thing I have learned in my travels, simple toys can be fun.
A bag with a hundred marbles ($1) can make a poor kids ecstatic, he’s never had ‘a hundred’ marbles before. Give a kid in the first world the same thing, and you get “WTF do I do with these?”
Kids simply don’t know how to PLAY any more.
How we imagine…
Reblogged form Earth.
As John Lennon saw it
We have to rip off the headbands and helmets, knees pads and scrap the soft shit from under the swings and slides!
We have to let kids run wild, unfettered, run risks, bleed and fall out of trees!
Why parents should leave their kids alone
What if the best thing we could do for our children is just to leave them alone? Jay Griffiths on why modern parenting is making our children miserable
I felt as if I were an unwilling accomplice to torture. Echoes of the victim’s screams rang off the varnished walls. The door, tight shut though it was, could not block the cries of panic. A baby, alone and imprisoned in a cot.
The baby’s mother was visibly disturbed, too, pale and tearful. She was a victim herself, preyed on by exponents of controlled crying, or Ferberisation – that pitiless system, cruel to them both.
Controlled. Crying. The words speak of the odious aim: a bullying system controlling the feelings of a baby. The mother had been told the situation was the reverse, that the baby was trying to force her will on the mother, but all I could see was a one-year-old demented by abandonment. One American mother wrote poignantly on the internet: “Is Ferberisation worth my heartache or am I truly torturing my child? It seems like cruel and unusual punishment.”
The idea is that babies can be “taught” to stop crying by being left to cry alone. A parent will occasionally check on them, but will neither pick up nor stay with the infant. In time, the baby will learn that crying doesn’t bring consolation and will cease the attempt. Parents are encouraged to schedule and limit the time they spend checking on the baby. Does the system work? Of course it does. That is hardly the question. The real issue is why would such a thing be promoted? Why would it ever be accepted? What does it reveal about modernity’s priorities? And how does it suggest answers to the riddle of unhappy children?
Cuddled, snuggled and tended, most infants, throughout most of history, have known the world unlonely. Among the Tojolabal-speaking Maya people of Chiapas in Mexico, children in the first two years of life are always close to their mothers, instantly appeased with toys or milk, to prevent them ever feeling unhappy. For infants under one year of age among the Aché people – forest nomads in Paraguay – most daylight time is spent in tactile contact with their mother or father, and they are never set down on the ground or left alone for more than a few seconds. In India and many other parts of the world, children may share a bed with their mother until they are five.
Many parents’ reasons for using controlled crying can be summed up in one word: work. Parents who want “routines” are keen on controlled crying, says Gina Ford, a famous British advocate of the system, and she comments that babies who have been forced into a routine will later adapt easily to a school routine and, one presumes, be more malleable to a workforce system.
Yet whenever I have spent time in indigenous communities, I have never heard anything like the shrieks of fear and rage of the controlled-crying child. If an infant is satiated with closeness, commented the writer Jean Liedloff, then as an older child he or she will need to return to that maternal contact only in emergencies. Such an infant will grow up to be more self-reliant, not because of the scarcity of early contact (as the controlled-crying advocates argue) but precisely the opposite: from its abundance. By the age of about eight, the Aché children, who as infants were never alone, have learned how to negotiate the trails in the forests and can be fairly independent of their parents. In West Papua, I have seen how infants are held close and grow into children who are fiercely, proudly independent.
When children are older, the desire for freedom seems unquenchable. I recently gave a writing workshop in Kolkata for street children who had been temporarily corralled into a school where they were clearly well looked after and, in the main, happy. They thirsted for the one thing that the school would not allow them: freedom. “They want the freedom they knew on the streets,” a teacher said, “to go anywhere, any time.” In spite of the troubles on the street – poverty, abuse, hunger and violence – the children “keep running away”.
Once out of infancy, Native American children were traditionally free to wander wherever they wanted, through woods or water. “By the time he is five, he is grown up, beaming with health… delirious with liberty,” writes Roger P Buliard in Inuk, describing an Inuit boyhood. By about the age of seven, the boy handles knives and wants a rifle and a trap line, and from then on he “travels with the men, as hardy a traveller as any of them”.
When I spent some days reindeer herding with Sami people, I saw how the children were free not only out on the land, but indoors in the summer huts. They rummaged around for food, finding a strip of cooked reindeer meat or a freshly caught fish or a tub of biscuits, deciding what and when they would eat: a situation that averted that major source of family conflict – meal times.
Autonomy over food from a very young age seems a feature of childhood in many traditional societies. The Alacaluf children of Patagonia fend for themselves early, using a shellfish spear and cooking their own food from the age of about four. Very young Inuit children may use a whip to hunt ptarmigans, lopping off their heads with a flick of the wrist. Travelling through the highlands of West Papua among the Yali people, I often saw village boys going off together, bristling with bows and arrows, to hunt birds, catch frogs and roast them in fires they would build themselves.
Meanwhile, in England, an environmental play project called Wild About Play asked children what they most wanted to do outdoors, and the answer was to collect and eat wild foods, to make fires and cook on them. This is the sign of independence demonstrated by children everywhere, controlling their own food and their own bodies. It seems that modern Euro-American children have two unusual food-related experiences: first, they don’t have early autonomy with respect to food; and second, they do experience eating problems.
As for physical freedom, a few years ago I spent a day with children of the sea Gypsies, the Bajau people who live off Sulawesi in stilt houses set far into the water. The children were swimmers and divers, boaters and paddlers, rinsed with seawater night and day until they seemed half-human, half-otter. I asked what their childhood was like. The answer was immediate: “Children have a happy childhood because there is a lot of freedom.” If happiness is a result of freedom, then surely the unhappiness of modern western children is caused in part by the fact that they are less free than any children in history.
I was struck by the obvious happiness of the Bajau children: spending the whole long afternoon with about 100 of them, not one was crying, cross, unhappy or frustrated. I can’t imagine spending an afternoon with 100 European or American children and not once hearing a child cry.
In Europe, one country seems to have honoured the relationship between freedom and childhood happiness in a way that the sea Gypsy children would have understood: Norway. A land of lakes and fjords, a country that has enshrined in law an ancient right to canoe, row, sail and swim, to walk across all land (except private gardens and tilled fields) in a freedom known as Allemannsretten, “every man’s right”, the right to roam.
In 1960, the American psychiatrist Herbert Hendin was studying suicide statistics in Scandinavia. Denmark (with Japan) had the world’s highest suicide rate. Sweden’s rate was almost as high, but what of Norway? Right at the bottom. Hendin was intrigued, particularly since the received wisdom was that Denmark, Sweden and Norway shared a similar culture. What could possibly account for such a dramatic difference? After years of research, he concluded that reasons were established in childhood. In Denmark and Sweden, children were brought up with regimentation, while in Norway they were free to roam. In Denmark and Sweden, children were pressured to achieve career goals until many felt they were failures, while in Norway they were left alone more, not so much instructed but rather simply allowed to watch and participate in their own time. Instead of a sense of failure, Norwegian children grew up with a sense of self-reliance.
Danish children, the study showed, were over-protected, kept dependent on their mothers and not free to roam. For Swedish children, a common experience was that, in infancy, just when they needed closeness, what they got was separation and a sense of abandonment while, in later childhood, just when they needed freedom, what they got was far too much control. Norwegian children played outdoors for hours unsupervised by adults, and a child’s freedom was “not likely to be restricted”. They had more closeness than Swedish children at an early age, but then more freedom than both Danish and Swedish children at a later age, suggesting that closeness followed by freedom is likely to produce the happiest children.
Unfortunately, in the decades since Hendin’s work, as Norway became more centralised and urbanised, childhood altered. Norwegian children now spend more time indoors in sedentary activities, such as watching television or DVDs and playing computer games, than they do outdoors. The suicide rate is now far higher.
In Europe and America alike, many kids today are effectively under house arrest, with 80% of them in the UK complaining that they have “nowhere to go”. It’s about four o’clock in the afternoon, you’ve got a couple of quid in your pocket but not a lot more. You’ve knocked off for the day and you’d like to be with your mates. The cheap cafes will be closed in an hour, you can’t afford restaurants and you are not allowed in “public” houses. You tell everyone who will listen that you don’t want to cause trouble – you’d just like somewhere that is dry, well lit and safe, where you can hang out and chat. So you go to bus shelters and car parks and the brightly lit areas outside corner shops. And then you are driven off as if you were vermin. The UK seems to be leading the way in how not to treat children.
A plan to erect a netball hoop on a village green in Oxfordshire was blocked “because residents didn’t want to attract children”. In west Somerset, an eight-year-old girl was stopped from cycling down her street because a neighbour complained that the wheels squeaked. In one survey, two-thirds of children said they liked playing outside every day, mainly to be with friends, but 80% of them have been told off for playing outdoors, 50% have been shouted at for playing outside and 25% of 11- to 16-year-olds have been threatened with violence by adults for… for what? For playing outdoors, making a noise, being a nuisance.
Saddest of all, it works. One in three of the children said that being told off for playing outside does stop them doing it. If there is one word that sums up the treatment of children today, it is enclosure. Today’s children are enclosed in school and home, enclosed in cars to shuttle between them, enclosed by fear, by surveillance and poverty and rigid schedules.
In 2011, Unicef asked children what they needed to be happy, and the top three things were time (particularly with families), friendships and, tellingly, “outdoors”. Studies show that when children are allowed unstructured play in nature, their sense of freedom, independence and inner strength all thrive, and children surrounded by nature are not only less stressed but also bounce back from stressful events more readily.
But there has been a steady reduction in open spaces for children to play. In Britain, children have one-ninth of the roaming room they had in earlier generations. There has also been a reduction in available time, with less than 10% of children spending time playing in woodlands, countryside or heaths, compared with 40% a generation ago. Younger children may be enclosed on the grounds that adults are frightened for them, and older children because adults are frightened of them.
In the Amazon, I’ve seen five-year-olds wielding machetes with deftness and precision. In Igloolik, in the Arctic, I’ve seen an eight-year-old take a knife and carve up a frozen caribou without accident. In West Papua, I’ve known youngsters of 12 or 13 with such physical capability and confidence that, when asked to be messengers, they completed a mountain run in six hours – a journey that had taken me and the guides a day and a half.
This is not only a matter of physical competence: the freedom that Inuit children traditionally experienced made them into “self-reliant, caring and self-controlled individuals”, in the words of one Inuit person I met in Nunavut in Canada. It gave them courage and patience.
Children need wild, unlimited hours, but this time is in short supply for many, who are diarised into wall-to-wall activities, scheduled from the moment they wake until the minute they sleep, every hour accounted for by parents whose actions are prompted by the fear their child may fall behind in the rat race that begins in the nursery. Loving their child, not wanting them to be lifelong losers, parents push them to achieve through effective time-use. Society instils a fear of the future that can be appeased only by sacrificing present play and idleness, and children feel the effects in stress and depression.
In many traditional cultures, however, children are held to be the best judges of their own needs, including how they spend their time. In West Papua, one man told me that as children, “We would go hunting and fishing and just come home when we heard the crickets.” In the children’s tipi where part-Cherokee man James Hightower spent so many hours of his childhood, games might be played until four in the morning. “The Indian is not like civilised children,” he recalls, “having a certain time to eat and sleep.” (In his mouth, the term “civilised” is not a compliment.)
“When we’re working, we just don’t have time to be bothering the kids,” Margrethe Vars, a Sami reindeer herder, told me. She broke off to drag on her cigarette, so her words, imitating European parents, literally came out smoking: “Have you washed your hands? Now you must eat.” She pulled a face: to her, children’s freedom was not only a right but a relief all round. As the summer stretched out in one long day, the Sami children would be up all “night”, and no one minded because every parent shared the view that children were in charge of their own time. So the early hours – bright with midsummer sun – would see the children revving up quad bikes, watching the reindeer, tickling each other or falling asleep.
“Here we sleep when we are tired, eat when we are hungry,” Vars said. “But for other societies, children are very organised. Timing is everything: when to eat and sleep, making appointments to visit friends…” She winced at the thought of the micromanagement. The Sami way produced powerfully positive results, not only in the reduction of petty conflict, but also in something intangible and vital. Their children would grow up more self-reliant, less obedient to outside pressure.
For the Wintu people of California, so deep is their traditional respect for the autonomy of the will that it suffuses the language itself. In English, if you “take a baby” somewhere, there is a sense of implicit coercion. The Wintu language cannot say that: it must phrase it as, “I went with the baby.” “I watched the child” would be, “I watched with the child”. The Wintu couldn’t coerce someone even if they wanted to: language won’t let them. When a Wintu child asks, “Can I…?” they are not asking for permission from an individual parent, but for clarification about whether wider laws allow it, so a child does not feel at the mercy of the will of a single adult with rules that can seem capricious and arbitrary.
Take a step back for a moment. Letting children have their own way? Doing just what they like? Wouldn’t that be a total disaster? Yes, if parents perform only the first half of the trick. In the cultural lexicon of modernity, self-will is often banally understood as brattish, selfish behaviour. Will does not mean selfishness, however, and autonomy over oneself is not a synonym for nastiness towards others – quite the reverse. Ngarinyin children in Australia traditionally grew up uncommanded and uncoerced, but from a young age they learned socialisation. That is the second half of the trick. Children are socialised into awareness and respect for the will and autonomy of others, so that, when necessary as they grow, they will learn to hold their own will in check in order to maintain good relations. For a community to function well, an individual may on occasion need to rein in his or her own will but, crucially, not be compelled to do so by someone else.
Among Inuit and Sami people, there is an explicit need for children to learn self-regulation. Adults keep a reticent and tactful distance. A child “is learning on his own” is a common Sami expression. Sami children are trained to control anger, sensitivity, aggression and shame. Inuit people stress that children must learn self-control – with careful emphasis. The child should not be controlled by another, with their will overruled, but needs to learn to steer herself or himself.
Will is a child’s motive force: it impels a child from within, whereas obedience compels a child from without. Those who would overrule a child’s will take “obedience” as their watchword, as they fear disobedience and disorder and believe that if a child is not controlled, there will be chaos. But these are false opposites. The true opposite of obedience is not disobedience but independence. The true opposite of order is not disorder but freedom. The true opposite of control is not chaos but self-control.
• This is an edited extract from Kith: The Riddle Of The Childscape, by Jay Griffiths
We don’t say what’s on our minds a lot of the time, because other people might pass that on, and who knows? We might get into trouble.
But once upon a time, when we were young, we were free. We didn’t take any shots and when we got sick we recovered. We were stronger than kids are now. We didn’t ask for much protection and we weren’t given much, and we survived.
There was no talk about the needs of the group. When we went to school, we weren’t told about ways we could help others. That was something we learned at home. We weren’t taught about The Planet. Instead, we learned to mind our own business, and it wasn’t considered a crime.
When we played games, adults weren’t hovering or coaching every move we made. We found places to play on our own, and we figured it all out. There were winners and losers. There were no plastic trophies. We played one game, then another. We lost, we won. We competed. Losing wasn’t a tragedy.
There were no childhood “conditions” like ADHD or Bipolar, and we certainly didn’t take any brain drugs. The idea of a kid going to a psychiatrist would have been absurd.
People were who they were. They had lives. They had personalities. They had eccentricities, and we lived with that.
There was far less whispering and gossip. There were fewer cliques. Kids didn’t display their possessions like signs of their identity. A kid who did was ignored, even shunned.
Kids never acted like little adults. They didn’t dress like adults. They didn’t want to be fake adults.
Our parents didn’t consult us about what we wanted. We weren’t part of the decision-making process. They didn’t need us for that.
We weren’t “extra-special.” We weren’t delicate.
No one asked us about our feelings. If they had, we would have been confused. Feelings? What’s that? We were alive. We knew it. We didn’t need anything else.
We could spot liars a mile away. We could spot phonies from across town. We knew who the really crazy adults were, and we stayed away from them.
We didn’t need gadgets and machines to be happy. We only needed a place to play. If you wanted a spot to be alone, you found one, and you read a book.
There was no compulsion to “share.”
School wasn’t some kind of social laboratory or baby-sitting service. We were there to learn, and if we worked hard, we did. Teachers knew how to teach. The textbooks were adequate. Whether the books were new or old didn’t matter.
Kids weren’t taught how to be little victims.
Sex was a private issue. You were taught about that at home or not at all. You certainly didn’t learn about it in school. That would have been ridiculous.
Some of us remember being young, and now, we still have that North Star. We still don’t take our shots and medicines. We still don’t take every word a doctor says as coming from God. We still know losing isn’t a crime or an occasion for tragic theater.
We still know how to be alone. We still think gossip and cliques are for morons. We still feel free. We still want to live, and we do.
We still resent intrusion on our freedom, and we speak up and draw the line. We still like winning and competing. We still like achieving on our own.
We can spot self-styled messiahs at a hundred yards.
As kids, we lived in our imaginations, and we haven’t forgotten how. It’s part of who and what we are.
We aren’t bored every twelve seconds. We can find things to do.
We don’t need reassurances every day. We don’t need people hovering over us. We don’t need to whine and complain to get attention. We don’t need endless amounts of “support.”
We don’t need politicians who lie to us constantly, who pretend we’re stupid. We don’t need ideology shoved own our throats. Our ideology is freedom. We know what it is and what it feels like, and we know no one gives it to us. It’s ours to begin with. We can throw it away, but then that’s on us.
If two candidates are running for office, and we don’t like either one, we don’t vote. We don’t need to think about that very hard. It’s obvious. Two idiots, two criminals? Forget it. Walk away.
We don’t fawn, we don’t get in other people’s way. We don’t think “children are the future.” Every generation is a new generation. It always has been. We don’t need to inject some special doctrine to pump up children. We remember what being a child is. That’s enough.
When we were kids, there was no exaggerated sense of loyalty. We were independent. Now, we see what can be accomplished in the name of obligation, group-cohesion, and loyalty: crimes; imperial wars; destruction of natural rights.
It didn’t take a village to raise a kid when we were young, and it doesn’t take one now. That’s all propaganda. It panders to people who are afraid to be what they are, who are afraid to stand up for themselves.
We don’t feel it’s our duty to cure every ill in the world. But it goes a lot further than that. We can see what that kind of indoctrination creates. It creates the perception of endless numbers of helpless victims. And once that’s firmly entrenched, then magically, the endless parade of victims appears, ready-made. When some needs have been met, others are born. The lowest form of hustlers sell those needs from here to the sky and beyond. They make no distinction between people who really can use help and those who are just on the make.
We didn’t grow up that way. We don’t fall for the con now.
When we were kids, the number of friends we had didn’t matter. We didn’t keep score. Nobody kept track of the count. That would have been recognized in a second as a form of insanity.
As kids, we didn’t admire people simply because other people admired them. That was an unknown standard.
We were alive. That was enough. We were free. That was enough.
It still is.
When we were young, we had incredible dreams. We imagined the dreams and imagined accomplishing them. Some of us still do. Some of us still work in that direction. We haven’t given up the ghost just because the world is mad. The world needs to learn what we know. We don’t need to learn what the world has been brainwashed into believing.”
Three-person civil union sparks controversy in Brazil
A notary in the Brazilian state of Sao Paulo has sparked controversy by accepting a civil union between three people.
Public Notary Claudia do Nascimento Domingues has said the man and two women should be entitled to family rights.
She says there is nothing in law to prevent such an arrangement.
But the move has angered some religious groups, while one lawyer described it as “absurd and totally illegal”.
The three individuals, who have declined to speak to the press, have lived in Rio de Janeiro together for three years and share bills and other expenses.
Ms Domingues says they have already opened a joint bank account, which is also not prohibited by any law.
According to Globo TV, the union was formalised three months ago, but only became public this week.
Nathaniel Santos Batista Junior, a jurist who helped draft the document, said the idea was to protect their rights in case of separation or death of a partner, Globo reports.
Ms Domingues, who is based in the Sao Paulo city of Tupa, said the move reflected the fact that the idea of a “family” had changed.
“We are only recognising what has always existed. We are not inventing anything.”
“For better or worse, it doesn’t matter, but what we considered a family before isn’t necessarily what we would consider a family today.”
But lawyer Regina Beatriz Tavares da Silva told the BBC it was “absurd and totally illegal”, and “something completely unacceptable which goes against Brazilian values and morals”.
Ms da Silva, who is president of the Commission for the Rights of the Family within the Institute of Lawyers, says the union will not be allowed to remain in place.
Some religious groups have also voiced criticism of the move.
While Ms Domingues has approved the union, it is not clear whether courts, service providers and private companies such as health insurance providers will accept the ruling.
Obviously it doesn’t go against Brazilian morals and values, if the arrangement is between Brazilians; it goes against Ms da Silva’s narrow perception of morals and values.
Religious groups can stay out of my bedroom if I am not of your religion; and, if your sensibilities are so damned intolerant, then I wouldn’t want any part of your religion.
Bravo to Public Notary Claudia do Nascimento Domingues and her stance on freedom.