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Children no longer play with toys

Do computer games inhibit the child's development or challenge him? Instead of playing with dolls and soldiers, the children of the 21st century are stuck in front of the computer screen. Some experts fear the loss of the ability to move, activate the imagination and communicate. Others claim that the capabilities will be integrated into the technology

Benedict Carey, New York Times, Haaretz, Walla News

They used to play it.. today 8 year olds ask for mobile phones and ipod players (archive photo, wow)

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Where did the toys go? Real toys, like dolls and toy planes? A recent survey in the United States, on behalf of the Kaiser Family Foundation, shows that half of the children aged 6-4 play video games, a quarter of them regularly. Manufacturers of these games are aggressively marketing them to 3-year-olds, and researchers report what parents already know: 8- and 9-year-olds are asking for adult toys - like mobile phones and sophisticated music players like Apple's iPod - instead of bears, other furry animals or cars toy.

The trend has already given its signals among manufacturers and sellers of traditional toys in the USA, starting with the electric train company "Lionel" and ending with retailers such as "Toys R Us" and "FIO Schwartz". "I've seen one-year-old children who want to play on their parents' mobile phones," said Irma Zandel of "Zandel Group", a marketing research company among teenagers and children. She added that the toddlers also know how to distinguish between a real phone and a toy phone.

This raises the question of whether, while the toys are changing, the game itself is also changing? Does the fondness for adult toys from a young age shorten the period of childhood, that highly imaginative world full of pretend tea parties and playing cops and thieves?

"The time span in which children play with certain types of toys has certainly shrunk," said Dr. Gary Cross, a historian at Pennsylvania State University and author of the book "The Cute and the Cool," which analyzes the culture of consumerism among children. "In the past, 14-year-old girls still used to play with dolls, and 14-year-old boys still received assembly toys as gifts."

Studies have shown that small children with a rich imaginative world tend to show skill in thinking about unfamiliar situations and trying to understand them. "I think there is a definite continuum between the functioning of the imagination in early childhood and its functioning later," said Dr. Paul Harris, a psychologist from Harvard University.

Many researchers agree that electronic devices engage the mind and brain in different ways than dolls and Legos. Assembly blocks come to life only with the help of imagination, while computer games navigate the course of the game by themselves. These games also feed off each other, with the skills needed for the game "Donkey Kong" feeding the skills needed for "Mortal Kombat", which feed the skills for "Halo" - in a chain that unfolds so that the children and parents play on the same terminals and compete with each other; When these children grow up, they continue with the computer, designing websites or publishing weblogs.

The expanding use of electronic toys worries Dr. Jerome Singer, professor of psychology at Yale University. "We know that children before school age need to communicate with the real world," he said. "No matter how bright they are, they will not learn to walk, move and interact with others if their hands or feet do not play a direct role in such activities. When you sit children in front of a television or a computer, you cut off an entire aspect of this development."

At the same time, psychologists say that childhood has always been a long preparation for adulthood, and that in this context computer games and other electronic games are both natural behavior and acquired behavior that adapts to circumstances. "It is such a deep part of human nature that it is very unlikely that changes in technology will slow down its development," said Dr. Alison Gopnik, psychologist and author of the book "The Scientist in the Crib." "Children in a technological world will explore technology and use technological means for their pretend and 'I guess' games.

Babies already 'play' as if they were working on the computer, and older children - who at the time may have listened to mythical stories or told them, and later read books - may do similar things with a computer game like 'Myst'. This makes sense given the fact that the children will become adults in a world where technology and electronics play an increasingly important role."

45% of children have an "imaginary friend"

From the Harry Potter movie. Symbolizes the transition from personal reading to reading that is a public celebration. Some psychologists claim that the imagination of young children, even of preschool age, includes the use of images from the electronic world. Images from electronic games and television programs can remain in the memory, but often they are mixed with dreams, integrated into the child's other fantasies and reshaped as a kind of non-stop magical film.

For example, a survey conducted in Great Britain in 2001, among 1,800 children aged 12-5, shows that more than 45% of the respondents had an imaginary friend at one point or another in their lives, a much higher rate than the researchers expected. According to another study, imaginary friends, which some researchers believe help children develop empathy and sociability, are not usually based on toys, and have a more significant social dimension than an imaginary character in a video game can provide.

It is also not clear to what extent children who play electronic gadgets and games intended for adults, act according to the instructions or the original plot lines of these games. "Many criticize action figures and video games, but when children play them they do so according to their own scripts, and that ability will remain," Cross said.

However, one piece of childhood that may not last is the perception of adults that children can live for a long time in their fantasy world, protected by their parents. The idea of ​​a protected childhood is itself an invention of adults, from Europe in the second half of the 19th century - when the expanding middle classes began to shield children from work in particular and the real world in general. A short time later, literature aimed at children already developed. JM Barrie's "Peter Pan" appeared in 1902, and Francis Hudson Burnett's classic "The Secret of the Vanishing Garden" was published in 1911.

But the protected space of childhood slowly eroded, as children were exposed to the consumer market to an increasing extent - through comics, then the radio, then the television. In the accelerated race towards more and more electronic games, it is not childhood that is so threatened, some researchers say, but the image that society has created for it, imbued with idealization and perhaps sentimentality.

In fact, the transition from reading "The Secret of the Vanishing Garden" in a quiet corner to the public celebration of Harry Potter - the books, the movies, the dolls and the video game - has been going on for a long time. "For a hundred years we have feared the destruction of the integrity attributed to children who are exposed to the media, and this is another repetition of the same phenomenon," said Dr. Peter Stearns, a historian at George Mason University in Fairfax, Virginia. "I do fear that we have idealized childhood as it existed in the past, an image that has not been true for a long time and may never have been true either."

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