Tweens: Encourage, Don’t Over Indulge…especially with things!

My daughter really wants an iTouch. She’s 12…a tween. We heard nothing about this until recently when a friend was over who happened to have been given one for a holiday gift. It turns out that many of her friends have them now so she feels like iPods are suddenly passe.

Instead of asking us for one or concocting a plan to put it on her next birthday list, she came up with the idea to earn enough money for it by doing chores around the house. Pointing out the amount of chores and likely time frame to sock away $200-300 bucks was not a deterrent, at least not out of the gate.

If the truth be known, we’re not for this at all.  Did I mention she’s only 12? The iTouch, in case you are not familiar with it, is essentially an iPhone without the phone. Kids use it to watch videos via itunes,  play music, because it has a built in iPod, and play games they can download, some free and some paid. This thing can also connect to the Internet if you enable that feature and get email if you set up that feature. In my mind and my husband’s it simply does much more than a 12 year old needs.

In terms of her current technology, she is really doing more than fine. She has a phone she’s happy with that texts and does everything she wants it to and an iPod. In fact, this isn’t about upgrading either of those gadgets but about wanting to keep pace with her friends and just having something to add to the mix because that’s what kids do, of all ages in fact.

In the end, though, they always fall back on the tried and true, don’t they?

How many times have you run out to the store battling crowds to find the tow or gadget of the season only to find it sitting in the corner a month later?

When your older kids were small, how often did you get them the latest whatever of the holiday season or birthday only to have the box or bow be more interesting?

Of both of my girls, this daughter follows that pattern most of all. She’s incredibly creative and simplicity rules. She always thinks she wants the latest and greatest but in the end, she’s rather really just have what she already has.

My daughter is in good company, as Nancy Gibbs of Time Magazine points out in her essay The Power of Play-Doh…In Tough Times, classic toys still hold their town.

Gibbs recalls that the best present of her childhood was a stuffed grey elephant that went everywhere with her and created ours of amazing play. She notes:

“Friends tell me how to this day, the smell of new plastic evokes Baby Tender Love. They recall the gust of freedom a new bike blew in, and the endless architectural possibilities provided by a tub of Legos: six bricks fit together in 102,981,500 ways. Will any of this season’s hot toys leave marks so deep? Or would strapped parents do better to remember the toys that changed them and go looking elsewhere?”

Gibbs notes that ” (t)he best toys transcend, their survival a testament to their purpose and power” and gives the examples of the yo-yo, kite, legos, crayons, and slinky.

At the same time, according to Gibbs,  “(t)he worst toys are the opposite: overdesigned, overengineered, the product of so much imagination on the part of the toymaker that they require none from the child.” These are all the fad toys that come and go each season. She gives the example of this year’s Zhu Zhu hamster.

The bells and whistles of some toys and gadgets, like the iTouch, can be alluring but are not what keep our kids interests long term. What they need more than anything is time to have a childhood and simple things to use when their imaginations kick in.

BTW, what’s your favorite memory from your childhood? I have two. One is taking all the blankets and sheets from my mom’s linen closet and making a fantastic tent village in the basement with some friends and the other is taking some basic blocks, and I mean basic, and building an enormous village with the same friends. We had hours of fun with those blocks…and were in middle school when that village was built!

So, we’re planning on helping our daughter get off the iTouch path so she can have fun doing what we know she’d rather be doing…dancing and singing with her friends with her current ipod plugged into some speakers and rewriting the lyrics in thousands of different ways. That’s where her heart is…and our job as parents is to help her see that and help her understand that some things may look cool but are just a waste of money in the end.

Image: ipod family

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