Looking back on my childhood, I can't remember more than one or two toys I really loved (my American Girl doll and Nintendo 64), but I can remember something, if not most things, about every vacation my parents ever took me on, whether it was just the three of us or an extended family affair. There's something about those memories from long weekends or even weeks away that sticks with me so much more than the toys I had sitting in my room for years. So why, as parents, do we spend so much money on kid's toys each year when we could possibly save up those Benjamins for a family trip?
Oliver James, Britain's bestselling psychological author who writes about the relationships between parents and their children, reports that around one in five gifts we give our children are not actually wanted or valued. Regardless, holiday gifts, birthday presents, rewards, and "just because" toys and games build up on playroom shelves and in toy boxes all the same.
"The whole business of providing material commodities for kids — in evermore expensive forms as they get older — is entirely, 100 percent, about propping up the industry that profits from it," James told The Telegraph. "On the other hand, family holidays are definitely valued by children, both in the moment and for long afterwards in their memory. So if you're going to spend money on something, it's pretty clear which option makes more sense."
James notes that most adults would prefer experiences over material things, and that kids are no different. However, he notes not to plan activities that may be "deathly boring" to the majority of kids. "The first and simplest mistake that an awful lot of parents make is confusing what they find exciting about a holiday with what their children will . . ." he said. "Children see the world differently, through consumption for example: the way that French cafes have Orangina instead of Fanta is fascinating to kids, and details like that will stick with them for long after the holiday ends."
He continued, sharing details of a family vacation to Paris he took with his 10-year-old and 14-year-old:
"She was quite interested in the art. The only thing that even vaguely interested him was a shop that was essentially the French equivalent of Sports Direct. They both, however, really enjoyed mocking me for the cheapskate, appalling accommodation I'd booked. After the holiday, it became the stuff of legend. And that's not to be sniffed at."
James's biggest takeaway from this, perhaps, is that children will appreciate the ability to be carefree and playful with their parents while on vacation, and his logic is impossible to argue with. "The exam system that we put children through these days can be incredibly stressful, just as much so as the strains of adult life. Holidays remove us, physically, from our highly pressured everyday lives where everyone's focused on meeting targets," he said. "They are times when everyone can relax and be playful together."
Let's all boycott owning an excess of things and just meet up on an island somewhere, OK?