Toys or no toys, kids find ways to have fun

The fear that my four-year-old son is too attached to his playthings is unfounded as he loves to go outdoors and ride his bicycle

If you have young children, there's a good chance you're familiar with the South Korean cartoon and toy series Tobot, one of my four-year-old son's favourites.

The franchise takes its cue from the Transformers, featuring a cast of robots that are able to disguise themselves as everyday vehicles.

Beginning with an initial stable of two robots when the series began in 2009, there are now about 20 - some can combine to form larger robots - that make up the Tobot universe.

The amount of merchandise, naturally, has also swelled to match the number of Tobots and includes variations of the toys that are smaller and easier to transform.

At last count, my son had about 22 Tobot toys, which were bought for him or were hand-me-downs from well-meaning friends and relatives.

This is in addition to all the other playthings he has, including Lego blocks, superhero figurines, swords, guns and others.

Research conducted in Germany since the 1990s shows that when kindergartens remove toys, children quickly make up for it by thinking creatively and using their imagination to come up with their own games.

A few months ago, my wife and I bought a new set of shelves just to keep his room organised.

As a child, I probably would have thought it was awesome to have a complete set of Transformers or M.A.S.K toys, cost or space constraints be d****d.

As a parent, though, I worry that having too many toys might inculcate in my son the wrong values - of instant gratification and materialism - and rob him of having an imagination.

In fact, studies done by childhood development researchers suggest that children with fewer toys actually play more.

But how many toys are too many?

I had a lot of toys, too, such as He-Man action figures and Star Wars playsets that would probably have been worth a lot of money if, as a five-year old, I'd had the foresight to keep them in pristine condition.

When I entered primary school, my mother, with an eye on my academic performance, kept my toys away to ensure that I focused on my studies instead.

I don't remember being too upset at this as I got to go out to the playground in the evenings after school and was still able to watch the cartoons that were thinly disguised advertisements for the toys.

And I'd like to think I did okay in my studies as a result.

If I were to be really honest with myself, maybe the fault isn't with my son, but with me.

Even now, I find myself in the toy section of department stores looking at superheroes or robots.

How often do we, as parents now, find ourselves looking for our own toys, whether they be actual toys or their "adult" equivalents in the form of clothes, furniture, gadgets or sneakers?

How realistic is it to expect our children not to want new toys for themselves, if as "rational" adults we find ourselves salivating over the new iPhone or the Supreme x Louis Vuitton collection?

We might be in the age of Spotify and Kindles, but - as the late actor Charlton Heston said about his guns when he was president of the National Rifle Association - you'll only get my CDs, books and comics from me when you prise them from my cold, dead hands.

My wife occasionally tells me I'm a hoarder and I'm willing to concede that she might be right.

At least my son is willing to give away his toys, clothes and books when my wife and I tell him that he's outgrown them or that we simply don't have the space to keep them any more.

Unlike his old man, he's not too attached to his stuff.

As much as my boy loves his Tobots, he's more excited to go outside and ride his bicycle or skate scooter.

Despite growing concern that we are raising a generation of children addicted to iPads or other mobile devices, I've found that my son - and most other children - when given the choice, would much rather go to the playground to run, climb or just jump around.

Besides, research conducted in Germany since the 1990s shows that when kindergartens remove toys, children quickly make up for it by thinking creatively and using their imagination to come up with their own games.

So maybe my worry that too many toys will turn my son into an unabashed consumerist is unfounded.

Toys or no toys, it doesn't stop him from having fun.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on September 17, 2017, with the headline 'Toys or no toys, kids find ways to have fun'. Print Edition | Subscribe