Toy lab

Selling toys: Balanced play diet

How Toy Retailers Can Help Parents Manage Soaring Screen Time
Selling toys: Balanced play diet

Globally, the toy market grew by 10 percent in the first half of 2020, as parents shopped for longer-lasting toys with better play value to keep youngsters entertained (Tutt, 2020). Some parents were out of work and able to spend more time with their children, while others desperately needed something to keep their children busy while they worked from home. In many countries we also saw a huge rise in screen time. 

Screen Time in the Pandemic

A multi-national study of over eight thousand children found that in eight in 10 countries surveyed, two thirds of children exceeded the recommended two hours of screen time per day (Viktoria et al., 2021). This was likely a combination of online learning, as well as watching videos, browsing social media, or playing games.

Sedentary screen time and a lack of exercise commonly go hand-in-hand, so it’s not surprising that as screen time has increased, physical activity has decreased too. In Europe, children’s exercise was worryingly low both before and during the pandemic, with eight in 10 children not meeting the WHO guidelines of at least 60 minutes of daily moderate to vigorous intensity physical activity (Viktoria et al., 2021). In China and Canada, data also shows a considerable decrease in physical activity following the pandemic.

It’s not the screen time itself that is a threat to children’s health, but what they are missing out on, when they spend such a large portion of their leisure time on a screen.

How to Help Parents Reduce Screen Time

It’s completely understandable that parents would do whatever they could during the pandemic to keep their children entertained, while they worked or did housework, even if that meant more screen time. Multiplayer gaming and social media were also a crucial way for children to keep connected with their friends during such a strange time, which many felt was really important for their wellbeing.

But as we begin to move on from the initial impact of the pandemic, parents may now be looking to wean their children off of screens and increase their physical activity. Play is a vital part of this as it is second nature to children and can encourage screen-free time and exercise in an enjoyable way. As a toy retailer, you therefore have a key role in helping parents manage screen time.

There are various recommendations out there that suggest children should spend a certain amount of time on screens or exercising. However, my approach has always been to encourage parents to make their own choices that fit their own unique family situation. Rather than setting strict rules, I suggest that parents use the Balanced Play Pyramid as a guide to structure their children's leisure time.

What is the Balanced Play Pyramid?

The Balanced Play Pyramid works a little like the Food Pyramid. Active, outdoor, social, free play is the superfood of the Balanced Play Pyramid and is difficult to get too much of, whereas screen time that is passive, sedentary, and solitary is the sugary treat of the play diet and needs limiting (e.g. watching videos on autoplay).

If children fill up on food that is high in sugar and fat – which they might enjoy but has limited nutritional value – they run out of room for the food their bodies need to be healthy. Similarly, if all of a child’s leisure time is spent staring passively at a screen, they don’t have any time left to spend playing actively and imaginatively with friends.

If lots of active, outdoor, social, free play is encouraged, children fill their time up with this rather than passive, sedentary, and solitary screen time. This means they get the play opportunities needed for a happy, healthy childhood. The balanced play approach is not about banning any playful activity, rather, it is about making sure that children are engaging in a range of play activities.

How to Use The Balanced Play Pyramid to Help Your Customers

By educating parents on the Balanced Play Pyramid, which is based on child development theory, you can help guide them towards the toys that will benefit their children the most. There are a few ways you can do this:

  • Print out the Balanced Play Pyramid and display it in your shop or feature the image on your website. You can also direct parents to our consumer website for more information:
  • Talk parents through the Balanced Play Pyramid to identify what areas their child might be missing out on, so you can recommend toys to suit them.
  • Label your toys to show which area of the Balanced Play Pyramid they support, so parents can identify which will be the most useful.

Good for kids: Promoting balanced play time

During the COVID-19 pandemic, children’s screen time has increased while physical activity has decreased in many countries. It’s important that parents don’t feel guilty about this but are encouraged to make healthy changes as we move forward. By sharing the Balanced Play Pyramid with parents and using it to recommend a few well-chosen toys, you can help your customers promote a balanced approach to play that can help manage screen time. 

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  • Tutt, F. (2020, October 15). The global toy market & COVID-19.
  • Viktoria A. Kovacs, Gregor Starc, Mirko Brandes, Monika Kaj, Rok Blagus, Bojan Leskošek, Thomas Suesse, Elek Dinya, Benjamin C. Guinhouya, Viviana Zito, Paulo M. Rocha, Benito Perez Gonzalez, Anna Kontsevaya, Michal Brzezinski, Radu Bidiugan, Anita Kiraly, Tamás Csányi & Anthony D. Okely (2021). Physical activity, screen time and the COVID-19 school closures in Europe – An observational study in 10 countries, European Journal of Sport Science, DOI: 10.1080/17461391.2021.1897166