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Kids Don’t Need Plastic Junk. So, Please Stop Buying It.

Do you ever wonder about the designers for the check-out lines at stores? Strategically placed piles of plastic crap at children’s eye level that are meant to grab their little fluorescent light-blasted-over-stimulated-from-shopping-brains. Heaps of disposable plastic junk that will break or be forgotten as quickly as it was bought, placed strategically at the end of our shopping experience. Perfectly created in bright colors designed to suck in little eyes with big desires. Marketing at its finest. Kiosks that meant to stress us out too, so we give in and buy whatever for our little screaming tyrant. After all, we too have fluorescent light-blasted-over-stimulated-from-shopping-brains and just want out with no scene.

Do you ever wonder about the designers for the check-out lines at stores? Strategically placed piles of plastic crap at children’s eye level that are meant to grab their little fluorescent light-blasted-over-stimulated-from-shopping-brains. Heaps of disposable plastic junk that will break or be forgotten as quickly as it was bought, placed strategically at the end of our shopping experience. Perfectly created in bright colors designed to suck in little eyes with big desires. Marketing at its finest. Kiosks that meant to stress us out too, so we give in and buy whatever for our little screaming tyrant. After all, we too have fluorescent light-blasted-over-stimulated-from-shopping-brains and just want out with no scene.

That _____ (fill in the blank with whatever plastic toy is available at your local supermarket) has far-reaching effects throughout all webs of life. First and foremost, those little plastic toys that are made cheaply in some faraway land are disastrous for the environment. We are living in the days of animals on remote islands dying from suffocation due to plastic ingestion. Honestly, are any more signs needed to tell us that our total plastic consumption needs to stop? That little plastic toy that will be forgotten soon after being added to the rest of the plastic toy heap at home may take up to 500 years to breakdown. What’s even worse is that breaking down often means just that: breaking down into microplastics (which by the way, are showing up in human bodies).

Then we have what this quick dopamine fix is doing to our little ones.

Dopamine is the reward neurohormone that is produced by the hypothalamus and is released during pleasurable situations. When a child begins to meltdown and is given the toy of their wanting, a rush of dopamine floods the brain and all is well, right?

Maybe not.

That flood of feel-good dopamine can be habit-forming as it is a neurotransmitter that controls emotion. We all want to feel good. The child feels good with that dopamine. The desire to feel that goodness and elation again may instruct more meltdowns to get more toys to get more dopamine.

While dopamine is essential for cognitive development, do we really want children to learn the development that comes along with over-consumption and retail therapy?

What do young children really need?

The same thing children have needed throughout time. The same thing we all need.

Love.

When children (and adults) are held, hugged, kissed, and touched (in the ways that they allow and enjoy), a whole different process happens in the brain and oxytocin is released.

While lumped together with dopamine and serotonin when discussing our body’s “happy hormones”, oxytocin is more far more gentle and has much more beneficial effects for everyone involved.

Oxytocin heals.

Oxytocin is often called the “love hormone.” It is well known for its role in childbirth and breastfeeding. Did you know, though, that in intimate moments spent with children, oxytocin is front and center, doing all the wonderful things that oxytocin does?

Things like bonding. Creating trust. Healing wounds. Reducing social fears. Relieving pain. Minimizing depression. Reducing stress. Encouraging generosity. Influencing empathy.

Kisses really do help “ouchies.”

Oxytocin heals.

So while in a moment of stress, we know the dopamine that toy purchase will release in both child and caregiver will be welcomed and feel great as a tantrum is adverted, we also need to know it’ll be okay. As caregivers, we will be stressed and it’ll pass. For a child, they’ll be stressed and may be kicking and screaming as they leave the store. It’s okay. It’ll pass.

Consumer-driven instant gratification doesn’t always come, child. Oh, the cold hard facts of life.

We can get out of the store, hopefully with an ounce of sanity, and hug each other. Hold each other. Allow that healing flow of oxytocin that is natural, affordable, and accessible.

It is a moment that can teach us and guide us. Give us lessons on what it means to be human rather than what it means to be a consumer. Moments that build relationships rather than build landfills.

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Every day the U.S. generates 180,000,000 pounds of waste plastic. It is also estimated that there are over 5 trillion pieces of plastic in our ocean.

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