Like an adult with a new toy.
Last year, FOX News Digital reported that $9 billion – or a quarter of all toy sales in 2022 – had been contributed by adults purchasing toys for themselves or other adult loved ones. Research is attributing this trend to young adults with children who may be especially influenced by the trappings of a reminiscence bump, as the Toy Association found that a whopping 89% of parents surveyed said they plan to buy themselves or other adults toys as gifts this holiday season.
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The “kidulting” trend took the toy industry by storm in 2022 on the heels of the COVID-19 pandemic and, in 2023, continues to prove that Santa and his elves will, once again, be hard at work this year.
Every leading dictionary defines “kidults” – also playfully known as “adultescents” – as young or middle-aged adults who adopt childlike interests.
And what, some experts suggest, is at the heart of their costly cheer? Nostalgia.
Several academics have dedicated their studies to the exploration of a phenomenon called “reminiscence bumps,” a period of time during which certain age groups have the scientific tendency to become more nostalgic for their pasts. According to group consensus, young adults who reach the age of 25 years may be most prone to experiencing a reminiscence bump, while those in their late 30s – the age at which more women are now having children – are also trending toward nostalgia.
“I think that nostalgia is definitely a factor, but it isn’t the only one. I kind of look at it as this overall idea of mainstreaming play, or destigmatizing play, past a certain age in general,” Jennifer Lynch, Content Developer at the Toy Association, told FOX News Digital.
“At this point, everybody knows that there are a lot of benefits to play for kids. There are cognitive, social, physical, emotional benefits. I think right now, toys and games still have these same benefits as we get older. And I think adults are coming to that realization, and they’re kind of like leaning into it a lot more.”
“There’s also that societal focus on mental health. That’s another contributing factor here. And I think adults are kind of using toys and games as tools to decompress, de-stress,” she added.
Emotional support plushies that are “cuddily-weighted,” Squishmallow collectibles, murder mystery games, Menstruation Crustaceans, BrainBolt memory games and more are, according to the Toy Association, hot on the market this year. And, as society continues placing importance on mental health, Lynch said the stigma surrounding products like these is changing for the better.
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FOX News Digital also spoke with “Blue’s Clues” co-creator Angela Santomero to discuss the societal shift we’re seeing as playing with toys is becoming increasingly de-stigmatized for adults.
“I think it’s about joy,” Santomero said. “I think it’s about us finally prioritizing how much we need that joy and that dopamine effect, and how much play can help us to laugh and release those endorphins and to be more relaxed and de-stressed.”
“Coming back down to look at the world through a kid’s eyes is actually a very positive thing for our mental health,” she continued. “And it’s so fascinating to me because we have said for years that play is the work of the child. Whereas now, we know that play is how people learn and retain information and that, under stress, we 100% don’t retain any information.”
Santomero – who, in addition to co-creating “Blue’s Clues” for Nick Jr., holds a master’s degree in child developmental psychology and instructional technology and media from Columbia University – asserted that those who are more inclined to play both alongside and independent of their children ultimately make better parents.
“Looking at the world through your inner child is actually a very positive thing. It’s not childish,” she explained. “You’re finding a positive, you’re finding a solution. You’re kind of getting to that place of having a playful attitude, diffusing things with humor. As opposed to losing your temper.”
“It’s about [adults] finally prioritizing how much we need joy.”
“When the level of stress and anxiety goes down, you’re a better boss, you’re a better parent, you’re a better friend, you’re a better spouse,” Santomero explained, pointing to the innumerable benefits toys and games can offer adults.
“That’s what we have to remember, that when we stop and do something that actually helps our brain to feel that passion and that joy and that love and that positivity, that creativity, it fuels what we need to do. It fuels the work. The truth is, when you take a second to go into the creative side of your brain, it actually helps you get the logical side of your brain.”
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The mental health shift has given way to another trend the toy industry is capitalizing on: “Eldertainment.”
The term, coined by both the Toy Association and Educational Insights – the company behind the Kanoodle 3D Brain Teaser Puzzle made popular by social media app, TikTok – alludes to toys and games tailored for elderly adults, with an influence on sharpening mental acuity and helping with cognitive impairment.
“Not only are adults shopping for themselves, but we also found that 20% were going to be purchasing toys for their aging parents and other aging relatives. And it’s really that circle of life. Those developmental benefits become equally important as we age,” Lynch explained.
“And among those shopping for elderly relatives, we found that mental stimulation and memory improvement were really top of mind. Seventy percent were looking towards toys and games that are going to help support those things. So, especially when it comes to games and puzzles, this is really a big space for that.”
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Lynch went on to explain that functions like text talk, bigger buttons, increased font size, and other age-inclusive technological features are standouts in the “eldertainment” space, catering to elderly adult audiences.
“I kind of think of it like adding reading glasses to gameplay,” Lynch said, further remarking that the toy industry is even looking at elderly consumers with cognitive impairments like dementia “so that they can still get in on gameplay and see those mental benefits.”
In the end, both trends are about finding your inner child, embracing the power of play, and rediscovering joy this holiday season.
“It’s [about] doing something that is literally for you, and not just for the kids,” Santomero said.
With a wide array of gift options for adults of all ages this year, shoppers won’t have to look too hard to find something for their loved ones — or even themselves.
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