Mourning Toys R Us? Think about this

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Kara Alaimo, an assistant professor of public relations at Hofstra University, is the author of "Pitch, Tweet, or Engage on the Street: How to Practice Global Public Relations and Strategic Communication." She was a spokeswoman for international affairs in the Treasury Department during the Obama administration. Follow her on Twitter @karaalaimo. The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of the author.

(CNN)Like many people who grew up in the 1980s, I have happy memories of going to Toys R Us on special occasions to pick out toys. As a teenager, I got my ears pierced at Claire's. And the ultimate treat every year around the holidays was a trip to the toy store FAO Schwartz on Fifth Avenue in New York City.

Kara  Alaimo
Now, Toys R Us may shutter its stores this week. Claire's is reportedly about to file for bankruptcy. In 2015, Toys R Us closed the flagship FAO Schwartz store on Fifth Avenue where Tom Hanks famously danced on a huge piano in the 1988 movie "Big."
It's easy to get nostalgic about these stores and to feel their closings as a loss. It's also worrisome to think that, instead of taking their kids to a store to play together, parents may order their toys online -- or, even worse, hand over electronic devices so kids can do so on their own. But there's a silver lining here: parents can use the time they would have spent shopping to do healthier activities with their families.
    Teaching children that happiness comes from shopping was never the best lesson anyway. In fact, researchers have found that the commercialization of childhood causes problems including obesity, violence, family stress, sexualization, and early use of drugs and alcohol.
    And, while toys can certainly help children learn, having too many of them can actually be detrimental to a kid's development. A study published recently in the journal Infant Behavior and Development found that toddlers were more creative and played for longer amounts of time when they were given fewer toys.
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    So, here's an idea, parents: Use the time you could have spent at Toys R Us to do quality non-commercial activities together, like reading books, volunteering or going to the park. These are activities that are actually proven to be good for children. In fact, a 2015 study in the Journal of Marriage and the Family found that the quantity of time that parents spent with kids ages 3-11 didn't have a huge impact on their children's behavior, achievements or well-being over time. Studies show that what is good for kids is having quality time with their parents, doing things like talking or eating dinner. Activities other than shopping can also help kids learn that objects don't buy happiness -- but spending time with family and friends or giving back to their communities certainly can.
    Yes, going to places like Toys R Us was a fun experience for a lot of kids (myself included) -- and one that ensured they spent at least a little time with their parents. But it doesn't take a room full of thousands of toys to teach or have fun with a kid. In fact, all that stimulation risks leaving them distracted that they don't get the benefit of learning as much from the experience as they otherwise could.
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    So, instead of feeling nostalgic about the shuttering of these stores, let's all get nostalgic about a time further back -- before they existed at all. Thankfully, activities like reading, going to parks and volunteering can't be put out of business.