I’m a little concerned about the direction that children’s toys are headed. Call me old-fashioned, but I seem to recall a time when kids needed to use their imaginations to create something: a castle out of blocks, an airport out of wooden airplanes and Lego’s, a gourmet meal out of plastic food and cookware. I remember inevitably getting more joy out of building forts with the boxes that my gifts came in than playing with the actual gifts (unless that gift was rollerblades. Best. Christmas. Ever.) Sure there are still toys like this out on the market, but statistics show that parents are buying fewer stuffed animals and wooden train sets each year and opting for things like this instead: I’m sorry, but what the heck is this thing and what does it do to benefit our kids? I’m amazed at the amount and complexity of high-tech toys that consume the shelves at stores, and the number of laptops that are marketed towards four-year-olds. While searching for a gift for my niece, I came across a Barbie Video Girl Doll with a description that read,
“With a real, working video camera in her necklace, this Barbie’s a total star (and can make your little doll a star, too!). She has a video screen in her back and a battery in each thigh—and she’s still skinny as a stick!”
If people were capable of spontaneously combusting from repulsion, I would have. There are so many things wrong with this particular toy that it’s hard to fit my disgust into one little blog post. I’m personally against Barbie Dolls period, nevermind the fact that now they’ve gone and reinforced the belief that girls need to be “skinny as a stick” AND made it easier for creepers to record little girls on video. Barf.
But I digress. There are of course great toys to come out of technological advances. The educational aspects of things like Leap Frog and V-Readers don’t seem like such a bad thing; they make learning to read fun for little ones, and who can argue with the awesomeness of that? But there is too much of a good thing, and I’ve seen it: kids who play with electronic gadgets and games all day, and are therefore rarely required to use their imaginations. Last time I checked, being active, creative and imaginative are the fundamental building blocks of being a healthy kid, and eventually a fully functioning adult. These toys, with their flashing lights and pictures, encourage kids to get more excited about “things” than other people. Kids start to relate to their toys more than their playmates, and to me, that is an incredibly dangerous scenario. And the instant gratification that these toys provide interferes with a child’s ability to develop patience. My personal theory is that these instantly-gratifying, hyper-busy high-tech toys introduced at an early age contribute to the development of disorders like ADHD…but I am certainly not a child development specialist nor have I conducted research that satisfies this claim. I’m just going off my own observations and experiences. I guess the key is moderation. A video game or playing with that space-ship-whatever-it-is-cat-thing every now and then can be great fun for a child, but just make sure they get outside and use their imagination on a regular (ie, daily) basis.
What do you do with your kids, or encourage them to play with, that fosters their imagination, creativity, and social growth?