Two recent news stories made me sit up and take a closer look not just at what toys my kids are playing with, but at how they are using them.
Bethany Sanders: The first was a survey done by the NPD Group, which found that doll sales are down by 20 percent since 2005 -- not because of a tanking economy, mind you, but because girls are dropping doll play at a younger age. In an interview with The Philadelphia Inquirer, Jeff Holtzman, head of doll manufacturer The Goldberger Company, said, "By the time they hit 4 or 5, they want a cell phone. We're replacing dolls sooner." In 2009, just 18 percent of dolls sold went to kids over 9.
The second was an op-ed that ran in The New York Times on March 26. In it, David Elkind wrote about the necessity of recess coaches on the playground, because kids have forgotten how to play. "For children in past eras, participating in the culture of childhood was a socializing process," wrote Elkind. "They learned to settle their own quarrels, to make and break their own rules and to respect the rights of others. They learned that friends could be mean as well as kind, and that life was not always fair .... Now that most children no longer participate in this free-form experience -- playdates arranged by parents are no substitute -- their peer socialization has suffered. One tangible result of this lack of socialization is the increase in bullying, teasing and discrimination that we see in all too many of our schools."
Is anyone else depressed yet? In an effort to keep our kids safe and entertained, we might actually be stealing away the most important part of childhood: play.
I'm one of those old-fashioned type parents who has yet to buy either of my kids (ages 5 and 7) a cell phone. (Because ... really?) But in an honest survey of their toys, I found that even though my kids do know how to jump rope and play hopscotch, they've got plenty of toys that entertain without requiring an ounce of imagination: babies who walk and talk and wet their diapers all on their own; robotic cats so realistic my neighbors asked me if we had a new pet after seeing it in the window; and electronic gadgets galore.
Susan Linn, Ed.D., author of "Consuming Kids and the Case for Make Believe," sums it up in an article at Education.com. "The toy gets to have all the fun," Linn says. "If a child looks at a stuffed animal and says 'What does it do?' instead of playing with it, they may be engaged too much in activities that are doing the play for them."
My belief is that not only do our kids have too many choices today (my own kids' possessions currently occupy two bedrooms and a playroom), but many of their toys are taking away the pleasure of play -- and leaving imagination behind.
Now tell us: What are your kids playing with? Do you think playtime has changed since you were a kid?
|Bethany Sanders is a teacher-turned-stay-at-home-mom of two living in the Midwest. Her musings on parenthood can also be found at Strollerderby and Savvy Source.|