Debates are healthy. They bring about open and honest communication about subjects that are important to parents like safety, education, health and nutrition. But as much debating as we do on these topics, why have consumers rolled over and simply accepted the toys of questionable value that are being rammed down their throats?
Thanks to a perfect storm of negative influences over the last couple decades, the toy market has become saturated by what can only be considered “junk toys”. Just like “junk food”, junk toys may satisfy a short-term sugar fix, but they provide little in the way of nutrition for our most important assets...our children.
Junk toys encompass much of the licensed, character-driven, violent, gender-biased fodder you’ll find in the toy aisles of just about every big box store. Monster High, Minecraft, Skylanders, yes, even Hugging Elmo can all be tossed into the junk toys category. Why? These types of toys prey on the most fundamental of all parental influences - the high-pitched, whiny, “mommy, I want THAT!” tirade.
Critics might say, “what’s wrong with those toys? As long as it’s fun, that’s all that matters”. That logic doesn’t work with food so why should it work with toys? It might be a natural tendency for a child to want to stuff her face with Twinkie's, but would any good parent allow that to dominate her diet? There’s nothing wrong with a little guilty pleasure now and then as long as it’s a small part of an overall healthy diet.
But that’s precisely what’s wrong with today’s toy market. Our options have largely evaporated. With the diminishment of many local toy stores, the big box retailer has become the prime toy source for most consumers. Whether it’s Target or Walmart or ToysRUs, you’ll find the same sugar-coated toy selections in each of their aisles. There’s little opportunity to maintain a healthy toy diet when the only options are the toy equivalent of cotton candy.
Big box retailers are not in the business of taking chances - they’re in the business of selling “units”. And these masters of merchandising know darn well that there is no greater force in the universe than a temper tantrum in aisle 12! Slap the latest character fad on the side of a toy, put it at eye-level of a child and let the cash register ring! Take a look at many of the “hot” Christmas toy lists put out recently and you’ll see a familiar trend...another Furby, another Elmo, another Xbox, and yet another LeapPad.
So what are the alternatives then? As a parent, you may have to alter your shopping habits a bit, but there exists a robust and innovative industry of specialty toys just outside the mainstream. There are numerous local independent toy stores, catalogs, and websites devoted exclusively to these healthy toy alternatives - toys that teach science, creativity, and problem-solving. Whether they are referred to as “educational” or “specialty”, this genre of toy was designed to DEVELOP young minds instead of capitalize upon them.
Some parents may dismiss this notion and pass it off as “just toys”, simple playthings to keep a kid entertained for a period of time. But there is a vocal minority in the toy industry that view toys as something much more vital to a child’s development, that view toys as the “tools of childhood”, tools that promote the healthy development of our children.
These specialty toy companies are out there, quietly building the kind of toys you remember as a child, and waiting for the debate to begin. Good toys are out there. Seek them out this holiday as part of your child’s healthy toy diet!