Old school toys not in the story for youth

Old school toys not in the story for youth

 High school students are a bit young for nostalgia, but as we approach the holiday season and see how toys are evolving for a new generation of young children, it may be time to take a moment to reminisce about the good old days when toys were just toys, plain and simple. A generation from now, our children may not even understand the concept of toys like the characters in Toy Story—playful objects that plug into a child’s imagination with no electricity, batteries or web access required.

 Even just a decade ago, when we were still little kids, toys were less complex. Simple pleasures like LEGOs, action figures, stuffed animals and blocks were satisfying. While kids today still play with these kinds of toys, they are declining in popularity. Of course, when we were younger we played with electronic toys too, but these toys, like Ferbie and Pokémon, were relatively simple.

 A recent stroll through Toys “R” Us revealed noticeable changes in the environment of the store from how we might remember it. Stuffed animals are stiff, mechanical, and recycle one of five catchphrases if squeezed. “Rock Star Mickey” will sing songs to toddlers, but cannot be played with. The “Dunk and Cheer” basketball hoop will simulate cheering on behalf of the parent when toddlers score a basket. “Dance with Me Baby” will dance to any song on an mp3 player connected to it. The once small electronics aisle of the store has expanded into a dominant and growing corner that shoppers feel obligated to visit before they exit.

 The toys we played with as children seemed to have fewer instructions and were used to foster the imagination, encouraging kids to play for hours on end. Now, toys rely on keeping kids’ attentions with lights and sounds. The most obnoxious example of this is iPhone apps for young children. With action figures, dolls and simple stuffed animals, kids were once in control of playtime. Now, toys are in control; when the batteries are dead, playtime is over.

 At Toys “R” Us, Beanie Babies have been replaced by Webkinz. While Beanie Babies allowed kids to develop a story line and personality for the toy, Webkinz requires a child to go on a computer to learn about the toy’s character, and the actions are limited by the online environment and options.

 Toys “R” Us has an entire section of the store known as the “Imaginarium Learning Center” devoted to educational products. And then there’s the “Smart Screen Laptop” (advertised for children ages six months and older) and the “Developmental Activity Gym” (appropriate for children starting at age 0+ according to the box). This trend puts unnecessary pressure on parents that all toys must be supporting educational development or their children will fall behind. If you think you feel pressured, picture the class of 2022 that will have experienced a childhood dominated by educational “toys.” It is a scary thought.

 This holiday season, go out and get a traditional toy—whether it is a LEGO, a Barbie, or a G.I. Joe—they may not be around much longer. If you are buying a toy for a younger sibling or child, try to get something that requires the use of imagination instead of electricity. Do it for the lonely stuffed bear you know you have in the back of your closet. Do it for your childhood.