I was in a large ToyStore on Saturday to buy a birthday gift for my 6 year old God-Daughter and was immediately frustrated and then really angry at how many of the "toys" aimed at little girls are image and make-up focused such as make your own lipstick/nail-polish and a variety of others not worth mentioning here...even the dolls were pimped to the maximum!! I eventually settled on a "Paint your own Puppy" set but it got me thinking about how our children are being targeted by Marketing companies from their infancy and so I wonder what can we do about it??
Play is essential to children's development, it is how they learn about their world, who they are, who others in their world are and from here they learn to develop relationships and attachments. Play is a natural experience for children, it comes naturally to them and free, creative, imaginative play is of paramount importance in children's development. See my previous blog on the 3 stages of developmental play here http://bit.ly/mHDnsR
This overtly sexualised and commercialisation of children's play and toys is actually preventing them from exploring and experimenting with feelings and choices, it is stopping children from actually playing!!
The amount of time children are spending at creative/imaginative play is steadily decreasing and I couldn't help but observe that even the "creative toys" in this same Toy Store such as Lego were now available in kits that were mostly associated with a brand i.e. Harry Potter/Star Wars/Disney and therefore exposing children to the influence of bigger brands, leading them to brand recognition and limiting the scope for free expression play with the lego. It is impossible to ignore the influence of gender stereotyping in how children toys are marketed...it's mostly Princess and hair/make-up options for girls while boys toys are action based with the roles on offer being Fire-Fighter; Police Officer; Soldier etc.
A recent study in Adweek Magazine states that "by the age of three, children in the US can recognise 100 different brands" and this is not a phenomenon exclusive to the US by any means. This article goes on to quote a former marketing consultant to Hasbro, Mattel and Nestle who said "babies don't distinguish between reality and fantasy, so they [companies] think, 'Let's get them while they're susceptible'". Watch this short but very effective video by Dove around the effect this has on young children's development http://bit.ly/qkGQa This is compounded by the fact that everything is branded now, you are not just buying a book for your child but the branded book is automatically directing you and your child towards the DVD, Computer Game, Playing cards, Pencil case & Lunch box that go with it!
By limiting our children's access to creative and imaginative play we are undermining their creations and projections, we are restricting how they get to work out the world around them and how they feel in it and also how they learn to problem solve because creative play is essential for children to develop their critical thinking capacity!
So let's take some responsibility for what are children are playing with and at the same time send a message to the marketing companies that our children will not be a part of the increasing commercial culture we all live in! Less of Tattooed Barbie http://tgr.ph/odOKS7 and more Sand, Play-Doh/Clay and finger painting because we know that what our children want and need most of all is time with their parents/carers not stuff! Ref UNICEF report An Overview of Child Well-being in Rich Countries [http://bbc.in/qAJ4rE the link to the UNICEF research is contained in this article]
Protect Childhood, Protect Children's Right to Play!