Every parent knows that toys are an integral and essential part of a child’s life, and the supply of toys is endless.
But what kind of toys should children use? Could play possibly be harmful? Can it be used as a teaching method? To find the answers, let’s take a closer look at the process of child play and the role of toys.
Creating Covetous Desire
The toy industry is a massive global juggernaut. In 2006, it brought in $22.3 billion of revenue in the United States alone, according to the Toy Industry Association.
The toy industry’s $885 million annual advertising budget—90 percent of which is spent on television—is geared to create instant desires. The Children’s Television Act of October 1990 says television broadcasters and cable operators must limit advertising in children’s programming to 12 minutes per hour. But that is still one fifth of children’s television experience.
How much of this time is focused on developing the mind and character of the child? Far more important to advertisers is creating brand-recognition in children and a desire to have that which is portrayed as cool.
Even though the marketing is geared toward children, their minds cannot distinguish what is good for their mental and character development. They are simply conditioned to lust after products offered on tv.
The marketing periodical Advertising Age described children of this generation (nicknamed “millenials”) as “tech-savvy and educated; … bombarded by media messages; accustomed to sex and violence; growing up in an affluent society; and [possessing] big spending power” (Jan. 15, 2001; emphasis mine).
This dulling of the senses is only amplified by children’s constant exposure to violence in something as seemingly innocent as cartoons. For instance, one cartoon show that has generated 15 different series and two movies since its debut in 1993 is Power Rangers. In every episode, a new monster, created by the bad guys, uses violence to destroy things. The Power Rangers, armed with magic crystals, megazords and the ancient secrets of martial arts, claim to be the saviors of the world and defeat their enemy by crushing some purple ooze monster to the wall.
Children learn behavior. These kinds of cartoons, and the toys they promote, teach children that aggression solves problems and that enemies are just faceless creatures without names.
Promotion of the false idea that acting out violence in play keeps children from acting it out in real life starts at a very early age with toy guns and action figures, such as Transformers, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Star Wars, X-Men, Zoids, wwe, Pokémon and Spiderman toys being marketed to pre-schoolers and grade-schoolers.
These instruments of destruction have a great appeal to young boys. Yet we wonder what went wrong when we witness excessive violence among our youth.
Parents should avoid any toy that promotes hatred, violence or anything else contrary to God’s Ten Commandments. Guns were designed to kill. If you intend to kill, use a gun. If you don’t intend to kill, don’t use a gun—the real thing or an imitation!
The Toy Industry Fact Book states, “Today’s youth are the first generation to grow up in a digital world. … To accommodate children’s changing play patterns, manufacturers have devised a unique blend of new and classic elements, which is evidenced in the wide variety of toys that offer a new level of play for children today.”
Video games make up a larger segment of the toy purchases pie every year. With popular titles such as Resident Evil 4, The Darkness, Hitman: Blood Money, Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas and Vampire Rain, one does not even have to imagine the moral degradation that is forced upon dulled, young minds.
Read this description of another game in a popular series, Doom 3: “Take part in a terrifying battle with the forces of Hell. A massive demonic invasion has overwhelmed the Union Aerospace Corporation’s … Mars Research Facility leaving only chaos and horror in its wake. As one of only a few survivors, you struggle with shock and fear as you fight your way to Hell and back, in an epic clash against pure evil.” Nothing could be more poisonous to the mind of a child, adolescent or adult!
Although many of these games are not marketed directly at young children, the habit-forming pastime of playing video games is being promoted to children as young as pre-school age, at the expense of educational, physical or socially interactive playtime. Once habits are formed by these highly addictive pastimes, these children naturally move on to adult-themed games.
Avoid Aimless Play and Frustration
For centuries, toys in one shape or another have been the leading source of entertainment for children. But more than that, toys are a child’s tool for learning. Toys encourage discovery and exploration and can develop a child’s mind and character. Certain toys also help the development of children’s bodies and personality.
But did you know that instead of aiding your child’s development, you could actually ruin it with the wrong selection of toys?
How many parents really give thought to their children’s entertainment? How many have a purpose in mind when they buy toys for their children?
Toys purchased as a result of impulse-buying often lead to a fruitless passing of time, leaving the child bored and without any sense of accomplishment. One way Webster’s Dictionary defines the word play is, “to move aimlessly about.” But play shouldn’t be aimless. Play should be creative and constructive. Childhood is the preparatory phase for adolescence and adulthood and ought, in its own way, to be as productive as any other stage in life.
How can parents ensure their children’s playtime isn’t wasted by aimless play? First, they should use wisdom in purchasing toys for their children; and second, they should be involved in their children’s play.
Knowing how instrumental toys are in the development of children, toy manufacturers have developed so-called educational toys. In nearly any category of toys, you will find this variety.
But how educational are these toys? Many of them are designed in such a way that they appeal to the parents. But when purchased, many of these toys become disappointing, because parents will simply give them to their children and then sit back to watch their children become educated. In most cases, a child is only frustrated by the toy unless time and direction is given to help teach him or her. Desiring to speed the development of their child, many adults even buy toys far above their child’s intellectual level, only adding to the frustration.
Many factors, particularly the removal of the mother from the home, have greatly contributed to this lack of guidance, leaving children entirely to themselves. Children need interaction with their parents in order to have their minds and characters developed.
The Greatest Gift
To make up for the lack of time spent with their children, many parents try to buy their affection by overloading them with toys. In Western society especially, children have far too many toys. Too many toys is worse than not enough. Having too many toys creates confusion and boredom in a young person’s mind, and he or she will seldom play with them.
Parents should concentrate on purposeful and useful toys. Better to buy a few used toys than to have dozens sitting in toy boxes untouched.
The greatest gift you can hand to your children is your time, attention and involvement. Rather than buying a myriad of toys, make time to sit down with your children and enjoy the toys they already have. A meaningful way to do this can be by scheduling a regular family game night. Perhaps you can do it once a week, every fortnight, or once a month. Children of all ages enjoy board games, and they will look forward to a scheduled time to enjoy your company. Whether you have pre-schoolers or teens, you can make this time special for them. Whatever your activity is, the important thing to remember is that your time and attention is the greatest gift you can grant them.
Aside from these scheduled times, take other time out to spend with your children: play cars or dolls with them, help them with their artwork, and educate them through play.
Develop the Body and Mind
There is an abundance of toys that will give hours of fun and entertainment to your children and at the same time provide plenty of exercise for the body. Many of these toys are relatively inexpensive, yet they will develop a multitude of skills in your child.
Balls, swing sets and bicycles teach coordination, agility, balance and timing. Blocks promote construction skills and teach basic math and logic. Dolls, cars, trains and toy animals can all prepare a young mind for the principles of caretaking, order and obedience to rules, laws and authority. Activity books and craft projects promote coordination and concentration. Toys such as Play-Doh inspire creativity and imagination while aiding the development of fine motor skills.
Games and puzzles help develop problem-solving skills. Combined with guided reading of carefully selected books, they can also expand a child’s interests and knowledge base.
Sadly, most toys that stimulate the mind and body have made way for passive toys that solely entertain but fail to develop or educate.
Develop the Personality and Character
Whether your child develops creative, technical or artistic skills largely depends on whether or not these skills are brought out early enough.
Music is one of the best forms of entertainment to help children round out their personalities. Children easily pick up tunes and can develop an appreciation for the arts by being exposed to a wide variety of music.
Starting your child on a musical instrument, however simple, not only develops his feeling for melody and rhythm, it helps him develop self-discipline, creative skills, and an appreciation of the finer things in life.
Personality can also be brought out through creative play with construction toys such as legos.
In selecting toys for a child of any age, parents should ask, is the play in thetoy, or is the play in thechild? A proper toy stimulates play in the child. A poor toy is one that operates itself and neutralizes imaginative, creative thinking in your child. These toys make your child a passive observer of playtime rather than the proactive, driving force behind his or her play. The best examples of such poor toys are video games, where everything is pre-programmed.
With toys come responsibilities for your child. Parents should teach their children to take care of their toys. This includes using them according to their designed purpose and putting them away when they’re done.
Toys with many parts should have designated containers in which, after a child is finished playing, he or she is to put away all the pieces. Parents should emphasize that it is the child’s responsibility. By obeying this instruction, the child develops character. Thus children learn the fundamental lesson to do what they are told to do—when they are told to do it.
This is play with purpose!
Guided Play Teaches God’s Law
Toys are important. They can be used to develop a strong, healthy body and an alert and educated mind. But most importantly, toys can help develop the foundation of right character in your children.
God delights in the right kind of constructive, uplifting play of children. In the coming Millennium, when Jesus Christ is ruling on Earth, children will not be locked inside, staring at a television set or computer monitor. They will be playing outside, developing their minds and bodies, their personalities and character. Notice these scriptures: “The wolf also shall dwell with the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the kid; and the calf and the young lion and the fatling together; and a little child shall lead them. … And the sucking child shall play on the hole of the asp, and the weaned child shall put his hand on the cockatrice’ den” (Isaiah 11:6, 8). “And the streets of the city shall be full of boys and girls playing in the streets thereof. Thus saith the Lord of hosts; If it be marvellous in the eyes of the remnant of this people in these days, should it also be marvellous in mine eyes? saith the Lord of hosts” (Zechariah 8:5-6).
Micah 4:3 states, “[T]hey shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruninghooks: nation shall not lift up a sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more.”
Start now teaching and training your children based upon God’s laws—His way of cooperation, sharing and promotion of true values. It is our responsibility as parents to purchase fitting, meaningful toys for our children and to teach them how to play with them in a constructive and cooperative manner.