Not War: TV- related toys and the "I want that" syndrome
a toy in a commercial or one based on their favorite cartoon character,
what children see on television can easily lead to "I want that."
Toddlers and preschoolers are especially vulnerable to TV's temptations,
because they gravitate more to the right-brain world of color, images,
and emotion than to the left-brain world of thinking and analysis.
When they play with TV-related toys, all too often they simply imitate
what they've seen on TV, unthinkingly mimicking the seducing visual
It is never
too early for parents to address this issue with their youngsters.
Parents can help kids spot merchandising "tricks," steer children
to toys based on educational or pro-social TV shows, and direct
creative play away from Madison Avenue imitation. Here are a few
simple strategies to help guide little ones from mindless consumerism
to mindful ways to think for themselves.
distinguish the commercial from the program. When programs and commercials
show the same beloved characters, youngsters hardly notice the change
from telling to selling. Research shows that without adult guidance,
children under the age of six won't understand the selling in tent
of commercials, nor will they easily distinguish commercials from
programs. When you are watching TV with your child, have him or
her jump up when commercials come on and sit back down when the
program resumes. Ask children what they think the ad is selling.
Point out commercials that are selling toys based on favorite programs
by saying, "This isn't the Power Rangers show, is it? It's a commercial
that wants us to buy toys that look like the Power Rangers."
children to think about why they want a toy. Before deciding to
get the toy, have your child draw a picture of what he or she will
do with it. Then discuss the picture with your child. By developing
a visual cue to start from, kids can better articulate what they
anticipate from the toy. Then you can discuss the important questions:
"Do you want it just because you saw it on TV? Or do you want it
because it looks like fun?" This can be an important first step
for building resistance and thinking skills for the next popular
TV/toy tie-in your child encounters.
child pretend to be a toy manufacturer. After explaining that all
the toys are made by someone, let your child pretend to be a toy
manufacturer and interview him or her for an important magazine
article. Ask questions such as: Why did you decide to make cartoons
out of these cartoon figures? When children see the cartoon, does
that make them want the toy? Do you have toy ideas for other kids'
child a reality check. Take your child to see the real toy. When
they get to the store, youngsters are often disappointed--"It looked
a lot bigger on TV." If you can, tape the commercial and play it
back after your toy-store excursion. Then discuss the difference
together. Ask "Why do you think it looked so different on the commercial?"
or "Do you think the story is still worth spending that much money
consider what they value. Frequently what children value is not
something they saw advertised on a toy commercial. An old wagon
bought at a garage sale, a stuffed bunny Daddy won at a fair, a
worn, well-used bedtime storybook, are precious because of the memories
associated with them. Have your child sort through their toys and
decide which of them are special. Yes, some media toys might be
labeled "special" and that's okay. The point is that the children,
not the marketing experts, ascribe specialness to their toys.
children's viewing of TV shows linked to toys you find objectionable.
The theory here, of course, is if they don't see it, they won't
want it. If your children watch only nonviolent, imaginative, and/or
educational television, then toys based on those shows will likely
inspire the same sort of play. If you decide to buy one of these
TV toys, explain why this one meets your standards. "Beauty and
the Beast teaches us that what's inside a person is more important
than how he or she looks. Isn't that a nice thing to think about
when you play with these toys?"
If you can't
beat 'em, use 'em. Even if you limit their viewing at home, children
will be enticed to buy all kinds of toys when they watch TV at a
friend's house, when you take them to the mall, or when they go
out for fast-food. It's difficult for parents not to buy at least
some TV toys. We can do plenty to enhance children's creativity
and problem-solving abilities using these toys. If you do buy the
action figure you're child thinks he can't live without, try not
to buy the props, and especially not weapons. Drawing the line here
enables you to use other, nonviolent props to guide your child toward
socially acceptable behaviors.
your child to use toys in different contexts. Let toy soldiers help
make cookies. See if the Power Rangers want to help plant flowers.
Fashion dolls could operate a grocery store using packages and cans
from the kitchen pantry; with a desk, paper, and pens stuffed animals
could become novelists or artists. Put the action figures with the
stuffed animals--the animals are the zoo, the figures, the zoo keepers.
Put the figures with other media -related toys, such as Barney or
Disney characters. Each character can tell the other why their show
(or movie) is the best!
creative play with your child. Research shows that when parents
play 10 to 20 minutes daily with their preschoolers, the children
are more cooperative and advanced in social skills. I learned this
firsthand when my sons were young and were "into" Star Wars. I became
Princess Leia. They told me which dress to wear and not to forget
my shiny back-patent shoes! (They made sure I looked the part.)
As we played, the boys, then ages 3 and 5, directed what I said
and to whom. Yet, I could question their motives and they responded
well. Two basic things go on when little ones play: the actual fantasy
itself and the stage-whispered directions. When youngsters control
both while a parent is present, they learn good leadership and group
interaction skills. Plus, when parents give up control for only
a few minutes a day, children are more willing for them to take
back control for the rest of the day!
fun books and have your child role-play the story as you read. When
your child play acts what the book character is doing, it gives
them a chance to use their own imaginations within the security
of a predictable story structure. By doing this on a regular basis,
parents give their children a supply of non-violent ideas and characters
to infuse into their creative play experiences.
other places that can give children play ideas. A trip to the zoo,
a walk in the park, time spent with grandparents--a child's life
experiences--are rich sources of ideas for self-expression through
creative play. For instance, after a visit with Grandma, encourage
your children to use toys, dolls, and props to reenact their favorite
parts of the visit. When children realize that their play need not
always imitate the narrow scripts of television programs, a vast
world opens up to them based on their own experiences and imaginations!
Gloria DeGaetano, 1996. All rights reserved.
a national speaker and consultant on issues related to children
and media, is the author of Screen Smarts: A Family Guide to Media
Literacy, Houghton Mifflin, 1996. For ways to raise children optimally
in a media age, visit her website: www.GrowSmartBrains.com
permissions contact Gloria DeGaetano, phone: 425-883-1544
was first published in Better Viewing Magazine, November/December
1996. Parents can subscribe to Better Viewing with a credit card
by calling 1-800-216-2225
(Six issues per year, $9.97)