Could some toys be destructive for your child?

Malavika Varadan/Dubai
Filed on July 15, 2021

Let's talk about toys. Could they imparting lessons to your children you should be wary of?

Last weekend, I went toy shopping. A friend’s son was turning five and I wanted to buy him a birthday present that he would have liked.

I walked into one of the largest toy superstores in the city. Big bright signs everywhere, sales people following us around, trying to thrust shopping bags and deals into our hands, flashing lights and beeping sounds, remote control toys flying at you — it was less like a magical place full of wonder and fun, and more like an emergency room after a disaster.

I found one young woman in a store uniform and asked if I could be directed to the section where I could find toys for a five-year-old. Something fun, something educational, perhaps?

It was all downhill from there. I came to realise that most of these toys were doing the exact opposite of what teachers, educators and parents around the world are trying to do — raise kind human beings. Allow me to take you through some of what I saw.

A section of guns: How did we normalise this? How, when mass shootings are killing hundreds of innocent people, when we tell our children every day about the values of dignity and peace — are we okay with toy guns being thrust into the hands of young boys? These guns are branded as “blasters” and “hand-cannons”. I even found a board game called Cash and Guns.

When we give children blocks, we inspire them to be builders. When we give children paint, we inspire them to make art and express themselves creatively. Logically, what does putting a far-too-realistic-looking toy gun in the hands of a five-year-old do?

Gender-based-everything sections: I wandered off to the science section. Perhaps, I could find toys that would help this wonderful, kind, curious young boy explore the states of matter or experiment with simple physics. What I found instead was this — bright pink boxes marked appropriate for six-year-old girls, to help them make their own lip gloss, while blue and green boxes had boys’ faces on it, doing science experiments. Wonder why graduate engineering programmes have such poor gender ratios? Perhaps most girls are too busy keeping their lips glossy to care about the next engineering marvel.

Plastic: This entire toy store was a pile of plastic. Plastic in plastic boxes, wrapped in more plastic and then covered in cling wrap. All this while teachers in school are trying to inspire students with stories of Greta Thunberg and climate activism.

One small shelf in the corner had wooden toys, but they were highly overpriced and looked far less exciting — maybe because they didn’t have the same marketing budgets for instore branding that LOL dolls did.

4The dolls: If Barbie was a real woman, she would be 5 feet 9 inches, weigh 54 kilograms and be a 38-18-34. No wonder we find teenage girls and women standing in front of the mirror, sucking in their stomach and pinching the flesh around their waist. This is what we have been taught. It’s bad enough that she has these dimensions, but add to that fair skin, blonde hair, blue eyes. The salesperson at the toy store told me that the fastest selling add-on kits to dolls were kitchen sets, hair dressing accessories and glamour kits.

While it might make for great PR that brands are investing in Space Scientist Barbie and Mathematician Barbie — let’s get one thing straight — what sells on the floor is hair bands and saucepans.

What angers me so much about this experience is that we, as teachers, parents, adults are trying to build a brave and kind next generation, with everything we have. And million-dollar toy giants are doing just the opposite. Except they have the power of millions of dirhams of marketing behind them. And plastic, and things that beep, flash and glitter.

Surely, there must be a toy shop that we can go to that feels warm and welcoming, where toys are eco-friendly, and share at least some of our values? Where a boy can buy a kitchen set, and girl can buy a non-pink-non-blue-maybe-yellow microscope? Is there?