There has been a huge hype in recent months about gender stereotyping toys. And whilst I think there is an element of natural human instinct when it comes to what our children choose to play with, I would never discourage my children wanting to play with something ‘intended’ for girls. If any of my boys turn out to be gay, I very much doubt it was because they played with a doll once when they were 2, or because they liked the red dress in the fancy dress box at pre-school. It would be because I have allowed them to grow up making well informed choices throughout life, and being given the opportunity to create a life that they are content with.
Whilst I do agree with the anti gender stereotyping opinion, I am also very aware that companies advertise for their target market, it is what advertising is all about. Some men wear make up, but there would be no point Maybelline shaping their advertising so it is more male friendly.
I have a larger concern when it comes to toys and their packaging.
The suggested age guiding you to buy age appropriate toys.
I’m not talking the safety guidelines, they’re fine. They have a purpose and are there to ensure parents (and anyone else buying your children gifts) are making wise decisions when choosing toys for their little ones. A toy stating that it is ‘not suitable for children under three, due to hazard of choking’ is fine with me. Although I would like to think as a parent I could make that judgement for myself. But, hey, you know what health and safety laws are like these days!
My problem is the guideline on the front of a box 6-12 months, 12-18 months, 3 and up… you get the idea.
Kinley started pulling himself up on furniture the day he turned 9 months old. Within a few days he was ‘coasting’, so I decided to buy him a little push along toy to encourage those steps. At nearly a year old he still can’t use it as it travels way too fast over our wooden floors. The experienced parent in me understands that he will walk in his own time. But the toy stated on the front ‘from 9 months’. The first time mum, or the anxious mum (or parent of course!) may worry about their child’s development. If the toy is intended for a child from the age of 9 months, then surely they should be at least showing signs that it’s going to happen sooner rather than later. And if that’s not the case then some concerns may start rearing their ugly head.
It has also put a great pressure on me when buying Christmas presents this year. Because Kinley’s birthday is in December he only really has the opportunity to get showered with gifts one part of the year, as I try my hardest not to just constantly buy the boys things all year round. (admittedly I’m not very good at that, but the thought’s there eh?!) The things I have been looking at are toys aimed at his age group, but then I’m concerned that by March everything will be too ‘babyish’ for him and he will no longer be getting the stimulation he needs for his development to continue. But surely I should be buying him things that I think he will enjoy, not because a number on the box tells me it is suitable for him. I’m going to be concerned about his development, of course I am, I am his mum and that’s what we do, but being pushed into buying or indeed, not buying a toy because of a number on the box is silly too.
You could argue that they are just suggestions, so like anything in life, you make your own decision based on that suggestion. But surely it is just yet another thing for us parents to stress over. Are our children doing what they ‘should’‘ be doing and playing with toys and games that they ‘should’‘ be playing with. We are told constantly that children develop at different rates, that each child follows a unique path. Whilst some 1 year olds are confidently walking around, and developing rapidly on a physical level, another child may have only just got the hang of sitting up unaided but yet saying a few words, or able to follow simple commands. There is no right or wrong, so why should there be a specific toy that is suitable for them?
So what would I want to see instead? I want toys to tell me what is appropriate for my child’s stage of development not for how old they are. My 5 year old would benefit greatly playing with sensory toys ‘tailored’ for babies, yet when I pick up a toy clearly marketed at a 1 year old, I immediately feel a surge of mum guilt. And I shouldn’t have to feel like that.
As a mummy I want to choose toys based on their ability, not because someone, somewhere decided that is was appropriate for how old they are.