The demand for toys in the United States increased steadily between 2013 and 2019. The sales revenue in the U.S. amounted to approximately 20.91 billion U.S. dollars in 2019 (Bedford). The demand for toys implies that parents understand the importance of play in the growth and development of their children. Toys are vital components incorporated by children in their play. Toys are perceived to entertain and keep children occupied. However, toys are important in influencing the cognitive, emotional, physical, and social development of a child. Unlike modern toys, such as computer games and consoles, children in the early centuries engaged in active plays that involved the use of universal toys. Both male and female children played with universal toys such as yo-yo. The design of toys has evolved and become gender-typed toys. Pink-colored toys are associated with girls, while blue-colored toys are associated with boys. This paper evaluates toys and their influence on gender and children’s development.
Toys are one of the oldest tools incorporated in child’s play. In an interview with Christine, it was evident that toys have existed in society and they are important tools in a child’s development (Christine). From the interview, the respondent described some of the common toys she grew up with and used in her play. Some of the toys she used to play with include a kite, yo-yo, and slingshot. Moreover, she played with dolls at some point in childhood. Toys were common among children and some were universal between boys and girls. The use of a boomerang, kite, Hoppity Hops, Simon Says, skate shoes, and bikes were some of the toys the respondent played with and were common between the 1980s and 1990s. Toys were universal and suitable for both boys and girls. Therefore, children engaged in active play without segregated toys based on gender.
Playing with some toys between the 1980s and 1990s was discouraged among children based on their gender. Boys were discouraged to play with dolls as society perceived it inappropriate based on the traditional gender role identification. From the interview, the respondent pointed out some of the toys she was discouraged from playing with because it was associated with boys. Playing with slingshots and gun toys was associated with boys. Thus, girls were discouraged from engaging in plays that involved the use of dangerous toys. Girls were supposed to be careful and take care of themselves***. Moreover, girls were discouraged from playing football, compared to boys. Toys were becoming gendered in society and their implications influence the development and growth of children. For instance, in the North American International Toy Fair in New York, it was evident that toys have been gendered. On one side, there were sparkling Unicorns and on the other side, the Fart Ninjas (Kamenetz and Turner). The exhibition of these toys implied a gender divide that is difficult to ignore. Therefore, there were different toys for boys and girls based on the traditional gender role identification.
Toys are vital elements in a child’s play but not all toys impress all children. From the interview, the respondent described some of her favorite toys that she would play with the whole day. Dolls, especially Micky Mouse, were one of her favorite toys. She would carry it around and engage with it in a wishful conversation (Christine). Moreover, playing with kites and skate shoes was her memorable moment. Kites and skate shoes were physically engaging and were used in outdoor plays. Toys influence the growth and development of children into adulthood (Kamenetz and Turner). Toys shape an individuals’ perception of different social norms. For instance, girls like playing with dolls to express their mother’s affection, which influences their emotional intelligence.
The development of toys has evolved and they have become more gender-divided (Kamenetz and Turner). The arrangement of toys at a retail store indicates that toys have been divided based on gender. For example, the choice of colors used in making toys influences consumers to associate toys with different genders. At a retail store, parents with girlchild are observed at the toy section with pink color dominating the shelves. On the other hand, blue-colored toys are associated with boychild. It was observed that parents with boys preferred this section. Gendered toys not only influence the growth of children but influence the choice of their parents. Moreover, it was observed that at the girls’ toys section, the retailer had displayed various dolls, while at the boys’ section, racing cars, gun toys, and wrestling characters. It was evident that retail outlets offered different toys to girls and boys. The segregation of toys on shelves indicated that some toys were meant for girls and others for boys. For example, Cinderella and Barbie toys targeted the girlchild as opposed to their counterparts.
Play is a vital element, which enables children to understand the functioning of the social structure in society. Play is categorized into active and passive play. Active play allows a child to participate in activities, while passive play is when a child does not engage in play. For example, the push-button toy that tells a child the colors or plays the alphabet is a passive toy. Active toys, such as soccer balls, building blocks, and linking cubes engages a child to use their imagination and skills to solve a problem (Early Years). Therefore, at the retail store, both active and passive play was encouraged among children.
The gender binary is the perception of categorizing individuals based on their physical appearance. Gender binary might cause discrimination of transgender people by categorizing them based on their physical appearance. For instance, Kamenetz and Turner discussed the perception of associating certain colors with a specific gender. Blue is to boys and pink is to girls. Gender binary has influenced the development of toys. The design and manufacture of Barbie or Cinderella dolls are associated with girls. These toys are designed to depict girls are pretty princesses wearing a glamorous dress and long hair. On the other hand, the design of boys’ toys, such as Ninja Turtles, WWE characters, and war-related toys depict masculinity with heroism and toughness. However, some toy manufacturers have gone beyond gender binary toys. For example, it was observed at the retail store the exhibition of Monopoly game, Puzzle, Scrabble, Chess game, and Ludo. Despite the segregation of various toys at the store, some toys were beyond the gender binary. Play prepares children for life both boys and girls need to have non-gendered toys (Kamenetz & Turner). Pink and blue are good colors but they should not be used for identification among children.
Race and ethnicity are significant aspects in the social domain. Different races have a varying physical appearance and cultural practices. For example, Blacks are associated with afro hair and dark skin complexion, Whites are associated with light skin tone and long hair, and Asians are associated with horizontally elongated eyes. The design and production of certain toys in the United States faced a backlash from other minority ethnic groups. For example, Cinderella and Barbie dolls were designed to showcase light-skinned and long-haired characters. Children from minority ethnic groups, such as African Americans and Asians felt that their children played with toys that did not represent their ethnic affiliation. Toys influence a child’s cognitive and emotional development (Kamenetz and Turner). Light-skinned and long-haired dolls might influence girls with opposing physical features to develop low self-esteem.
Ethnicity and race in the design and manufacture of toys have evolved to become inclusive and universal. Toy designers have attempted to address racial discrimination by designing non-ethnic toys that encourage collaboration. For example, soccer balls are designed to promote collaborative play among children. Moreover, some toy companies have incorporated ethnic diversity in redesigning and developing toddler’s toys. For example, the Colorfull Plates designed by Robin Oloyede illustrating a Black astronaut (Auletta). Additionally, Mala Bryan designed and developed a dark skin-toned doll with different shades of skin complexion and hair textures (Auletta). Children should grow and play with toys that they see themselves in. Exposure of toddlers from one ethnic group to toys designed and suitable to children from a different ethnic background affects their emotional development and self-love.
During the study, it was observed that the majority of parents bought dolls for girls and car toys for boys. Girls were observed running towards the dolls section and pointing on the shelves for the most beautiful doll with pretty physical features. On the other hand, boys headed to the soccer and bicycle side. Additionally, racing car toys and superhero characters were among the list of toys consumers preferred. Toys are important in play but they can influence the development of a child (Kamenetz and Turner). Parents should encourage the use of non-gendered toys to allow children to have a neutral perception.
In conclusion, toys are necessary tools of play that children need to grow and develop. Toys help us to remember certain events in our lives and learn about our social environment. Toys teach children to become aware of and appreciate different components in their lives. Puzzles help children to solve problems, soccer ball assists them to work together, dolls help girls to become aware of themselves, and superhero toys assist boys to become protectors. However, children should be given a choice to select their preferred toys. Discouraging a girl child from playing soccer because it is male-dominated or discouraging a boy child from playing with dolls because it is perceived inappropriate, is unfair. Parents should only select appropriate toys that influence the development and growth of a child. Children deserve to engage in play unconditionally to learn about diversity. Play should enable children and adults to become more smart, creative, and collaborative. It should introduce children to relate, express themselves, and learn.
Auletta, Kate. “Toys, Books and More from Black-Owned Businesses That Kids Will Love.” HuffPost, 25 June 2020, www.huffpost.com/entry/toys-books-black-owned-businesses-kids-love_l_5ee28d1dc5b6eacb729147cf. Accessed 27 Feb. 2021.
Bedford, Emma. “Toy Industry – Statistics & Facts.” Statista, 13 Nov. 2020, www.statista.com/topics/1108/toy-industry/. Accessed 27 Feb. 2021.
Christine Jones. Personal interview. 26 February 2021.
Early Years. Passive Play Vs Active Play Toys in the Early Years. 1 Jan. 2019, edbuildingblocks.com/2019/10/30/passive-play-vs-active-play-toys-in-the-early-years/. Accessed 27 Feb. 2021.
Kamenetz, Anya, and Cory Turner. “Sparkle Unicorns and Fart Ninjas: What Parents Can Do About Gendered Toys.” NPR, 26 Mar. 2019, www.npr.org/2019/03/26/705824731/sparkle-unicorns-and-fart-ninjas-what-parents-can-do-about-gendered-toys. Accessed 27 Feb. 2021.