According to a recent CNN report, Fewer smiley faces as LEGO figures fight, by Alanna Petroff, LEGO figures are becoming more angry. I doubt that there was a child in my time, and perhaps even now who does not possess a LEGO set, but the figures were a whole lot friendlier looking when you think about it. Today, the LEGO figures look as if they are ready to “pop you one”. According to the report, the new LEGO figures, apart from being a whole lot more angry looking, carry more weapons indicating a significant change in how children play and interact with toys. Significantly, before I had even read this article, I had found myself becoming troubled at the modern Barbie dolls that are marketed to female children, but I had never really given it much thought – not until now, anyway. As if paedophiles, questionable TV cartoons and questionable children outfits are not enough, now parents are faced with the new threat of questionable toys.
Petroff writes that robot expert at the University of Canterbury in New Zealand, Christoph Bartneck, “…worries that LEGO – an abbreviation of two Danish words meaning 'play well' – is increasingly featuring a vast array of weapons as the company moves towards more conflict-based themes. This could undermine LEGO's happy-go-lucky reputation as children grow up thinking of LEGO toys as laden with anger and fear.” Petroff has also noted that the university said that, “‘designers of toy faces should take great care to design the expressions and to test their effects since toys play an important role in the development of children.’” Therefore, LEGO figures as they are presently, threaten to teach children the wrong value of violence, and not just teach them this value, but teach them that conflict should be resolved through violence. According to scout.com, in an article entitled War Toys, violent toys fuel the culture of violence that is so prevalent in today’s world, especially here in Trinidad and Tobago.
The toys targeted at girls are no less ridiculous, although perhaps less violent. In 2011, for instance, Mattel released a $50 limited edition collector’s item Barbie, with a ‘bad new look,’ as writer Megan Gibson notes in New Barbie Has Pink Hair and Tattoos, and Some Parents Aren’t Happy About It, posted on newsfeed.time.com. The doll, according to the article, “has a chin-length pink bob, punk-style clothing and tattoos running down her arm and around her collarbone.” She also has a cactus- covered pet pooch named Bastardino as Tamara Abraham noted in her piece on dailymail.co.uk, Pink hair, leopard leggings... and tattoos: Barbie gets inked for fashion makeover - but what message does this send to her young fans? But take heart, Bastardino is merely Italian for mongrel or pooch. The tattoos, however, well that is another story and parents have taken issue with the doll’s tattoos. Gibson writes that one parent wrote on twixt that, “‘I think it is horrible and sends the wrong message to young people. In no way should a tattoo be honored.”’ Others, according to Gibson, “likened tattoos to behavior that’s illegal for children.” For instance, one parent suggested that Mattel should just put a beer and cigarette in her daughter’s hand. And the parents are justified, the way I see it. Tattoos are associated with and suggest a certain type of lifestyle, a gang-banging one for that matter. Too often, parents dismiss things like this and pass if off as cute, but the toys, along with the media and video games send messages to children, and toys like these do not send the right message.
It should be noted that the 2011 doll is not the first tattooed Barbie introduced by Mattel. In 1999, according to Gibson, Mattel came out with “Butterfly Art Barbie” which received a huge amount of complaints from parents so that the doll had to be pulled from shelves. And in 2009, according to the same article by Gibson, Mattel came out with “Totally Stylin’ Tattoos Barbie,” which also received some backlash, but because of high sales, the dolls were not pulled from the shelves.
Some might contend that questionable toys have been around for some time now. In effect, war toys, like toy soldiers, toy guns and other war-like toys have been coming under heat for years now as indicated in the article War Toys on scout.com. Nonetheless, this does not change the fact that many of the type of toys marketed at children, especially the usually harmless ones like LEGO and Barbie (Gibson, in her article, believes that Barbie was harmless from the start for sending the message that all women should aspire to look a certain way), have worsened in their design so that they send the wrong messages to children.
Some toys are just outright inappropriate for children. It is common knowledge by now that children are quite impressionable. Parents might feel that, whatever the toy or how it looks, it is just a toy and it is harmless. But toys send messages and are a crucial part of the development of children; parents should be careful when purchasing toys for their children.