Did you know around 97% of kids under 6 in the US own products based on TV shows or movies?
So what you might ask? It’s not like they do any harm is it?
I’m not so sure.
I pretty much managed to avoid the branded TV and movie merchandise toy for over 4 years.
But last year, the inevitable happened.
I became powerless at the hands of the inescapable, ubiquitous, all seeing Disney Empire.
I became victim to… (Ok, shoot me now)
Yes, her from Frozen.
How I wish I could let that one go.
This stubborn, fiery and slightly less popular sis to Elsa was the first truly branded merchandise spin off toy that I actually, physically, totally, madly, unwittingly bought as a Mother.
If truth be known, I secretly felt a bit guilty.
Everyone had one and how the hell do you explain to a 3 year old that the toy is a fad and they are being preyed upon by an aggressive marketing machine that has no interest in their imaginative play and development whatsoever. They just want Mummy’s £29.99.
Honestly? You can’t.
Because you sound mean. And probably a bit mad to a 3 year old.
Now, perhaps many a parent will say their kids play with their branded spin off toys all the time (and power to them if they do).
But so far, Anna, in all her glittering finery, has come out once. (And just to be clear, I don’t mean ‘out’, out, I mean ‘out’ the toy box).
And that was to a teddy bear’s picnic, where ALL the toys came out en masse anyway.
And even then she played an extremely minor ‘bit part’ to the bustling array of feathery and furry soft toys angling for tea and hot cross buns.
Plus, it only took my daughter minutes to complain that Anna’s clothes didn’t come off. Well, ok the skirt did, but the rest was PAINTED on. Ok, well technically the boots came off too, but only if you pried them off with brute force and an industrial pair of pliers. Or rang up the Incredible Hulk to do it.
Sorry, Anna, but as a piece of plastic you’re a bit boring.
You don’t really do or inspire anything except endless re-runs of the bit in the film where you jump of the cliff to escape the sticky clutches of the Marshmallow monster thing.
Who an earth was this toy designed to benefit?
It certainly wasn’t my child.
Love them or loath them, TV and film spin off toys and fad toys are, however, everywhere. And they are most definitely here to stay.
But they make me cross. And I exercise my right as a human being and as a mum NOT to buy them.
Here are 5 reasons why…
1 – TV Show & Movie Branded Toys Are Designed To Make Money
TV show and movie inspired merchandise toys are designed to sell.
And they are designed to make money. And LOTS of it.
They are not designed to actually benefit a child at all. That is not their purpose.
I was gobsmacked when I read on Adweek that Disney licensed merchandise sales were set to hit $30 BILLION in 2008 (imagine what they are now!)
Now, you could of course argue that all toys are designed to make money. And yes they are.
But more traditional toys such as these ones, actually nurture a child’s imaginative play, which is pivotal to a child’s development.
This is something TV and movie spin off (and most fad) toys generally fail to do.
Cue number 2:
2 -TV Show & Movie Branded Toys Are Not Likely To Enhance Your Child’s Development (And Most Are Not Even That Fun)
TV show and movie based toys are generally very one dimensional or ‘conceptually fixed’ as Simplicity Parenting puts it (a great read btw on how to simplify your child’s life for the better).
And whilst they may conjure up memories of scenes from the film or TV programme, which may get re-enacted a few times, after that they tends to be very limiting in opening up new creative ideas for play.
Play is how children learn from a very early age. It’s through play that they engage and interact with the world around them, allowing them to develop their imagination, as well as physical, cognitive and emotional abilities. Play is even crucial to healthy brain development.
Parents.com have a good article about the importance of play here.
In fact, kids really don’t need hundreds of toys – they simply need a few that will nurture and open up creative and imaginative possibilities.
What are the toys my little lady repeatedly gets out to play with?
The Lego, the wooden train set, the teddy bears tea set, bubbles, the paper and pens, the dressing up gear, the puzzles, her toy piano, the clay and play dough, the marbles games.
I.e. educational, tactile and imaginative toys and activities that engage her.
What are the toys she repeatedly asks for?
The Elsa’s and the Anna’s of course.
But Elsa and Anna as plastic toys are really not all that engaging.
But pop my little lady in a fairy or witches dress, armed with a powerful plastic wand and we’re off to magical worlds filled with dragons and castles.
Give her a wooden train set or some lego and we’ll build towns and imaginative worlds to die for.
Children are tactile and live through their senses.
Children are natural explorers.
Children are imaginative.
For me, toys should nurture these natural instincts, not dumb them down or have the primary purpose of promoting a TV programme or movie.
3 – TV Show & Movie Branded Toys Are A Bit Like Drugs
TV show and film inspired merchandise generally give a quick fix, but this invariably wears off pretty quickly, leaving your child wanting for more.
In fact they can often lead children on a never ending journey of wanting more and more ‘stuff’ – be it newer, updated products or additional products from movie sequels.
Or worse – give your child the subconscious message that they won’t ever be truly happy without the next big branded thing.
The risk is that they can open up a tantalising Yellow Brick Road of commercial possibilities to your child, rather than inspiring imaginative ones.
As Kim Payne put it in Simplicity Parenting, with regards to the endless movie merchandising products:
‘Whose imagination is being celebrated: Hollywood’s or the child’s?’
4 -TV Show & Movie Branded Toys Can Create ‘Have and Have Not’ Competition Between Kids
I’ve seen it happen first hand.
My Little Lady was desperate for an Elsa or an Anna doll, as all her female friends at nursery seemed to have one (or more!) and frequently asked each other things like ‘do you have one’.
The question may sounds innocent enough, but even at 3 I was already hearing an underlying subtext of competition.
You can limit your child’s exposure to advertising and as parents we can of course choose not to take the bait from aggressive advertising, but we can’t all live in bubbles either.
And at the end of the day, it’s not always easy to resist these toys – for parent or for child.
But long term, I can’t help but wonder what the effect might be.
An innocent ‘one off’ Anna, who gets relegated to the bottom of the toy box within a month is not likely to do much harm, but long term, keeping up with peer pressure for the next ‘must have’ My Little Pony, Disney princess or Hannah Montana product can start to erode a child’s sense of what is really important.
5 -TV Show & Movie Branded Toys Have No ‘Staying Power’
TV show and movie inspired toys are a bit like those ‘best friends’ we sometimes make way too quickly, which then implode just as fast (the friendships, not the friend!), as they weren’t built on anything very sound (or is that just me!;)
The toys are the ‘best thing ever’ for a few weeks, then the fix wears off (back to number 3 again!) and they invariably end up at the bottom of the toy box, where they remain for eternity gathering dust.
TV show and movie toys tend to have a expiry date and very little staying power.
They are more about being ‘in vogue’ that they are about any long term value or gain for the child in terms of inviting exploration or sensory development (in the way toy blocks or a wooden kitchen or doll’s house might).
This can also get really annoying for parents who fork out a small fortune on toys that, at the end of the day, just don’t cut it.
The Bottom Line (And The Antidote!)
I’ve come to the conclusions above, as a parent who wants the best for their child, in a society that doesn’t always seem to be working towards the same thing.
I’ve bought branded TV and movie toys like everyone else. A huge (and incidentally, unplayed with!) Minion stares menacingly at me as I speak.
And I’ll likely succumb again at some point.
Like most things it’s about balance.
If the odd Anna pops up in the house so your child doesn’t feel ostracised from her peers, it’s unlikely to herald the end of the world, but if the TV and movie spin off toys start to dominate the more traditional toys, which actually benefit and nurture our children’s development, I’d personally be looking to make some changes.
So what’e the antidote?
Keep things simple.
Ensure your child has a supply of age appropriate toys that nurture and enhance their development (not stifle it) and when they’ve out grown them, get rid of (or ideally recycle) them.
For a range of toys that will nurture and enhance your child’s development in ways the TV and movie inspired toy never will, check out these Cool Toys for Kids or Aha Parenting’s recommendations here.
If you are interested in simplifying your child’s toys, I also thoroughly recommend the book Simplicity Parenting:Using the Extraordinary Power of Less to Raise Calmer, Happier and More Secure Kids.