Are you a victim of branded toys? Of emotional blackmail?……….The question thrown by ParentEdge had me introspecting over the last few days as a few scenes slowly played on before me. I was away at work while it was one of those days when my four-year-old wasn’t feeling on top of the world. When my in-laws could no longer handle a cranky grandchild, they had to take resort to a brand new model of a bulldozer (on my suggestion over the phone) kept ready for him in a cupboard stocked in advance with a few toys…..A friend once remarked out of surprise, on seeing me purchasing gifts for my son quite often, “Are you sure you are not getting him too much? It may not be all that good for his creativity, you know.” I had almost scoffed at his observation, not bothering to get into a debate. After all he was a friend.
Later, when my daughter was to come into my life, I sometimes wondered if we, the parents, would be able to meet the demands of two children with a single income (I was about to quit from my job), considering basketfuls of toys are not enough for today’s children and that I have heard people commenting how mothers are coming out in hordes today to pursue jobs to satisfy the never-ending demands for addictive materialistic pleasures for their children (this was a senior citizen’s observation – not mine). A well-wisher, a doctor by profession, on hearing my concern, said, “When your son turns seventeen, he is going to thank you for a sibling he got since his childhood days, not the expensive branded toys and gadgets he wanted but sometimes did not get during his childhood.” When in my seventh grade, I had a peep into the ‘strange’ world of the uber-rich kids of better-off nations then, and I got to know from our school Moral Science teacher how such children turning wayward was getting common, all attributed to having too much too early – “Steeped in a comfort zone brimming with all kinds of materialistic pleasures that include toys and gadgets and too much freedom before the maturity to handle it sets in, the children don’t know what to do with all that and are losing a sense of target”, she had said.
To a teenager’s mind, who grew up on a diet of chocolate bars ONLY during special occasions and modest gifts ONLY on birthdays from relations and some rare gifts from some guests who visited sometimes, my teacher’s words had sounded like “Grapes are sour!”. ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ India is suddenly seeing a lot of money with middle class parents where the mother too is working and simultaneously a market that is widening its jaws to draw in more and more children with high-end fancy toys and gadgets. On one hand, there is not enough time with the parents for their kids, on the other hand, there is more than enough money. Is it surprising that to strike a balance, the working mother fills in her child’s ‘empty’ hours with expensive toys? It all seems fine, particularly with the USPs like “Increases motor skills”, “Improves eye-hand coordination”, amongst many others, written loud and clear on the branded toy boxes. When there is much more than sufficient money and the child is attention-deprived, is there anything wrong with that? Or rather, isn’t there something actually good about the purchase of educational toys, more so the branded ones, no matter how expensive they are, because they are scientifically made, supposedly backed by a lot of research, to keep the young one engaged in constructive ways? Else, what is all that pile of money for? But then, the whole thing calls for a few minutes of looking beyond what catches the eye.
If too many toys fill up the waking hours, then where is the room for books (it goes without saying that children will prefer a toy to a book, no matter how much of a bookworm one is) and where is the scope for creativity? Didn’t we devise our own games during our childhood days to never allow rainy evenings forcing us to stay indoors dampen our spirits? My son and his friends got fascinated by a bey-blade stadium, a recent acquisition of one of their circle – it was phenomenally priced. When the message came from the mothers that it was found to be too expensive and not worth it, two of them got down to the business of making one on their own!
I am yet to know about the success of their mini-venture and the utility of the final product, but it definitely delighted many mothers around! And yes, the boys were surely getting innovative there! Getting too much, sometimes before asking for it – does it help in valuing things? How do you explain the dolls and toys from our childhood years still adorning the showcases of our parental homes? Even at that tender age, the single basket of play materials that filled our free hours drove home the point that one’s own belongings have to be valued because if lost or spoilt, they wouldn’t be replaced. Over the years, it translated to value for money.
There is something called delayed gratification. It teaches us patience. It shows us one may not get everything one wants from life – that it is nothing abnormal to cap our endless desires sometimes. How dangerous it would be to have a big fraction of a generation growing up with the strong belief that anything is attainable – during the junior years wouldn’t it make them somewhat insensitive to their less lucky friends all the more? Wouldn’t it silently encourage them to obtain something by hook or by crook, if it is not achieved by fair means? Think of the frustration when something one sets one’s heart on is not achievable for reasons beyond one’s control! Even if we sat on loads of cash, and generously poured it on expensive gadgets, is there any limit there? Does it end anywhere? Are we at all teaching our children to draw the line somewhere and say ‘STOP’ when necessary? Single-income families have a different problem to grapple with here. It’s not too much of toys, but handling the emotional blackmail.
Which mother in the world wants her child to feel bad when everyone else in his group owns and discusses about some branded toy that has newly come in the market? The peer pressure (has toddlers to teens in its clutches) goading the child to crave for that branded toy is something many mothers succumb to – reluctantly though. The hole it drills into the pocket has to be compensated by cutting down on something else – maybe something better and sometimes necessary – say, a short trip to some place. Isn’t it time the grandparents woke up to the occasion, took charge, and swapped roles with these new-age, branded, pricey playthings? And to think of the ‘Go green’ way of life we keep talking about (is it a fashion to discuss it or do we really believe in ‘Go green’?).
The majority of today’s toys are made from plastic and synthetic materials, unlike yesteryears’ nature-friendly toy materials like clay, stone, rock and wood, that didn’t choke the earth the way many non-biodegradable, branded toys of today are doing. Ever wondered why topics like child obesity, childhood diabetes and reduced academic performance never made it to the news in the past? It’s a pity, but many young children of our city guiltlessly settle for an hour of gadget-time in lieu of an active hour in the midst of friends in fresh air in the park or playground that would do tons of good to their brain and body. What about social skills? Aren’t they getting neglected? What about the lazy hour spent with the toy alone? Or an hour spent before the screen?
With famous companies investing time into research and money into coming up with exorbitantly priced (but highly addictive for the young children of impressionable age) gadgets for today’s rich parents to quickly grab them to give them the feeling “This will keep my child happy,”, the laws of toy-making art has slowly but silently changed – a strong skill that inspired creativity in children has been stolen by the money-making toy manufacturers of today. Our famous ex-president APJ Abdul Kalam had once observed we are very much into collecting foreign products. He said – Self-respect comes from self-reliance. Often, without batting an eyelid, we shell out thousands for a branded toy, never or rarely sparing a thought for the local toys coming from manufacturers striving to make their mark in this toy industry or like the Channapatta wooden toy makers from our very own India are struggling for survival. And now realization dawns on me when I am reminded of how my father scouted the markets for days to get a wooden toy for my son on his birthday, not falling to the temptation of numerous branded toys made of plastic. Was he trying to pass on a strong message to all of us? Maybe we could go for a balanced mix of reasonably priced branded toys (that do not encourage long, sluggish hours at home on a chair) and locally made toys that promote the inborn creativity in children and inspire them to come up with better versions of them on their own (with a little bit of science acquired from books and school). Is it only to appease the child or is it also to feed our ego that we go for pricey toys? “Yes, I can afford it, so what’s the big deal?
For the people raising a hue and cry over it, it’s just ‘Grapes our sour’!” and disdainfully we can walk away, shaking our heads at how a storm is being created over a teacup. Before many of you readers bare your fangs and come baying for my blood, saying “Enough of this preaching!”, please do let me tell you this – * After I left work, it took me quite sometime to realize I had perhaps been on my way to creating a Frankestein in my own home. * I thought it strange that my son still hankered for toys even though I was at home and he got my company.
Fact is the damage had already been done! Addiction to toys had already set in, something that I had unwittingly created in him! * It took more than a year for some sense to prevail on him. I sincerely hope mothers would think twice before falling for such expensive, branded toys quite often. I tried not to sound preachy, but to be honest, I spoke from my heart – I spoke from my own experience and from what I have seen around. As somebody had put it, an hour of one-to-one time with the parent is thousand times more precious than a box of high-end toys and gadgets from the best manufacturers of the world. Toys, irrespective of their price tags and brands, would eventually be forgotten but NOT the memories of those precious hours in the company of a loving parent. Let us not sacrifice the unalloyed, fine things of childhood at the altar of “too less time for kids but too much money for them”.