This post was written by Colleen Vanderlinden. Photo Credit: Tracheotomy Bob/Creative Commons.
I've been reading a lot lately on blogs and in magazines about parents banning their kids from having certain kinds of toys. Barbies, Disney Princesses, and Bratz dolls seem to be the toys most often on the cutting block for girls, toy guns for boys.
I can understand the desire to reduce our kids' exposure to certain kinds of toys. I get the theory that Barbie is an example of the unattainable perfection that drives so many girls and women to despair. Disney Princesses (aside from the unattainable beauty thing) promise a happily ever after, courtesy of Prince Charming. Bratz dolls --- well. I abhor Bratz dolls. Toy guns, the argument goes, can lead to fascination with real guns, and desensitize our sons to the effects of violence.
I understand it. But I don't ban toys in my home (though I have been known to steer my daughters away from Bratz dolls. So far, it's worked.)Why I Haven't Banned Barbie
So, am I throwing my daughters to the sharks by letting them play with Barbie dolls? Am I resigning them to a future of self-loathing because they lack the tiny waist and gigantic boobs their Disney Princess dolls exhibit? I don't think so. If Barbie, or Disney Princesses, were the only things my girls played with, maybe I'd be more concerned. But my daughters have a variety of interests, from Disney Princesses, to soccer, art, computers, learning how to mod an arduino, playing the guitar and violin, running faster than everyone else, gardening, and a host of other things. Well-rounded is what I'm going for here. My kids (including my son -- I haven't banned toy guns, either) have been introduced to a wide range of interests, toys, books, and experiences. My girls have found, on their own, that most things are more interesting than Barbie et al, anyway.
There's another reason I haven't banned any of these toys. I want my kids to learn about the importance of making choices. They might pick up a Barbie, and then lament later on that they left that really nice art set on the shelf. They might have fun playing with Barbie -- that's fine with me, too. At this point, my girls play with Barbies like they're enacting one giant play. One day, Barbie is an explorer, searching for long lost ruins deep in the jungle. Another day, she has super powers, and has to save Woody and Buzz (from Toy Story) from the clutches of the evil Ken doll.
Toy guns lead to discussions about right and wrong, about real and pretend, about compassion and working together peacefully, and the dangers of real guns. Having Barbie around provides plenty of opportunities to discuss things like body image. My oldest girls both understand that Barbie is fake, that no real woman can or should ever look like her. They understand that what they DO is more important than how they look. They understand, basically, that just as Buzz and Woody, or Iron Man, are made-up things, so is Barbie. Kids are often smarter than we realize.
When it comes down to it, I respect my children's inherent intelligence and curiosity, and I have faith in my ability as a parent to help them make good choices, to help them separate reality from fiction. The day Barbie becomes more influential in my kids' lives than I am, is the day I declare myself a failure as a parent. Needless to say, I'm not all that worried about it.
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