Toy Makers Pushing Electronics

To help increase sales, toy manufacturers are pushing electronics this year, cell phones for six year olds, projectors for 8 year olds, Disney is selling mix sticks, a $49 digital music player for children 6 and older. Hasbro is pushing a digital video camera, called the Vcam, that can take still photos and short movies for only $79 and is target for children 8 and up. This from,

For decades, toy makers have designed products that allow children to mimic adult behavior, but it was, in the end, always make-believe. No matter how many electronic bells and whistles the latest toy truck had, it was still a toy. But with the latest crop of electronics for children ages 6 to 12, there is little pretending. The adult product and the child’s are often one and the same.

Bratz, a line of dolls whose curvy figures and up-to-the-minute fashions have turned it into a $2.5 billion global brand, has discovered a threat even bigger than Barbie: 12-year-old girls like Ashley Rivera.

A member of the first generation to embrace Bratz, which reached the market in 2001, she is looking past Cloe, Roxxi and Sasha this holiday season in favor of–what else?–an iPod.

But instead of giving up on the girls who turned Bratz into a blockbuster, the dolls’ manufacturer is aggressively chasing after them, not with bigger and better Bratz characters but with digital video cameras and MP3 players. “We don’t look at ourselves as a toy company,” said Isaac Larian, chief executive of MGA Entertainment, the private company that owns Bratz. “The toy market, to be frank, is just shrinking.”

Great, this is just what I need, my seven year old and my two year old yelling for cell phones just like my twelve year old. I realize things are different nowadays, but when I was growing up, Hot Wheels and Matchbox cars were the big toys, along with the Tonka trucks, toys you had to build stuff to go with, you had to use your imagination to have any fun with them. Today, the most imagination you need is where to set the Xbox or the TV, sure, you can get creative in some of these games, but how many kids really do? My kids will get some toys from Hasbro, LeapFrog and others, but none of them will be cell phones or video projectors.

“There is a whole muddling of what is means to be a child,” said Gary Cross, a professor of history at Pennsylvania State University and author of “Kids’ Stuff: Toys and the Changing World of American Childhood.” Referring to this year’s electronics, Duncan Billing, chief marketing officer at Hasbro, conceded, “It’s tough to classify them as pure toys.”

Critics of the trend say high-tech gadgets offer a limited range of activities–like taking a photo or making a phone call–and most are designed for an individual, rather than a group, reducing their value as a tool for teaching children how to share and solve problems.

“Too much technology in a toy reduces time spent developing the social, personality and character skills needed for life,” said Marianne Szymanski, creator of Toy Tips, an independent research firm based in Milwaukee.

Okay, you might be able to imagine someone talking to you on a cell phone, my two year old already does, but what else could you do with it, other than argue with your friends about who gets to play with it? If these toy companies want to make more money, I say don’t advertise as much, save money on branding, etc, the only good electronics toys for kids are the ones that help them learn or help them use their imagination.