I have never striven to be one of those parents.
You know the ones I mean. The ones who would rather commit seppuku than allow their children to consume high fructose corn syrup. Whose children will only set foot in a fast food restaurant by stepping over their parents’ cold, dead bodies blocking the door. Who insist on nothing but hand-knitted sock puppets made from homespun wool and sewn with eyes made from the wood of trees that blew over naturally in a windstorm.
Not one of those parents. Our son has had McNuggets. While I don’t think he’s ever had soda (though maybe he has at his grandparents’ house and I’ve blocked it from my memory) and we don’t keep it or juice in the house, if he has the occasional soft drink I really don’t care. And I know for a fact he consumes a Montessori-unapproved amount of television and movies.
Have I established my cred as a non-doctrinaire parent? That I’m not some stern martinet, pursing his lips in disapproval of all that is artificial or commercial? (None of that is to say that I don’t get into far too many utterly fruitless battles of will with my son, almost all of which serve no useful purpose other than to remind me of my own powerlessness.) I like to think I’m relatively mellow regarding the corrosive effects of the modern world on my children’s physiology and psyches.
But man, some of those toys make me want to go all Waldorf in our house.
Now, let me make something clear. My son is… I think we’re using the term “spirited.” He is quite content to draw on his chalkboard or sit quietly with a book from time to time, but he is also very much a rambunctious (often truculent) preschooler. He can get riled up with a handful of tennis balls. So I’m not going to sit here and moan that buttons and flashing lights are warping his little mind.
However, I do wonder if some of the nifty new playthings kids have these days don’t have a deleterious effect on their play. Specifically on their ability to pretend and form their own imaginative worlds.
The shiny new prize that set me off was a Woody doll, as in from “Toy Story.” The Critter got a totally awesome “Toy Story” parcel from his grandparents, replete with all three movies, several related games, as well as Buzz Lightyear, Woody and Jessie dolls. (As I said, an awesome package on many levels, not least of which is that it gave me the opportunity to see the amazing final installment at long last.) The Woody doll says a handful of things when you pull the string on his back, à la the film. However, he also laughs when one “tickles” his stomach, à la the second film (in which it is revealed that he is ticklish).
Damned if I didn’t have the hardest time figuring out how to hold the fool thing without it talking. I was trying to play with my kid along the lines of the story he wanted to make up (which involved fighting a giant, for the record), and protests of ticklishness were a distraction from the imagined storyline. Grasping the doll around the chest turned out to be the best solution, and we proceeded with vanquishing the giant. But I suspect my son, who will quite contentedly “play” with Buzz Lightyear by simply pressing his various buttons over and over and over until the batteries die, will not be motivated to find a grip that doesn’t trigger the freaking speaker when he plays with the doll on his own, and will likely just make it talk over and over and over.
Am I crazy to think that maybe the people who eschew this kind of toy have a point? Given a choice between games and toys that require a little more thought to make them fun, my son (who I believe to be totally normal in regard) will opt for the ones that entertain with more ease. I worry that playing with toys that do the pretending for him will leave those skills underdeveloped.
Maybe this is all just so much hand-wringing on my part. As mellow and non-alarmist as I try to be as a pediatrician, I am much more prone to anxiety and self-doubt as a parent. (I am also awful at taking my own advice.) Heck, I could probably dig up some expert somewhere to provide an “everything bad for you is good for you” take on all of this. Maybe this worry is silly.
But worry I do. And sometimes I think maybe becoming more like those parents isn’t such a bad idea after all.