I was walking through the isles of the toy section of a local farm and hardware store with my wife. We tend to support local businesses wherever we can. So we had made a special trip to this store to get a few winter items for the kids.
Since Christmas is just a month or so away, the store was filled with all sorts of things that children would like. Our 3 year old was drawn to the toy truck/tractor section. As he was being mesmerized by the blinking, talking, action-oriented vehicles, we were looking at the traditional toys that we know from our past. You know things like John Deere tractors and Tonka trucks. In the case of Tonka, the wonderful metal toys they used to offer were not to be seen. Our disappointment almost turned to despair when we realized that most of the John Deere tractors were manufactured in the People’s Republic of China.
We got to talking about the nature of the toys that are available to our children. So much is made inexpensively and oriented to noise and action. We wondered two things. The first is what is the consequence for our children in terms of the activation of their imagination. Our son, was fascinated with toys that had buttons and made sounds. How does this support his play? Aren’t these toys he was playing with a bit like training him to be an effective robot pushing the right button when the right stimulus appears?
The second and probably more troubling concern is a complete disconnection between our children and the people who made the toys. Over 95% of the toys in this store were “Made in China”. They are made to meet a desire to have cheap toys that are flashy and entertaining. Little or no concern on a number of concerns starting with the toys true educational value.
This trend is pervasive in our culture. How many children (or adults) have a sense of what is involved in producing what we buy? How many of us know the impact on our long-term economic viability, the cost to the environment or the effect on our children of our buying choices of everything from toys to food to clothing to entertainment?
I know there are plenty of times I buy without a thought to these questions. Who is thinking about them? For the most part, not those who provide the good and services I buy. It is my responsibility. So when I buy anything, I MUST remember what is important to me before I buy anything. I ask myself how will this purchase supports those values and what is the impact of this purchase. If I am satisfied with my answers, great, then I go ahead and buy. If not, well, maybe I should practice a bit of restraint.