A recent advertisement by Toys “R” Us has stirred a great deal of controversy as of late and there really is no question as to why. Toys “R” Us pits nature vs. toys (consumption), with a group of school children who are fooled into thinking that they are going on a nature field trip, but instead are surprised with a trip to their favorite toy store. Through the power of scripting and editing, we are lead to believe that children hold no interest in the outside world and are solely interested in playing with toys. I think one thing became apparent throughout the video, and that is children love to play. No matter what environment they are in. If it is engaging and fun, then you have their attention.
I am not sure if I am just getting older and finding ways to compare what my childhood was to the children of now, but I think by and large kids want to play; it is inherent in their nature to do so. How they play I think is also important as I feel a great majority of what we learn as children is through the simple act of play. Do some research on this topic and there are a multitude of studies on learning through play, as well as the qualitative attributes of the kinds of play we engage in.
So why is this ad so disturbing. To me, from the perspective of the children and toys, it is not. It can be argued that I am a 33-year-old “child” with his expensive set of toys that allow me to go and play on the river. I don’t think toys are the problem so much here, but instead what the toys enable. Do they encourage self-discovery or raise questions of the nature of our environment around us? Or are they a mindless distraction that only encourage the act that Toys “R” Us hopes to encourage; consumption.
In one way or another I am not only a kayak instructor, but also a steward for the medium we get to travel downstream on. Inadvertently, whether you wanted to or not, you learn a great deal about the unique characteristics of a river environment when you learn to whitewater kayak, including what is at stake. Any outdoor activity for that matter gives you a greater sense and connection to the natural environment around you. Even the days I spent playing basketball on the blacktop when I was an adolescent gave me reverence for being outdoors with fresh air.
By and large the folks who forgot how to play are people that are my age or even older, and I think that is the target audience of this particular ad. Kids already know how to play and know that toys are just one way of doing so. I think what Toys “R” Us is saying is, “parents, if you want to make your children happy, come buy them toys.” In a time of human ecology where children spend less time with parents than ever, parents are forced to find ways to give instant gratification to their children to gauge their success as a parent. The instant gratification is a two-way street, it is not only for their child, but for themselves. This is a temporary fix of course and the child and parent will continue to long for more and this is where Toys “R” Us has been effective with this ad. Spending time learning about the environment takes time and communication. When time is in such a short surplus, why bother when you have the instant gratification of toys.
I assume that is why I feel this ad is all the more disturbing, and I am not alone in that assumption as this video has made its rounds through national television as well as the web. But I did enjoy this article’s perspective and glimmer of hope with children and what they find interesting. I sometimes think it’s funny that no matter how intelligent we think we are as adults, there is always so much insight to be gained through our youth.
What are your thoughts on this subject?