I recently asked my seven-year-old granddaughter what she wanted for Christmas. As a multi-religious tradition family, I tell people that I will celebrate any holiday that pays off in a gift for me!
My granddaughter’s reply was: "I want a girl thing."
Similarly, I have a nephew who looks rather disappointed when gifts he receives are craft-oriented or thinking kinds of things. But, give him a transformer or action figure, and he is immediately engaged, with a variety of shooting and exploding noises emanating from his play area.
As he becomes more able to read, he will also accept adventure books with a bit of violence thrown in!
Recently in Winnipeg, Project Peacemakers, a volunteer effort supported by local church organizations, did its annual assessment of toys available on the market for holiday shopping.
After visiting a number of chain and smaller toy shops around the city, they issued a report on what they favour, what they don’t and where they recommend that people shop for their children’s toys.
Peacemakers found that smaller, independent stores that tended to specialize in educational or alternative toys are the best for peace-oriented shopping. Examples would be Ten Thousand Villages, museum and art gallery gift shops and well-known merchants such as McNally-Robinson Booksellers and Toad Hall Toys.
The kids’ section manager at McNally-Robinson, located in Grant Park Mall in Winnipeg’s River Heights district, said:"That’s just the kind of people we are. We promote creativity, such as science, puzzles and crafts."
In the U.S., the Wall Street Journal’s Marketwatch column has reported that faith-based corporate responsibility organizations argue that current promotion of video games has meant younger children are being drawn into playing games that should be restricted to adults. These games are based around various superhero characters, war scenarios, space alien plots, crime and personal violence scenes, and car racing that easily attract youth’s attention.
The toy industry often reacts to these kinds of accusations, saying that there is no clear link between societal violence and the sale and use of specific kinds of toys.
Not everyone agrees.
The online HealthNewsDigest quotes Dr. Joel Steinburg, a Texas pediatrician, as saying that toy weapons and violent video games do indeed run the risk of encouraging negative behaviours.
The pattern is similar with sexist toys. Smaller outlets seek a different market than the mainstream big box stores, offering toys, games and clothes that avoid violent images, particular colours or branded character connections.
If you want to avoid buying a princess for your granddaughter, then you know what stores to avoid.
Here are some options to keep in mind if these issues are important to you:
• Choose games and toys that don’t reference violence or sexism. Aim to promote creativity, fun, teamwork and discovery. Keep the product you buy age appropriate, too.
• Avoid blues and pinks. Yellow and green are great colours.
• When you purchase a gift, make sure to engage the child in it. Don’t just hand it over. Get down on the floor or sit with them at the table and play it, examine it, go outside with it, help them try it on.
• Buy something that lasts. You want something that won’t tear or break right away. You also want something that will hold the child’s interest and not end up in the clothing or toy heap at the bottom of the closet.
• Make your gift an outing. Make a date to take a child to the museum or art gallery, to a movie or game, to a concert or favourite restaurant. Or take them with you to help at a holiday dinner for the poor or at a seniors’ home.
• Give your child, grandchild or other young family member the gift of supporting something important. Make a donation in their name to buy a goat in Kenya or a piece of the Trans-Canada Trail. Explain to them what this is about. It is the gift of inspiration.
• Give a fair trade gift. You can now buy clothing and sports balls that are fairly traded, as well as the usual food treats, such as chocolate, nuts or dried fruit.
While this column is being written for people who might be celebrating a holiday in the coming days, it also applies to birthdays and other events.
Thinking "outside the box" is something to keep in mind no matter what the gift-giving occasion might be.
Many of us talk about spending less and living more meaningfully. Here is our opportunity to do so.
» Zack Gross works for the Manitoba Council for International Cooperation (MCIC), a coalition of more than 40 international development organizations active in our province.