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The choice of toys that make it into a children’s room and who decides on them depends largely on the child’s age. The older the child, the more autonomous its decision about what it wants to have around. Whereas initially, adults play the decisive role when it comes to choosing a product, a child will develop personal preferences once it goes to nursery school or Kindergarten. Playing and toys, next to being a pleasant way to pass time and learn, also express a child’s affiliation with a peer group.
A parent’s taste and intention alone are not decisive – a child’s social environment is increasingly important. The decision either in favour or against a licenced product or product category is for the child alone to make: “I wish to identify with a specific group around me – and distinguish myself from another group to the same extent.” But still, this decision is naturally not entirely separate from the parents’ values and preferences. They share their conception of the world through their education. Based on the parents’ imprint, a child will later develop its own ideas as to what it likes to surround itself with. A mixture between influences from parents, peers, role models and media are the result.
Dads are ever more aware of their role and example function and impart their own values to the child through the way they live. This perception of educational responsibility is becoming visible also by the growing share of fathers taking parental leave.
The media landscape equally reflects the fatherly interest in education and thus also in the child’s product environment: men’s magazines such as Men’s Health publish special issues dedicated to fathers and thereby promote how to combine the role of being a man with that of being a father.
And even toy makers target product lines for small children to fathers. The soft toy maker Sigikid, for example, launched the “Papa & Me” line which tries to bridge the gap between stereotypical masculinity and an infant’s cuteness.
The entire discussion about what is termed the ‘new dad’ not only impacts the obvious aspects of taking care of a baby and a child’s education, but naturally also touches on areas like toys. This topic is closer to men’s hearts, anyhow. It therefore comes as no surprise that they are more strongly committed on toys because of a greater ease of access. Toy groups have even caught on to this by now, which is why Mattel, for example, called a campaign to life that goes by the name #DadsWhoPlayBarbie.
Marco Krahl, deputy editor in chief at Men’s Health
The hashtag #DadsWhoPlayBarbie is all about men who share quality Barbie-play time with their little ones.
Robert Franken, Digital & Gender Consultant, aptly makes the connection between daddy-time spent with the child and the choice of toys:
Men should spend time with their offspring to make sound, informed decisions as a father, and this applies even and especially when it comes to toys. It is a personal matter close to my heart that my son is not confronted with gender clichés and obsolete role models from his early childhood days on.
Be it mum or dad, every time parents play with their children, they convey their own biography and values to their offspring, also through the product environment which they choose.
In light of multi-media gaming worlds that children of digital natives grow up with, the bright spot is that this highlights more bridges towards ‘digital’ parent-child bonding: The new generation of parents know their digital game worlds and gaming. That is a definite advantage of today’s dads over those of past decades whose children moved in completely different game worlds to the ones they experienced in their childhood.
True: The process of involving dads in the decision-process is still in its infancy. But the trend towards more daddy-involvement is clearly noticeable. It is thus now the job of toy makers to help them reach the next phase so that male role models adopt their educational influence in the future with great joy and in a positive way. Internal studies by toy makers emphasise this, says Marco Krahl. “Their findings are the same: Fathers contribute more these days to the decision on which toys to buy than they did ten or twenty years ago.”
The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Spielwarenmesse eG.