Dr. Dana Johnson: Should Parents Avoid Electronic Toys, Such as Talking Dolls?

Originally published in the Wisconsin State Journal on January 24, 2013.

Dear Dr. Johnson: As a child, my mother wouldn’t allow me to have a doll that talked for fear it would hurt my creativity. Now, looking at toys for my own child, it seems that every toy talks, moves or has some way it is supposed to be played with. Should parents avoid electronic toys such as talking dolls?

Dear Reader: Most parents have had the experience of giving their toddler an expensive new toy just to have the child be more interested in the empty box than the toy. Children can make toys and find enjoyment with objects that we adults would consider mundane and boring. A cabinet of pots and pans or a drawer of plastic lids could entertain a 1 year old as long or longer than any new talking doll.

Children learn through play, so play — especially imaginative play — is a very important part of their development. I think unstructured play is a very important part of nurturing this development. This means the play is not dictated by adults, a structured program or the toy. The child is allowed to play how they want to without outside direction (unless it becomes unsafe, of course).

When perusing the toy-store shelves, it seems to be more and more difficult to find “simple” toys that don’t talk, move, interact with a computer or have some electronic component. While I agree that many of these sophisticated toys are cool and can be fun, some also can limit the ways with which the toy can be played.

If a toy dictates the activity and limits other options, this does not allow a child to use an incredible tool they have — imagination. Sometimes, children will overcome the seeming limitations of the toy and invent other ways to play with it, but this often requires extra effort.

Play should be mostly from the child with only a little direction from the toy. While many toys and videos claim to be “educational,” many do not have the science to back it up. I believe a set of blocks can be more educational than most computer games, videos or electronic toys. They can be used for sorting, stacking, knocking down, building trains and roads and unlimited other possibilities.

Now, I am not saying you need to discard all those shiny new toys from the holiday season. But do make sure you put them to the side from time to time and pull out what we as adults may see as boring. It may be a few empty boxes, some blocks or even some plastic bowls from the kitchen. Then just sit back and watch as your child invents all sorts of new activities and adventures.

Read more: http://host.madison.com/news/local/ask/dr-johnson/dr-dana-johnson-should-parents-avoid-electronic-toys-such-as/article_133a0c4a-64a0-11e2-8dbf-001a4bcf887a.html#ixzz2JItzk4dp

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