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Think Twice Before Giving Your Child a Disease as a Birthday Present

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I like toy stores. Seeing the old classics (Legos, pogo sticks, balsa wood gliders, etc.) always provides a pleasant reminder of childhood innocence.

Yet on a recent visit to my local toy store, my reminiscing received a disturbing jolt.

Turning a corner, I found myself confronted with colorful representations of various disease microbes like “Cholera,” “Anthrax,” and “The Pox”! Each was a huggable-looking stuffed toy with big playful eyes. They were also tagged with “Fact” descriptions noting the prevalence and frequency of each ailment.toy

All I could think was: Why? Don’t we hear enough about health problems on television commercials? Now dreaded diseases are being represented as attractive, lovable toys for children to adore! 

What would you think if your little one unwrapped a birthday gift only to exclaim, “I’ve got polio!” A 2007 Newsweek article addressing the toys noted, “This combination of gag gift and educational toy can be an awkward marketing fit. Toy stores steer clear of STDs, and [the manufacturer] aims bugs like HIV at health-care professionals…”

Are these really the type of “educational” toys to give small children? I can think of so many more important things to teach children than about cholera or the black death. And the toy store I visited didn’t get the message about steering “clear of STDs.” The stuffed “Herpes” toy was front and center.

I asked the woman at the register about the colorful stuffed microbes and she told me they were popular with doctors and nurses. OK, fair enough, but why are they being sold in a children’s toy store?  

For instance, each tag includes a child safety precaution that notes, “Remove plastic hangtags and ribbons before giving to a child under three years of age.” Does this mean there is an educational motive to get children over three years old to read which stuffed disease microbe they are snuggling up with for the night? Sounds like some scary science fiction novel, doesn’t it?

It reminds me of the Stockholm Syndrome. Patty Hearst was said to suffer from this malady during her captivity, becoming so mesmerized by her long-time captors that she grew to embrace them. These toys make me wonder whether our society has become so saturated with health fears and concerns that we too feel helpless, and are now suffering from the same syndrome, embracing the inevitability of diseases.

Surrounding children with reminders of disease and potential health problems goes against scientific studies that indicate how important thought is to maintaining good health. Nocebo studies and the science of epigenetics are discovering the importance of our mental environment and the thoughts we embrace.

I would rather surround a three-year-old with stuffed toys that are tagged with the words “loved,” “cherished,” “nurtured,” “healthy,” and “safe.”

Even the Bible notes, “whatsoever things are of good report; … think on these things.”

I’m grateful I grew up with a trusted teddy bear and a calm assurance and understanding that good health was normal and should be expected.

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About Bill Scott

Professionally, I'm a licensed architect in both Washington and California State. I love architecture, but when it comes to priorities, it’s hard to top good health. That’s why I’ve shifted my interest from the physical to the mental environment that we abide in. My articles focus on presenting helpful ideas regarding the important connection between what we think and our health. I’ve been writing for Blogcritics and other online and print publications since 2011 and I was published in the international medical/science journal, "Global Advances in Health and Medicine" in 2012. I also serve as the media and legislative liaison for Christian Science in Washington State. Feel free to contact me at: washington@compub.org or on Twitter @WilliamEdScott.
  • http://www.squidoo.com/lensmasters/IanMayfield Dr Dreadful

    I would have thought giving children stuffed toys representing diseases for their birthday was the least of our worries, especially when there are plenty of idiot parents giving kids actual diseases for their birthday by refusing to get them vaccinated.

  • KG

    They’re made for science geeks. If you don’t like it, don’t buy them. Personally, I love the idea that kids can see in plush form the diversity of shapes in our microbe world.

  • http://www.lunch.com/JSMaresca-Reviews-1-1.html Dr. Joseph S. Maresca

    Children handle all kinds of toys in pre-kindergarten and the early grades. The thing to do is to discuss environmentally friendly cleansers with your medical provider.

    The typical environmentally friendly cleansers are baking soda, alcohol, white vinegar (for floors) and hydrogen peroxide. Definitely stay clear of substances loaded with inorganics.

  • http://0to60reviews.com Dan Barnes

    Perhaps the idea of a stuffed toy representing a disease needs rethinking, but the educative features here are important – surely the ability of these toys to spread disease awareness in young children is a good thing?

  • STM

    Geez, what happened to the good old days when a childhood was a childhood and a stuffed toy was called “Spot” … and not the kind of spots you get from smallpox or anthrax.

    Seriously, what’s going on with this planet?

    As for Dan’s reply above, a good idea? Not so much.

    Kids can be educated about deadly diseas when they’re about 14 or 15, by picking up a book and reading about it.

    In the meantime, let’s have rhe 0-13s actually having a childhood.

    Besides, where I come from there’s enough risks in nature for kids to worry about -including deadly massive ocean sweels, fast-flowing rivers and flash floods, bushfire, sunburn so bad it resembles a burn from a flame, riptides, crocodiles, sharks, deadly snakes and spiders, poison jelly fish and venomous octopus, stingrays, poison-spined shells and fish, canetoads, cockroaches the side of mice, rodent plagues, etc – without throwing deadly germs into the mix as well.

    I can teach my kids to spot a rip and how to get out of one if caught, or why you need to shake out your shoes every morning, but the idea of a olethora of deadly germs floating unseen in the air might just have tipped them over the edge.