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.
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.