Toys That Give Kids More Choice
You might have heard about 13-year-old McKenna Pope, who got Hasbro to make the Easy-Bake Oven in less “girly” colors. Till now, the Easy-Bake was one of those classic American toys marketed to girls, just like trucks have most frequently ended up with boys.
Now it turns out there’s a scientific reason why aiming for toys that serve both girls and boys could be the way to go.
Advertisers are great at getting kids to want what they’re selling, and all too often those toy ads plastered everywhere this time of year are aimed at “girls” or “boys.” It’s not just retailers; before a new baby arrives, parents decide whether to paint a nursery pink or blue. At birthdays and holidays, girls get princess decorations, boys get superheroes.
Some parents opt for gender-neutral toys. But many others are unaware that the toys they give their children can reinforce stereotypical gender roles.
“They may be more aware of it for boys, so boys playing with a doll or trying to do Barbie’s hair or whatever may be punished for defying gander roles as opposed to girls who would play with boy toys,” said Germine Awad, an assistant professor of educational psychology at UT at Austin. “There’s more loss of status for boys.”
Awad says that punishment often takes the form of teasing from other kids.
Venessa Zepeda, a counselor who works with young children, says she spends a lot of time reminding kids they can be whoever they want to be. And changing up toy choices can be liberating.
“Especially with young girls, coming from my background, being Hispanic, being from the Valley, we’re taught to believe we have a just a set role, and that’s to be a mother, at least in my culture,” Zepeda said. “And so as a counselor I try to empower girls, tell them there’s more to life than what they see at home.”
Zepeda says her daughters inspired her to write a book encouraging girls to be brave, imagine their potential and break stereotypes. She called it Superhero Princesses. But there’s another reason educators stress the need to switch up toy choices. Achievement.
“The most serious issues is when girls are not given toys that are stimulating, that help them solve problems like Legos or building toys that help with the mental rotation of objects,” Zepeda said. “When those toys are marketed solely for boys, for example, girls are not learning those important skills that end up helping with science and math, for example.”
A recent study shows that just 13 percent of engineers in the U.S. are women. Another says women make up less than 17 percent of top corporate board positions. Awad says parents can work to avert gender differences in math and science with the toys they choose for children.