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Pamela Paul Headshot

Raise the Price of Toys

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If you're a woman of a certain age -- not that old actually -- in your thirties, you'll remember the puffy sticker. You will remember, as I do, those moments during school recess when you and your fellow second-graders took out your sticker albums to show off and trade goods. And you will remember the supreme worth of the puffy sticker -- held in esteem above all other stickers -- glitter, fuzzy, even those shiny, almost vinyl-like stickers you'd get in the 25 cent gumball machine, often emblazoned with "Grease" or "AC/DC." The glory of the puffy Hello Kitty!

You'll remember the days when it was a huge deal to buy a new sticker at the stationary store. How the sales person had to be summoned to cut off a purchased sticker from one of the display rolls so that you could take home your prize. Stickers back then cost a dime or a quarter, no small sum, especially if like me, your allowance was 10 cents a week. (Yes, I'm in my thirties -- not my sixties!) Children once "made do" with allowances of less than a dollar.

And so, like me, you were probably initially thrilled when you saw how the price of a sticker has plummeted since our days of deprivation. Today, a mega made-in-China book of stickers sells for $6.99 at the local CVS and comes packed with over 100 pages of glossy stickers. 700 in all! as the cover burst blares. Naturally, I scooped one up for my then three-year-old daughter.

But here's what happened. Beatrice had too many stickers. WAY too many stickers. She had so many stickers she didn't know what to do. Rather than care for and treasure them the way I did , she wantonly stuck them on shoes, jeans, furniture, walls and the stroller. She stuck them on me and on her baby brother. The end result is that she couldn't care less about stickers. They are meaningless.

In our abundance, something has been lost.

The average child in America gets seventy new toys a year, and the United States, with 4 percent of the world's children, consumes 40 percent of the world's toys. This is doing our children no good. Rather than bulldozing their way through dozens of one-note, breakable, and possibly harmful toys, children benefit from repetitive use of old favorites, finding new ways to play with them as their minds mature and expand.

So many of us lament the fact that elementary, high school and even college students today seem creatively bankrupt, bereft of problem-solving skills, and completely lacking resourcefulness. Is it any surprise when we cater to them from infancy with a barrage of cheap toys. That they treat their playthings carelessly, fail to value material goods, and become indifferent to waste? And that they then complain of boredom as they get older?

Kids would be a lot better off getting five new toys a year and playing with them 50 different ways. The best toys, after all, are the ones that look most "boring" from the outside. A good rule of thumb is that toys should be 10% toy, 90% child. It's what a child puts into a toy that counts. Take plain wooden blocks. At two months, a baby chews on the block and learns what wood tastes and feels like. At six months, he learns to throw the block and at ten months, he bangs them together. By age four, he is building castles and bridges.

Toys are so cheap that it's hard to rationalize not buying them. But perhaps we need to raise the price of toys so that parents and children learn to value them again.

In the meantime, get rid of the toys -- or better yet, give them away. Cut down on the useless childrearing paraphernalia. You'll be giving your child a lot more.