Project Ploughshares Calgary recently conducted its first toy audit in the city in an effort to steer parents away from violent toys and the stores that market them to young children.
“We felt that it’s really important that parents and children look at their toys and how violent they are” says program director Karen Huggins. “If we’re giving them really violent toys it’s teaching them that’s the way to solve conflict.”
The non-profit organization which aims to advance policies and actions that build peace found that independent toys stores were more likely to avoid violent items than large chain stores where stock is generally ordered and shipped by head office.
Huggins says playing with violent toys — “and I would put violent video games at the top of that list” — has a negative impact on the way children interact. “It would be nice if through play children could learn to be more co-operative” she adds. Project Ploughshares offers brochures on peaceful parenting which include resources for research on violent toys.
Huggins doesn’t dispute the standard argument that if you don’t give kids toy guns they’ll use sticks instead. In fact she says playing swords or guns with sticks is imaginative play and it’s not harmful as long as parents are providing context. However she says toys that are made to resemble real weapons or glorify war or video games that require harming or killing others to win fall into a different category.
Volunteers including Huggins went to 11 different toy stores and toy departments and looked at games and toys that encourage the use of weapons for solving conflicts; how the message was communicated on packaging; the location of toys and games on shelves and in displays; and whether video sections were following the Alberta ranking and age appropriate rules. Based on those observations the stores were rated as “excellent” (less than one per cent violent toys); “commendable” (a large selection of non-violent toys); “good” (mostly non-violent toys but some to avoid); “acceptable” (a higher percentage of violent toys); and “unacceptable” (a high selection of violent toys displayed at levels accessible to younger children).
At the top of the list Monkeyshines Once Upon a Child and Ten Thousand Villages were “excellent” followed closely by Castle Toys Discovery Hut and Gravity Kidz which were rated “commendable.” Livingstone & Cavell was found to be a “good” place for toys with plenty of non-violent options but the large assortment of military figures kept it from earning a higher rating.
“Calgary has some excellent excellent toy stores” Huggins says.
Of the larger toy stores visited Indigo Toys “R” Us and Sears were rated “acceptable” but Walmart was deemed “unacceptable.” Huggins says a visit to the Westbrook location revealed a high number of violent toys many of which were displayed at a toddler’s eye level. She adds that the video games were rated as required but even violent games were displayed in a way that was visible and accessible to young children.
“Walmart really took the lowest slot” she says. “They had a preponderance of violent toys especially guns.”
Walmart did not respond to requests for an interview by deadline.
Huggins says in some cases the main objection was a toy’s packaging as in the case of some Nerf guns. She adds that volunteers also noticed an increase in the level of violent toys being manufactured by Lego and Playmobil. Huggins encourages people to contact those companies to express their concerns directly. “Toys like Lego are very popular with kids so it’s really the companies that need to be targeted.”