Authoritative psychologists assert that childhood plays the most important role in the formation of a child’s character, for instance, Freud states that a person’s character is already formed when he is at the age of five (Lear 257). Toys are part and parcel of childhood; this is why the importance of toys for childhood development, integration into the culture, and socialization of a child is unquestionable (Oravec 81).
It is necessary for the harmonious development of a child’s personality to acquire a sufficient amount of knowledge about the culture of the country he lives in. Sociologists define culture as “designs for living”: the values, beliefs, behavior, practices and material objects that constitute a people’s way of life” (Macionis and Plummer 106). Thus, it can be stated that toys are part of the culture, mainly, material culture, since they are “created by members of society” and are used by other members of society (Macionis and Plummer 106). However, toys are connected with non-material culture as well, as they influence “world of ideas”, making people produce and consume toys for the certain reasons (Macionis and Plummer 106).
In order to become an adequate cell of society, a child should receive and apprehend the essence of norms (“society’s standards of proper moral conduct”), folkways (“society’s customs”), and values (“standards people have about what is good or bad”) (Macionis and Plummer 113,111). Toys are elements of child upbringing, which may make an inestimable contribution to the development of a child, in case, if the choice of toys is done correctly, and if they are applied accordingly. To achieve this, toys should not be used on their own account, but parents’ comments, which contain cultural information, and which will reproduce algorithms of proper behavior in society. Still, toys, on their part, are also important bearers of information about society’s norms and values. Let us analyze the board game Monopoly, “the most popular game of all time”, “the best-selling proprietary game of all time” (Walsh 44). The same author states that “it balances skill and luck, provides shifts in power and moments of great suspense” (45). The game may be considered a simulation of life, which initiates the child into the world of adults with its norms, values and rules.
In the majority of cases, games and toys reflect the culture of society a child lives in. Nowadays due to the intense development of child psychology and numerous developing approaches to child upbringing, there appeared “cultural toys”, which are complex toys, introducing a child to the culture. They involve traditional national music, puppets dressed in folk costumes, elements of language in the form of speech models. At the same time, toys may also help to shape culture, making a modern element, such as a character of a cartoon or a film, a necessary element of culture.
Consequently, the role of toys in the process of socialization, which is “the way in which individuals are assisted in becoming members of social groups”, should not be underestimated (Grusec and Hastings 1). Toys may act as agents of socialization. For instance, nowadays interactive toys are very popular; they may help children learn about “specific values about friendship and conversational etiquette” (Oravec 82). What is more, interactive toys help to start building a relationship with a machine, which will be of great use in the future interaction with computer technologies?
However, toys may cause problems in a child’s socialization. Interactive toys, positioned as “friends” may form a distorted vision of friendship, as “alive” friends may not answer all questions immediately, etc. Besides, children tend to imitate the negative conduct of toys, such as demanding parents’ attention. There were cases when children were confused with the notion of “alive”, and they got psychological problems when their “Tamagotchi” died.
It is necessary to tackle the “gendered” nature of toys. Usually, department stores present “gendered” toys displays, where toys are grouped according to consumer’s demands: boys’ toys sections contain military toys, models of cars, and other equipment; girls’ sections contain dolls, “household utensils’ and soft toys. It is worth mentioning, that toys for toddlers do not differ much, as the realization of their belonging to a certain gender is not developed yet. Thus, toys for small children of both sexes include soft toys, rattles, bricks, etc. The primary function of these toys is to foster a child’s development, provide a child with necessary information about colors, shapes, etc. When children start to realize the sex they belong to, it is necessary to involve toys in the process of gender socialization. Toy cars help boys to get accustomed to means of transportation and mechanisms, dolls prepare girls for their primary function: a mother.
In conclusion, it should be mentioned, that toys have proved to be of great value for the development of a child’s personality and for the creation of social and cultural backgrounds. Still, the process of play should be controlled and assisted by the parents. This will help to avoid the harmful effect of toys, and in that case, a child’s upbringing is sure to be successful.
Grusec, Joan E. and Paul David Hastings. Handbook on Socialization: Theory and Research. NY: Guilford Press, 2006.
Lear, Jonathan. Freud. NY: Routledge, 2005.
Macionis, John J. and Kenneth Plummer. Sociology: A Global Introduction. Harlow: Pearson Education, 2005.
Oravec, Jo Ann. “Interactive Toys and Children’s Education.” Childhood Education 77.2 (2000): 81.
Walsh, Tim. Timeless Toys: Classic Toys and the Playmakers Who Create Them. Kansas City: Andrews McMeel Publishing, 2005.