Are Toy brands doing enough for kids of different ethnicities?

Specialist Youth, Kids and Family Research Agency

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Are toy brands doing enough for children of different ethnic backgrounds?

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Children comprehend their world by assigning labels at a young age, which contributes towards their life narrative and how they view themselves in the world.

For young children, the world can be a pretty confusing place. To even begin to comprehend the world they live in, children as young as three assign labels to their environment, whether this is assigning labels to objects or to people around them (e.g. ‘you are a boy and I am a girl’) [1]. Environmental cues from other people (e.g. family and friends) and popular culture (e.g. media and toys) are also used to aid understanding of the world around them. Children often find and seek out information that they can identify with to help them to understand their personal role within the world [2]. As they grow older and gain an understanding of more abstract concepts, the information gathered moves into a child’s long term memory and forms part of their life narrative or ‘life story’. Over time, a child’s life story shapes them as the person they grow into – one part of this is its contribution towards how they judge their own self-worth. Those who judge themselves as having a lower self-worth can sometimes struggle with certain situations (e.g. new challenges), compared with those who judge themselves as having higher self-worth [1].

Do children of different ethnic backgrounds have enough examples to identify with in popular culture?

For children with different ethnicities, the lack of examples in popular culture for them to identify with can make it difficult (and even confusing) to look to their environment to help their understanding of the world [2]. This limitation might influence a child’s personal life story, in turn affecting how they approach new situations. To overcome this, some parents of children with different ethnicities actively seek toys with different coloured skin tones to help reassure their children about the way they look at a young age [3].

In recent years, we have seen some toy brands becoming more inclusive such as Mattel extending their Barbie product range to include dolls with different skin tones [4]. However, these toys don’t come without their criticisms, which are perhaps exaggerated since they are the few examples of different ethnicities in the toy market. For example, the mixed race Barbies have been criticised for all having straight hair, therefore not portraying reality [5,6].

If different ethnicity toys are so important, why aren’t they more prevalent among high street stores?

Although toy makers recognise the importance of different ethnicities among children’s products, the lack of demand means it’s not feasible to sell them in-store – but is this lack of in-store availability reinforcing the idea that the more familiar on-shelf toys are better or even prettier? [3] Is this in some way contributing towards a child’s self-worth?

Fortunately, there are other ways in which ideas of higher self-worth can be encouraged among children of different ethnicities.

The limited examples of other ethnicities in children’s culture can make us question whether brands are doing enough to encourage positive conversations around race and while this may be an area for brands to consider, there is still a wealth of advice on what parents can do at home. For example, encouraging native language speaking and avoid talking about race fractions (e.g. ‘you are half Spanish and half English’) [2], and although these may seem like obvious suggestions, they all contribute towards creating a child’s individual life story, and will equip them to face challenges in later life.

References

[1] http://gulfbend.org/poc/view_doc.php?type=doc&id=12766&cn=462

[2] http://www.parents.com/parents-latina-magazine/how-to-help-multiracial-kids-establish-their-identity/

[3] http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-nottinghamshire-38065205

[4] http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-us-canada-35432314

[5] http://www.intermix.org.uk/news/news_040510_02.asp

[6] http://www.madeformums.com/news-and-gossip/first-collection-of-mixed-race-barbie-dolls-hits-the-uk/5469.html