Why Play-Fighting Is Actually Good For Kids

I’ll admit it: I’m a pacifist mom who doesn’t freak out (anymore) when her boys play with Nerf (and other) toy weapons.

Here’s why, explained in my most recent Her.meneutics post:

Early this month, a six-year-old in Silver Spring, Maryland, was suspended from school after he pointed his finger like a gun and said, “pow.” In a letter to his parents, school officials described the incident as one in which their son “threatened to shoot a student.”

In one way, this reaction is understandable. After the horrific events at Sandy Hook Elementary School, seeing any sort of gunplay at school would be, on a gut level, distressing. This sort of reaction certainly has historical precedent: in 1968, following the assassinations of Martin Luther King Jr. and Robert F. Kennedy, the Sears Roebuck Christmas catalog pulled all toy guns from its pages.

But, beyond visceral reactions—exclamations of distaste at child behavior that uncomfortably resonates with tragedy—does pretend violence perpetuate real violence?

Not necessarily. According to Stuart Brown, psychiatrist and the founder and director of the National Institutes of Play, “Play can act as a powerful deterrent, even an antidote to prevent violence. Play is a powerful catalyst for positive socialization.”

But parents and teachers—like the teachers in Silver Spring, Maryland—are often not inclined to see it that way.”Teachers…often see normal rough and tumble play behavior such as hitting, diving, wrestling, (all done with a smile, between friends who stay friends), not as a state of play, but one of anarchy that must be controlled.”

In a study of adults who had committed violent crimes, including the Virginia Tech killer Seung-Hui Cho, Brown discovered that their childhoods had been marked not by violent play but, more strangely, by a lack of play: the very thing that helps people, especially little people, work through conflict and aggression safely and productively.

An adult may see a kid wield a thumb-and-forefinger “gun” and think of Adam Lanza. But unless the child is already troubled, he is thinking of nothing like that. More likely it has nothing to do with a desire to harm another human being.

(Continue reading…)

The Evolution of Strawberry Shortcake

Well, this little series is starting to feel like The Stepford Wives (1975, of course).

“Strawberry Shortcake!” my mother said. “Has it happened to her, too?”

It’s like that scene in The Stepford Wives right before Joanna stabs robot-Bobbie. (It’s happened to her, too!)

Anyway, I had one of the Strawberry Shortcake dolls when I was little–it was Lemon Meringue, actually, and it was one of those weird dolls that you can give a bottle and she almost instantly pees out its contents. But she smelled like lemon with an almost-everlasting lemon smell.

original 1981 (ish) Strawberry Shortcake poster
line up of the original (early 1980s) dolls
original Strawberry Shortcake doll

I think Strawberry Shortcake and friends were among the first toys to be cross marketed with TV shows and other merch: sticker books, etc.

The company changed hands in 1991 and there was a bit of a redesign:

1991 Strawberry Shortcake. Still very round, still child (even baby) like.
1991 cartoon Strawberry Shortcake. Definitely slimmer and taller.

Around 2002, Strawberry Shortcake changed hands again:

2002 Strawberry Shortcake doll.

But 2006 saw even further updating, with McDonald’s Happy Meal toys and a movie, for goodness’ sake:

How is it that designers depicting gardens and such never seem to have visited actual gardens?
2006 Strawberry Shortcake doll.
2006 movie.
contemporary doll (via amazon.com)

To sum up:

Then. And now.

Why does a fanciful, friendly rag doll have to be turned into a sexy, skinny pre-teen?

Are we witnessing the Disney-princessification of everything?

{You may enjoy the other posts in this series-of-sorts: The Evolution of My Little Pony, Candy Land, Morton Salt & Coca-Cola, and G.I. Joe}