February 15, 2007, - 11:26 am
By Debbie Schlussel
**** SCROLL DOWN FOR UPDATE ****
When I was a kid, one of my greatest pleasures was to build giant log cabin mansions with my Lincoln Logs and all kinds of contraptions with Tinkertoy. The lesser-known Wikki Stix were cool to make creations with, too. Play-dough, Crayons, etc.–I loved it all.
But a column in today’s Wall Street Journal, “Fun Was in Short Supply at This Year’s Toy Fair,” says that kind of childhood is OVER. Dan Ackman writes:
Kids today are GOYs, and everybody knows it. For toy people, the question is what to do about it. A GOY is a kid who is getting older younger. The phenomenon means that children are outgrowing traditional playthings earlier and falling into the clutches of Sony and Microsoft, never to be seen again.
The result is an industry in slow fade. While U.S. toy sales climbed by less than one-half of 1% between 2005 and 2006, the small rise followed three years of low-single-digit declines, according to NPD Group, which tracks the industry.
This week, as the toy industry gathered at New York’s Javits Center for the 104th American International Toy Fair, there was plenty to attract the 0-to-8 set. But there was less to lure older kids, whose interests tend to wander toward iPods, cellphones and videogames.
Apart from its almost absurd abundance — 100,000 different items are on display — Toy Fair demonstrates childhood’s condensation. According to Eric Clark, author of “The Real Toy Story,” a recent book about the industry, toy makers are trying to emulate electronic gadgets. “The danger is toy makers will drive kids to real electronics,” he says, “which are getting cheaper all the time.” Toy makers acknowledge the problem, but there is no clear way around it.
Even teddy bears are getting techy. Gund, the 109-year-old family-owned maker of stuffed animals, prides itself on its refusal to sell through mass-market retailers like Target and Toys “R” Us. But this year, for the first time, it introduced a line of animated bears.
Apparently, even another one of my childhood favorites, LEGO, is going electronic with something called “Bionicles.” Sad.
An Associated Press report from the same American International Toy Fair confirms the Wall Street Journal column:
As kids keep getting plugged into the Internet, toy makers are following them online.
At the annual American International Toy Fair this week, toy makers showed playthings like Power Rangers helmets which store secret missions found online, plenty of online games and even devices that take kids to secure Web sites where they can play activities without wandering into the darker corners of the Internet.
“Toy companies are looking at where kids are playing and targeting product against it. Younger and younger kids are becoming more comfortable with the Internet,” said New York-based toy consultant Chris Byrne.
Children as young as 3 years old are using the computer, said Julia Fitzgerald, vice president of marketing at VTech Holdings. . . .
“We have become a download nation,” said Fitzgerald, noting that children are constantly downloading music to their digital music players.
According to Nielsen/Net Ratings, an Internet research company, the number of online users in the 2-to-11 age group rose 19 percent to 15.1 million in December 2006, from 12.6 million in December 2002.
The latest strategy comes as the nation’s toy industry has been under pressure to bring back children bombarded with other entertainment options from iPods, cell phones and online community sites.
Still, Ackman writes that you can still expose your kid to real, imaginative toys, if you go out and dig for them:
Engaging toys that foster the imagination are still out there. “The toys are good, you just have to go search for them,” says Allison Holmes, co-owner of Oranges and Lemons, a children’s boutique in Greenville, Del. “I don’t think it’s the industry,” Ms. Holmes says. “It’s the parents.” The kids, old and young, ever-well supplied, need to be encouraged to get out and play.
****UPDATE: Reader Rick writes:
I am an avid reader of your website. I read what you wrote about GOYs and it makes me love my daughter-in-law all the more. She and my son have three daughters (6,3,10 months) and Jennifer is absolutely committed to the idea that her children are going to have a childhood, where they play outside, learn to ride bikes, learn to read and to love books, and do all the things that the plugged-in generation are missing. She is so determined that she is home-schooling the 6 year old (who is reading the first Harry Potter book right now). I love being around my granddaughters because they have manners and they like doing things like puzzles, coloring, and just being kids. I don’t necessarily pine for the “good ol’ days”, just “the good ol’ ways” where feminism and political correctness hadn’t gained a foothold yet.
Tags: age group, Allison Holmes, Associated Press, cell phones, Chris Byrne, co-owner, condensation, Dan Ackman, daughter-in-law, Delaware, Eric Clark, family-owned maker, Greenville, Gund, Internet research, Julia Fitzgerald, Lincoln Logs, mass-market retailers, Microsoft, New York, New York's Javits Center, Nielsen/Net Ratings, NPD Group, online community sites, online games, online users, real electronics, Sony, Target, the Wall Street Journal, toy consultant, Toys "R" Us, United States, vice president of marketing, VTech Holdings, Wall Street Journal