November 26, 2003

Group names good, bad toys for holiday season

By Ruxandra Giura
Scripps Howard Foundation Wire

WASHINGTON – The Hulk plush toy is marketed to 3-year-olds, and the box reads: “Try me, squeeze my tummy.”

But Daphne White, who as executive director of the Lion and Lamb Project is older than 3, could not squeeze the toy hard enough to make it roar. Instead, at a press conference Monday, White punched it in the chest.

Then the smiling jaw of the Kid Roaring Hulk opened its mouth and roared.

”This Roaring Hulk is a stuffed green toy that looks as friendly and harmless as the Jolly Green Giant, but is based on a PG-13 movie about rage,” said the Lion and Lamb, a group that advocates against violent toys, in a press release naming the group’s best and worst toys for the holiday season.

The group released a Dirty Dozen list of toys, games and movies it said parents should avoid. It also released a Top 20 list of family games, active toys and games that “encourage fun, creative and imaginative play.”

In addition to the Hulk, White said the 2003 Dirty Dozen list of violent toys and DVDs to avoid in 2003 includes “The Matrix” movie and video game, “Jak,” a violent video game, and the Power Rangers, which this year focuses on a ninja story it said was inappropriate for youngsters.

Violent entertainment is harmful to children, White said. Her group lists studies backing that view on its Web site.

Some of the toys on the list are brands that are marketed to children “through a combination of toys, video games, DVDs and other items” that are more about marketing stories to children who thus are not encouraged to make their own, the group argued.

“I have a friend who works at the toy store, and she said parents would come in all the time and say, ‘I want to get an educational toy for my child,’” White said. “And she would say, ‘Every toy is educational. What is it that you want to teach your child?’”

Diane Levin, an author and professor of education at Wheelock College in Boston, said, “The message that [such] toys give to children is that when you play you’re supposed to fight. … When children are engaged in play that is more creative and more imaginative, they end up becoming powerful.”

The Top 20 includes the video game “Dance, Dance Revolution” – which requires children to place their feet on a dance pad as they listen to music – a three-dimensional puzzle and building set called Geosphere and the DVD of the movie “Whale Rider.”

Levin said marketers make it as hard as they can for parents to say no.

Tim O’Brien, of O’Brien Communications, a Pittsburgh public relations firm, disagreed.

“We say no all the time,” O’Brien said. “Our kids are used to it and are doing fine. We have TVs and video games in common areas. And mom and dad screen all movies and games. Parents that have difficulty saying no have their own problems that should not be blamed on kids or toy makers.”

Mario Almonte, a public relations specialist in New York and the father of an 8-year-old boy, said he “proudly” buys his son toys mentioned on the Dirty Dozen list.

“They do not promote violence,” Almonte said in an e-mail. “I’m a grown man — one of the nicest guys around — and I used to love all the comic book and movie characters (and still get guilty pleasure watching the cartoons through my 8-year-old son). And apparently, so did millions of mild-manner Americans who made Spider-Man and the Terminator series some of the largest grossing films of all time. Having watched all these ‘violent’ movies, has America plunged into chaos, violence and destruction? Not really.”

White said she is trying to get the Federal Trade Committee to investigate children’s access to violent media. Though the music, film and toy industries said they would self regulate, they’re not doing it, she said.

O’Brien said the film, game and toy industries are not doing enough to prevent children from having access to violent media.

“It’s a business to them and nothing more,” he said. “If kids can spend the money, the companies don’t care how they do it.” Almonte said, “’Safe’ toys are not undermarketed. Grown-ups simply don’t buy them.”

A spokeswoman for Konami, which makes “Dance, Dance Revolution” and the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles game, said she was unaware of the lists. She said the game is rated for all ages.

Representatives of THQ, which makes one of the toys on the Dirty Dozen list, and Marvel, the comic book company responsible for the Hulk, did not respond to telephone calls asking for comments.

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