Q. My 6-year-old daughter is really into dolls, especially the hip ones with contemporary outfits and accessories. Frankly, I find them repulsive and a bit demeaning. Am I gauging these toys correctly, or do I just need to suck it up and allow her to have them?
A. Go with your instincts. If you find a certain toy, doll, or game repulsive or demeaning, don't buy it. Peers and the media influence children from an early age, but that doesn't mean that parents must succumb to such peer and media pressure.
What you buy your children reflects your values. Let's say you give into pressure from marketers selling such dolls, or peer pressure that "everyone else has one." By doing so, you're sending an unspoken, unintended message that you'll buy whatever is advertised, or, if your child's friends have an item, then your child will get it too.
Children use dolls as alter egos, playing out situations that they don't understand. A firstborn child with a baby sibling will play about family scenarios about being dethroned, and adjusting to life with a loving intruder. A child afraid of using the toilet will use a doll to overcome such fears. A child struggling with or adjusting to school will use dolls as students, in order to come to terms with events, challenges, and successes in the classroom. To adjust to the inevitable physical changes on the horizon, a child on the verge of puberty will play with dolls that look as if they've gone through puberty.
Your 6-year-old certainly is not about to start puberty. Therefore, it would be more appropriate for her to have a doll that looks like her. There are doll companies that specifically make these dolls, so purchase dolls that reflect a more wholesome appearance than the "hip" ones you describe.
If you buy a doll that looks seductive -- or wears outfits that emulate popular entertainers -- you're offering tacit endorsement of their outfits and accessories. Some of these dolls wear clothes that don't meet most parents' standards for modesty, revealing parts of the body that should be covered up.
If a relative buys your daughter one of these dolls, here's how you can offer learning messages as she plays:
"The jeans on that doll don't adequately cover up her bottom. It would not be okay to dress that way."
"The shirt doesn't cover her belly button. That's okay when at the beach in a two-piece bathing suit, but it's not okay to wear such clothes at school, at a party, or when attending church."
As your daughter grows up, there will be many things you can't control. What you can control is the type of doll you buy her. Your daughter may voice some disappointment if she receives a doll different from the one she's wishing for. You only need to explain, "I know you're disappointed. I understand. It's simply not appropriate for you to own a doll that looks like a teenager."
There's a tendency today for children to grow up too soon. They're robbed of their childhood innocence at younger and younger ages. It's just fine to protect your daughter's childhood by purchasing a doll that meets her at her own developmental age -- rather than one that pushes her into adolescence.
Jan Faull, MEd, is a veteran parent educator and the author of four parenting books, including Darn Good Advice -- Baby and Darn Good Advice -- Parenting. She writes a biweekly parenting advice column for this site and a weekly parenting advice column in the Seattle Times. Jan Faull is the mother of three grown children and lives in the Seattle area.
Originally published on HealthyKids.com, November 2006.
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