Copyright 2002 Linda Marcas - All Rights Reserved


Crank's Corner


                                                                  Do the Locomotion


      Have you seen the public service TV commercial in which the chubby youngster channel surfs with a
remote control, uses a leaf blower to clear a circle of leaves, and picks up his cell phone to call his
walker-using granny in the next room, asking her to fetch him another soda, because he doesn't want to move
from in front of his computer? Pretty cute, using satire to warn us about the ever-increasing incidence of
childhood obesity. At the same time, during this pre-Christmas shopping season, another channel might be
showing an ad for a battery-powered kiddie car, so tots as young as 12 months can "drive" themselves
around, or little trucks that have remote controls just like the ones the big kids have, or myriad other toys that
move by themselves, with little or no kid-power needed.

     What's wrong with this picture? Never mind the commercials for larger and larger portions of food at your
kids' favorite drive-through, complete with toys that make them bug you to take them there. Never mind the
fuzzy-focus, tender moment image of baby's first french fry. Never mind the scorn you feel for the woman
who's suing a fast-food giant for millions because of her son's obesity and resulting health problems, when she
claims that she couldn't get him to eat anything else, and that she didn't know the food was bad for him. We've
all fed our children junk food before, and we'll all feed our children (or grandchildren) junk food again,
because it's easier and quicker than fighting with them about eating vegetables, particularly when everyone is in
a hurry to get to the mall, or the movie, or whatever other pressing engagement is on the calendar.

     This isn't about the food kids eat, but about the toys they play with. Parents might be in a hurry to get a
daily meal over with, but they should take their time while choosing toys that might be around for a while.
Rather than buy Junior some trendy gadget that needs batteries and does most of the playing for him, please,
take the time to pick something that requires imagination and activity on his part, particularly if the kid is still
young enough not to know what peer pressure is. Why should a child who has not yet mastered walking or
running without falling over have a self-propelled riding vehicle? Where's he gonna go, the kitchen?

      Instead of screaming when they run up against an immovable obstacle, or learning how to put the toy into
reverse, wouldn't it be better if kids learned how to move their legs in both directions? Basic motor skills, and
a knowledge of the basic laws of physics, come from playing with toys that don't move at the push of a button
but instead require the child to move them with his or her own muscles. They'll have time enough for power
steering and riding mowers later in life; don't give them power tools before they know their own strength.

      Does a pre-school age child need battery-powered remote controlled talking plastic trucks? Probably
not, because the truck's batteries will run down long before the kid's do, if the kid isn't pushing the truck
around and crawling along with it to make it cross the room, expending a little of that sugar-buzz energy he got
from his candy-coated breakfast cereal and high fructose corn syrup juice drink. I used to get crazed by my
stepson's constant "vroom! vroooooommm!" noises as he played with his little cars, but at least he had to
provide his own dialogue and sound effects, instead of having chirpy voices and electronic beeps drilled into
his (and my) brain.

      The same goes for all the other talking toys: they simply aren't necessary, because kids will make up their
own speeches for them, and learn some language skills in the process. Synthetic pals and pets, even the ones
that talk and move, are not suitable substitutes for live friends and animals because they don't teach kids how
to deal with unpredictable, non-programmed entities. So don't be surprised if your darling suddenly tries to
throw "real" playmates across the room when he can't find their "off" switch.

      Please, folks, think before you shop; buy toys that give kids a chance to do what kids are supposed to
do, that is, to play with the toy without having the toy play them. Children will rise to the challenges of
movement and imagination, as long as the toy doesn't beat them to it. Instead of bringing home a motorized
version of Toots the Train or Thomas the Tank Engine, and several years later having to put your kid on a diet
because he won't get off the couch, choose a toy that requires your child to do the locomotion.
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