Copyright 2001 Linda Marcas - All Rights Reserved

Crank's Corner

                                                 Seen, Not Heard

     I spent most of my childhood living in apartments that, in theory, didn't allow
children under twelve years of age to live there.  I was tall for my age, and my parents
must have convinced the managers either that I was twelve or that I was a very quiet only
child.  Perhaps bribery was involved.  All I know is, I spent a lot of time trying not to
make any noise, with my parents saying, "Do you want us to get evicted?" any time I put
my feet down too heavily.

    Granted, my circumstances were unusual, but even my friends who lived in
ordinary houses didn't have many noise-making toys back then.  A cap pistol, a Chatty
Cathy doll, maybe a See-And-Say; pretty dull stuff, really.  Parents worried that toys that
did too much on their own would lead to kids not using their imagination enough.

    Times certainly have changed!  A major department store is using the tag line,
"because that imagination stuff can only take you so far" in an effort to lure people to
their toy department, where they can buy all the latest, battery-powered toys, complete
with lights, bells, and whistles.  Forcing a child to use his or her imagination has become
tantamount to child abuse in this ultra-electronic age.

    My stepson used to spend hours on the floor with his toy cars, endlessly making
"vroom-vroooommm-vrrooOOOMMMM!" noises, to the point where I'd want to stuff a
sock in him.  My "children should be seen, not heard" upbringing never prepared me for
how noisy most kids actually are.  Looking back, however, I'm glad that he was able to
amuse himself with toys that made no noises of their own.  I'm not optimistic that the
next generation will be able to do the same; starting at birth, noisy toys now subject
children to continuous, endless outside stimulation.  It's small wonder that, by the time
they reach school age, they have virtually no attention span.

    Baby in the crib, too young to crawl or walk?  No old-fashioned mobiles, rattles,
or squeaky stuffed animals; Junior can watch the pretty colors and listen to the digital
tunes of the Gentle Wave Aquarium or the Twirling Whirling Garden.  Don't bother with
once or twice through the melody on a wind-up music box to lull him to sleep; get Elmo's
Crib Pony, that rides around the rails of the crib to its own lights and sounds, complete
with remote-controlled re-start so Mom can just keep zapping that button until PeeWee
finally dozes off.

    In a country with ever more alarming statistics on childhood obesity, what would
possess a parent to purchase Fisher-Price's Power Wheels For Toddlers, a battery-
powered ride-on toy "for toddlers as young as twelve months"?  They can't walk yet,
therefore they should ride?  What kind of sense does that make?  Turn your entire house
into a bumper-car arena for the baby; when he's a teenager, he'll scoot around the kitchen
in an office chair, so he can make himself a snack without going to the trouble of standing
up.  When he turns forty, and wonders why he's so fat, someone can sell him a gym
membership and some exercise equipment.

    Some noisy toys try to pass themselves off as educational aids that will inspire
youngsters to explore music, art, or basic literacy.  Why should a child struggle to pick
out a tune on a tiny xylophone where he must hit each note with a mallet before being
rewarded with a sound when, with the touch of a single button on the Bach-n-Rock
he can play an entire song?  If his playmate has a Magical Moves Keyboard, and another
has Elmo's Dance and Learn Game, the combined cacophony must surely lead to great
or at least a gig in a nightclub.

    Forget coloring books and crayons, sidewalk chalk, or pencils and tracing paper;
who needs those silent antiquities when Blue's Clues Learn to Draw can help little Sophie
master her fine motor skills while its vocalized instructions save her from the stress of
deciding what to draw next?  Wooden blocks and magnetic letters just sit there quietly
until a child handles them and learns to spell words, but Pooh's ABC Singing Wagon and
the Fisher-Price Intellitable with Microsoft Technology prepare kids for a world where
they needn't worry if they can't read instructions, because the machines will read them to
How did we ever learn our gender roles and social skills without Little Mom's
Walk-n-Talk Stroller, the Loving Family Home and Stable (with talking pony, perhaps
some relation to Mr. Ed), and the Talking Chef Kitchen?  How is it possible that we have
railroad and construction workers, when they didn't grow up with Toots the Train or
Chomper, My Talking TruckBot?  What possible use could there have been for hand
puppets, before someone invented Showtime Pooh?  I can't imagine how people who had
nothing but silent, inanimate toys when they were children ever managed to put a man on
the moon.
Between computers and television, many of us spend a good portion of our lives
staring at a screen, developing powerful muscles that let us sit for hours at a time.  With
the help of a remote control, we no longer need to get up and walk across a room to
change the channel or the volume, which probably keeps us stuck in front of the tube
more than ever before, mesmerized by sounds and moving images.  Dad doesn't like it
when the toddlers get hold of that magical zapper and mess up the VCR programing, but,
since we want them to get used to looking at a screen, all day, every day, the tikes can
have a Sesame Street Tune-In TV, with six channels and their own remote.  In the car,
instead of looking out the windows and counting windmills or spotting license plates,
keep their eyes glued to the on-board video.  That way, they'll never get bored with the
scenery and start fights with their siblings.

    Silence is golden, but it doesn't sell batteries.  Millions of children have Attention
Deficit Disorder, and need medication in order to sit still for ten minutes.  High school
seniors struggle to pass ninth-grade proficiency tests so they can graduate.  In the
wealthiest country in the world, many people are functionally illiterate.  Noise pollution
has been linked to stress.  I'm not saying that all of these ills are caused by noisy toys that
get kids hooked on constant audio/video input at an early age, but I do wonder if all those
sounds and lights do more harm than good in the long run.  Learning to sit quietly,
learning to entertain oneself inside one's own head, and developing imagination,
creativity, and study skills should take precedence over continuous entertainment from
outside sources.  Instead of the children themselves, maybe it's children's toys that should
be seen, not heard.

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