Why I Hate Electronic Toys

Electronic, battery-operated toys? Not in my house. Source: flickr
Electronic, battery-operated toys? Not in my house. Source: flickr

When I was pregnant and fielding the usual “oooh, let’s get you baby clothes! Yay, tiny clothes for babies!” comments, I had one simple rule: Until Chipmunk is old enough to care about what she wears, All Pink Will Be Donated. This was a personal choice based on the fact that I just really, really don’t like pink. Especially the washed-out, anaemic pink that so many baby clothes come in.

Now that Chipmunk’s older (she’ll be three in a few weeks – how did THAT happen?!) the “no pink” rule has well and truly fallen by the wayside. She adores pink, and red, and black, and just about any colour, really. It depends on the day. (Right now she’s wearing a fluoro pink swim top and a pink/red skirt with red flowers on it.)

The “no pink” rule has been superseded by another, arguably more important one: All Toys Requiring Batteries Will Be Donated. I guess I wasn’t as vocal about this one as I was the No Pink request, though, since Chipmunk ended up with a few battery-powered noise makers this Christmas past. (They’re hiding in the cupboard until I collect enough stuff for a trip to the donation bins.)

Lest you think I’m some sort of toy-hating Grinch, though, let me explain just why I dislike the battery-operated monstrosities. (OK, so I’m a little bit Grinchy.)

They’re noisy and obnoxious. Tell me truthfully – have you ever come across an electronic toy that isn’t? They all seem to have flashing lights, high-pitched, squeaky recorded voices, and phrases that start from the beginning every time you push a button. I swear the things are deliberately designed to give children ADD.

I like the quiet – it lets me hear myself think, and I think it helps Chipmunk hear herself, too. Don’t get me wrong – I’ll listen to badly played musical instruments and off-key toddler singing. I’ll join in belting pots and pans and cardboard boxes for “drums”. I’ll dance to music on the radio with Chipmunk. But the outright obnoxiousness of canned phrases and so-called “educational” concentration-busters? No thank you. Although, speaking of concentration…

They mess with the attention building process. The flashy buttons and sounds might seem great to an adult, and most kids are sucked in by them too – for a little while. But they really aren’t very good for building attention or focus. As a parent, I want Chipmunk to be happy engaging in self-directed, independent play for long periods. It’s how she learns best, and it’s how I get anything at all done. But passive, battery-operated toys (even “educational” ones) simply don’t foster that kind of play. As Janet Lansbury puts it:

[T]hose kinds of toys can undermine independent play because they are mysterious, complicated, and babies are limited in their ability to investigate them.  Since our babies can’t make sense of those toys, they aren’t inclined to learn much from them either. If we want to encourage curiosity and learning, it’s better to provide simpler toys and objects and give our babies extended opportunities to choose what interests them and be enticed to examine those things further.

While she’s speaking about babies here, it’s the same for toddlers and young children. Kids learn best when they can see how and why something works the way it does. They’re also more likely to become deeply engaged with an object that they can figure out. And I mean really figure out – how big is the hole in this bottle? How far can I throw this ball? How do I get the shapes out of the Shape-O and back in again? There is a wealth of learning going on in this kind of play. “If I push this button, which light will flash/song will play/random phrase will this toy spout?” simply can’t compare.

They run on batteries. Which you have to replace. Which means remembering to buy the damn things when you run out. And then you have to ditch the old ones, even rechargeable types when they stop holding a charge. I detest changing batteries – I only buy things that take them when there’s no other choice. Aside from the wall clock and the remotes, everything in the house is rechargeable via wall socket or USB cable.

I try to be a conscious consumer. It’s a work in progress, and I’m by no means perfect. But I find it very, very hard to justify buying batteries that can’t be recycled, wear out in a relatively short time, take at least a century to decompose, and then leach heavy metals into the environment.

Please don’t think that because I hate battery power that Chipmunk is missing out. There are literally hundreds of simple, fascinating, not-powered-by-anything-except-imagination toys out there, and she owns a good few dozen of them. Duplo, for one. The aforementioned Shape-O. This kid is spoilt for choice – so much so that I have five rotations of toys hiding in the cupboard, all waiting their turn. Leaving electronic noise-makers out of the house is depriving no one.