Giraffe Insights sat down with psychologist Dr. Amanda Gummer, founder of The Good Toy Guide and CEO of Fundamentally Children, to discuss key topics in kids’ play habits, brand marketing and how the market is set to change.
How has media consumption and technology developments impacted kids play, and do you think it has been detrimental to kids social development?
I think the fear around media consumption and technology for children was valid 10-15 years ago but there has been a lot of innovation to address the original concerns (solitary, sedentary, passive) and there are now lots of examples of positive uses of technology to increase access to play, fitness and other developmental opportunities for children.
Many of the issues that technology gets blamed for are more complex than simply children having too much screen time and are due to wider societal issues around family life and changing perceptions on childhood. Children are allowed to play out a lot less than in previous generations and this has a bigger impact on children’s social development and general well-being than the amount of technology that they use when they are inside.
Do you feel toys are representative of gender equality / diversity? Can they do more?
“Still room for improvement’ would be my report card for the industry but it’s not just the toy industry – it’s all children’s media. We are launching our #Fun4All campaign in September to encourage wider access to play specifically to highlight the benefits to everyone (industry and children) of facilitating inclusive play.
What is your view on kids advertising in terms of targeting, and the impact of social media in influencing kids choice?
I believe that for regulation of children’s advertising, it’s often a case of fools rush in where angels fear to tread. Concepts such as the watershed and advertising restrictions on children’s content are largely ineffective due to the changes in viewing habits and the fact the many children watch programmes that are not classified as children’s content so see the adverts anyway.
I am sure that social media has an impact on children’s choices, but because of the regulations around young children accessing social media, it’s impossible to collect accurate data on this – we know children younger than 13 access social media, but can’t study it reliably because these children are essentially invisible as they’ve all claimed to be over 13 in order to set up their social media accounts!
The whole area of children’s advertising needs an overhaul and I believe that we can’t go back to the halcyon days of yesteryear so the best thing we can do to protect children is to teach them media literacy from a very early age.
How can toy brands best communicate to parents, without alienating children?
Authenticity is key – don’t pretend to be something you’re not. We see a lot of toy brands trying to make unsubstantiated claims about the developmental benefits children will gain from playing with a particular toy – this is a dangerous game to play and risks losing a brand credibility.
Helping parents understand that not everything a child does needs to be educational is part of the battle too. Focusing on soft skills such as being kind, happy, having fun are just as important features of a good toy. The Good Toy Guide is a great resource that helps brands communicate the developmental benefits and fun factor of their products and parents value the in-depth impartial reviews.
How will the toy industry change in the next 5-10 years? What predictions do you have?
I think the two key trends that we’re currently observing will continue – connected toys and retro/slow toys. The connected toy market has really evolved and is now, more than ever, implementing technology in ways that increase the play value or flexibility of a product.
With increasing concerns over screen time and concepts such as digital detoxes or Screen-free Sundays becoming popular, classic toys and evergreen brands will continue to thrive. Board games are a particular trend that shows no sign of slowing down story with time-pressured families seeking fun ways to create special family time together.
Fundamentally Children is an organisation dedicated to helping children develop skills through play. They provide independent expert advice on a range of topics including play, toys, apps, children’s tech, e-safety, child development, special needs and other parenting issues. www.fundamentallychildren.com is the home of the Good Toy Guide and Good App Guide as well as a raft of other useful advice for parents, carers and childcare professionals.