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Dolls Going the Way of the Dinosaur?

By sandymaple |

barbie-head-sm250When did you stop playing with dolls? Back in the day, my friends and I played with our Barbie dolls well into what is now called the tween years. When we were five, we had Barbie playing mom and schoolteacher in our make-believe worlds. But was we got older, Barbie got younger and started going to parties and on romantic dates with Ken. Barbie was versatile that way and therefore the prefect plaything for a maturing girl.

But these days, with so many other forms of entertainment vying for the attention of young girls, Barbie and other dolls are getting left behind at a much earlier age. 

According to NDP, a market research firm, doll sales in the U.S. have declined overall by nearly 20 percent since 2005. And while little girls between the ages of 3 and 5 are still enjoying the land of make believe with their dolls, girls over the age of nine only account for about 18 percent of the dolls sold.

It’s not hard to imagine what 9-year-old girls are doing instead of playing with dolls. They are connected by cell phones, computers and television to all manner of passive entertainment. And this lack of imaginative doll play, says consumer psychologist Kit Yarrow is potentially detrimental to their social development.

While she acknowledges the need for children to become technologically savvy in order to thrive in the real world as adults, she fears that some important lessons are being lost along the way.

“When little girls play with dolls, they’re practicing being a mommy, practicing tending and nurturing.”

And while the virtual worlds in which girls engage may involve some similar role playing, it’s at “a different level of intimacy and connection” Yarrow says. In other words, less intimate and less connected.

The availability of all this electronic entertainment isn’t the only reason girls are abandoning their dolls. Much of the blame lies in the message the media is sending them: Grow up faster. Everywhere they look, little girls are being told that they should look and act like teens. And we all know that teens don’t play with dolls.

My own 9-year-old was once a Barbie fanatic. Over the years, she has accumulated a massive collection of  Barbie and Ken dolls and their assorted paraphernalia. And while I suspect there are times when she would enjoy dusting them off and immersing herself in the pretend world that used to give her so much pleasure, she rarely does.  Instead, she downloads music to her iPod, plays online games and updates her blog.

There may be some debate about what happened to the dinosaurs who used to walk the earth but there will never be such confusion over what happened to the dolls:  The Internet got them.

Image: iboy_daniel/Flickr

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6 thoughts on “Dolls Going the Way of the Dinosaur?

  1. joanie says:

    Maybe girls today (tween and teen girls, that is) are less interested in practicing to be mommies than they used to be. I don’t see that as necessarily negative — there are a lot more roles to try on as a young girl than just the mommy role. Good news?

  2. Marjorie says:

    I played with dolls until I was 12. I wasn’t practicing to be mommy. I was using my imagination. In my play, Barbie wasn’t a mommy, or a fashion model. She was a gymnast, a sorceress, or a private detective. She was a tool for imaginative play, which is really what a doll or an action figure is.

  3. [...] read a post on Strollerderby last week that has stuck with me. Sandymaple wrote: According to NDP, a market research firm, doll sales in the U.S. have declined overall by [...]

  4. jennifer says:

    Back in the early 80s, the unspoken end of doll playing girlhood was entering junior high. My friends and I enthusiastically played with Barbie through the 6th grade and I remember feeling kinda sad that come 7th grade I’d be putting her away. It pains me to see 1st graders be encouraged to act like tweens/teens with makeup and fashion and boys rather than just playing. My daughter is still an infant but I hope that I can successfully encourage her to be a little girl while she is still is a little girl.

  5. ari says:

    Well, first off, the quote “When little girls play with dolls, they’re practicing being a mommy, practicing tending and nurturing.” is incredibly sexist and totally moronic. You don’t learn to nurture by playing with a hunk of plastic. You learn to be nurturing and compassionate by being treated that way by your parents.

    Boys will also play with dolls (when allowed), and I imagine most of them aren’t planning on being mommies.

    But, then again, I never played with dolls. I dismembered them so that I could figure out how the mechanisms worked. I didn’t learn a thing about nuruting, but I did learn about models, molding, extrusion and simple mechanisms. LOL.

  6. Bek says:

    Why is it so politically incorrect to say that when a lot of little girls were playing with dolls, they were “practicing being mommy”???? For a lot of little girls, that’s what interested them. I grew up in a family of four girls and one boy. I didn’t like playing “house” when we’d play with dolls. At least, not as much. I liked playing with Barbies…they had interesting jobs and wore awesome fashions and they got to go on dates! My little sib sisters were all for playing that way when we were playing together, but they also loved playing house and all that that entails: cooking, cleaning, feeding the dolls, etc. They were far more into domestic things, and as a grown woman with kids of my own, I STILL SEE those interests reflected in our lives now. I’m far less domestic than my sisters are. But there is no wrong or right way to use your imagination. The article is simply stating that girls are not role playing with dolls. They’re too busy on their cellphones. And any way you slice it, it does seem tragic. While technology is great, it doesn’t add to the imagination. I consider it an epic honor when either the hubby or myself get our asses kicked when playing x-box with people half our age. Which is rarely, seeing as we never play. It means we’ve had and we continue to have a life beyond a television or computer screen. Childhood used to be about running around outside and coming up with your own stories; played out using action figures, dolls, what-have-you. Now it means having storyboards laid out for you, so you can twiddle your thumbs to shoot or dial, and you score proverbial points that mean nothing when it comes to real life; making friends and social survival isn’t supported through those activities. Whether you want to be a mother or not isn’t the point. Kids are losing social contact by putting their entire lives online or into video games. And a big part of how children learn to interact with other people is by role playing with dolls…no matter what they’re imagining.

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