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Dolls Going the Way of the Dinosaur?

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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