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Jewish World Review August 9, 2004 / 22 Menachem-Av, 5764

Betsy Hart

Betsy Hart
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Consumer Reports

Toys 'R trouble | Let's hear it for some of the "Generation-X" moms.

Gen-X are those of us who came right after the baby boom, 1963 to 1975. (I've seen that first year defined as being later - say, 1965 - but I like this definition because it includes me.)

Anyway, here's why we have to give a couple of cheers to these moms: Ira Hernowitz is general manager of First Fun, a division of Hasbro toys. He recently told The Washington Post that when it comes to Gen-X moms, "They want smart children ... but they think it's more important for them to be emotionally and socially ready than educationally prepared for school. The number one thing they want in a toy is fun."

These moms, Hernowitz said, "are concerned their children will grow up too quickly, so they want to do more things with them" as the Post put it.

The Post was reporting on the American International Toy Fair held in New York earlier this year.

The folks at the fair love the Gen-X moms. That's because these moms control almost $750 billion of spending power. At the toy fair, one seminar was titled "Capturing the Gen-X Mom," where experts offered insight on "'getting into the psyche' of this demographic cash cow," as the Post put it.

Though fully 75 percent of Gen- X moms work, "they value family time more than their parents did, the marketing analysts say. 'They're less driven to break the glass ceiling at work and more willing to drive the kids to soccer practice - and they expect the boss to understand,' Robert Chimbel, president of Tracy Locke toys, said. 'Part-time work is the Holy Grail for these moms.' "

And more and more they are, apparently, walking right by the "Baby Einstein" toys and the bilingual baby products, and all the complicated, electronic kids' things and heading straight for rubber balls, play kitchens and construction sets and pedal cars.

This all makes perfect sense to me, and not just because I think we push our kids way too much anyway. Look, I buy electronic stuff for my kids, it's just that it never works.

I don't think that came up at a seminar at the toy fair! But the hours I have spent on Christmas mornings and after birthday parties putting together electronic toys that at best do not get anywhere near meeting expectations, and at worst literally fail on the launch pad, are incalculable. I am sick of painstakingly putting something together, only to have my crushed children say, "Gee, Mom, it worked great in the commercial."

In the history of Western civilization, I am not sure that any electric toy has ever done what it promised to do "in the commercials."

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Once, when my dad was visiting, he brought the children an "easy to launch" rocket, guaranteed to go hundreds of feet into the air. After three hours of intense work putting it together, 3 ... 2 ... 1 ...blowup. Right on the launch pad. One of the kids said, "Gee, Papa, it wasn't supposed to do that." No kidding.


And what happens after that? We know what happens. They go to play with the box.

The only thing I might hate seeing come in the door for a gift or a toy, even more than something electronic, is something with a million pieces. I know such things can be good for their little fingers, and their imaginations, too, but those little pieces never stay together in one place, nor am I typically motivated enough to sit with them for hours and put together whatever it is anyway.

One year my little boy got a toy roller coaster, with about a million pieces to it. I thought, What a great project for him. A year later, it was still half-completed. I finally had had it. I paid a college-level baby-sitter extra cash one time to finish putting the thing together.

He never plays with it.

I'm also opposed to "singsong" toys, like drums that play tunes. Those dopey tunes keep going through my head.

I know, I sound like I went to "mean-mom school." (That's what I tell my kids sometimes when they complain about things and I tell them the "complaint department" is closed.)

Anyway, I do like big, unbreakable, single items. Rubber balls and refrigerator boxes.

The problem is, I have every other kind of toy in my house besides rubber balls and refrigerator boxes. I guess I'm an optimist. I keep hoping the NEXT electric thing that comes in the house will work, or the next thing with a million pieces will stay together.

I wonder if I could give a seminar at that toy fair next year?

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JWR contributor Betsy Hart, a frequent commentator on CNN and the Fox News Channel, can be reached by clicking here.


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