Child psychologists warn some toys available online could develop “harmful” habits in children, urging for further parental control.
A fake ‘Hookah’ toy that went viral online prompted health experts to raise awareness on the adverse impact of some toys on the behaviour of children.
Earlier this week, social media was flooded with a post of a coloured hookah toy marketed at three-year-olds dubbed “My First Hookah”, triggering outrage with some demanding retailers remove the toy from the racks.
As the post made the rounds, it soon appeared that the image was a mere meme created digital artist Adam Padilla, known as ‘Adam the Creator’ on Twitter. The prankster also posted similar “My First Vape” toys back in 2017.
Despite this being a prank, experts believe it could have an adverse impact on children.
“Some smoking toys are also advertised as ‘pranks’ or novelty items. As these items are mostly available online and with today’s increased online exposure, children shouldn’t have access to purchase or view such items online, so greater parental monitoring is advised,” Senior Clinical Psychologist at Mind Institute Qatar, Mr. Jalil Kotadia said in a statement to Doha News.
“The exposure of these toys would desensitise children to the negative idea of smoking and harmful substances”.
On Amazon for instance, a “fake cigarette novelty toy” is available for purchase, providing children with the ability to pretend to be smoking real cigarettes. Kotadia warned this could develop dangerous smoking habits in children in the long-term.
While some of the products on Amazon clarified they were “intended for adult novelty use only,” many other purchasable items did not provide such warnings.
In Qatar, no such toy smoking products are available for purchase, however, toy guns are a common scene.
Do toy guns lead to real-life violence?
Child psychologists have long-warned of the impact of toy guns on children. While many associate such toys with violence and aggression, some specialists say that this connection could be irrelevant.
“The debate on whether gun toys lead to later violence has been going on for years among parents, educators and child health experts,” said Mind Institute Psychologist Yara Ayache.
“In fact, it has been shown that toy weapon play can rather alleviate preexisting aggressive tendencies and teach kids to calm themselves down in real-life situations. It is important to note that the act of pretending to be aggressive is not equivalent to being aggressive, nor is it a future indicator of future aggression,” the specialist noted.
In the wake of calls to ban toys associated with violence and aggression, Ayache pointed out that “kids are resourceful and creative, so even taking away the toy guns will probably just result in them creating a makeshift gun from anything else they can find.”
For this reason, she advised parents not to ban toy guns “as it can send the message that holding a plastic toy could make you a dangerous person and therefore make it even more desirable.”
Studies show that childhood games have a life-shaping role in the development and growth of children.
However, The Toy Association argued that “toys themselves do not promote aggressive behaviour.”
In a 2020 statement, the association supported its argument with a quote by Jeffrey Goldstein, PhD, author, and professor of Media and Communication at the University of Utrecht in The Netherlands, who said that “(toys) give form to behaviour by stimulating play, but they do not motivate aggressive behaviour.
“Toys are the intermediary between the child and the world in which he/she lives. The family environment – far more than the toy itself – is the decisive factor in a child’s character. How a parent behaves toward a child has much more influence than a toy.”
Mind Institute’s psychologist concluded that “there is no direct evidence showing that kids who play with guns are more aggressive.”
For this reason, it is recommended that parents set some ground rules when allowing children to play with toy guns. “For example, it is important to explain to your child that some people do not like to have pretend guns pointed at them,” Ayache advised.
Also parents play a major role in identifying violence tendencies in their kids in early stages through “warning signs that are indicators of a larger problem, such as acting aggressively when not playing or threatening to shoot people when angry.”
In such instances, guardians are responsible for educating and guiding their children to distinguish between gun toys and real guns, Ayache added.
“Parents are also responsible for helping their children express their thoughts and feelings in order to help put things into the right perspective in order to explain why violent behaviour is not appropriate.”