Is 2016’s newest holiday toy craze a Trojan
horse Penguala, threatening to ensnare millions of unsuspecting children?
Kids worldwide are begging Santa to bring them clever, cute, and harmless-looking toys called Hatchimals. Following similarly hyped interactive toys like Furby and Tamagotchi, Hatchimals simulate a real, ongoing relationship with their young owners.
With stores running very low on supplies of Hatchimals, the online auction market is seeing prices range from $150-$500+ for these ordinarily $50 toys. What is driving this incredible demand? What has hatched the desire in so many kids that drives their parents to blow their budget for the latest fad?
Before Christmas comes, will there be violence in the aisles over whether your child gets Owlicorn or Draggles?
On the surface, Hatchimals seem sweet, innocent, and harmless. As a dad of four grown daughters, I think my girls would have enjoyed one of these lovable toys, and I may have wanted to give them one.
However, the hidden risk of following the Hatchimals craze is the loss of your child’s ability to freely think for themselves, to become all they are made to be, and to apply their God-given gifts to help meet the world’s great needs.
Overstated? If you’ll give me a few more minutes of your time to explain, you can evaluate the case for my concerns and decide for yourself.
The multi-national conglomerate creator of Hatchimals, Spin Master, did not accidentally fall into this craze. Read how Dawn Calleja at The Globe And Mail describes Spin Master’s creation process:
By the time an item lands in the company’s showroom, it has gone through 18 to 24 months—sometimes more—of development, prototyping, play labs and focus groups, bouncing between designers, engineers, marketers and brand managers in Toronto, L.A. and China, where Spin has 260 employees.
So, with nearly two years of methodical trial and error, hundreds of professionals masterfully build toys that are exactly what most kids in the targeted demographic subgroup will desire. They then unleash a globally coordinated marketing campaign that will make kids around the world cry out for this previously unknown item, right on cue.
(Aside: if I were writing a fictionalized account of a toy company who made products that ensnare unsuspecting children to embrace a nefarious corporation’s goals, I couldn’t have come up with a better name than “Spin Master”. Companies like Spin have mastered the art of “spinning” every form of media messaging to create desires that compel people to buy their products.)
Next, consider the Hatchimal commercials. Each one is expertly crafted with beautiful kids in the right demographics, showing the perfect level of awe, excitement, and pleasure upon receiving their very own Hatchimal. Even parents are hooked when they see these engaging videos. If kids are spending over seven hours a day on screens, they are watching these commercials many times a day. That’s how desires for things that are unnecessary and even harmful are created: our mind becomes programmed to need things through constant exposure. It will become all the kids think about until they get one, and then the next one, and the next.
Finally, consider the web of social media. Kids (and adults) are constantly connected to what their friends think about the latest craze. Photos and videos of their friends or frenemies in elation over the acquisition of Penguala will boost their desires far over the point of rationality. They will need a Hatchimal like they need air, water, and food. Survival will depend on it!
Calleja’s article reveals Spin Master’s ultimate motive:
It’s not really fair to call Spin Master a toy maker any more. It’s more like a children’s entertainment company. “We want to be pioneers of play,” says Gadbois. “Anywhere the kids are, we want to be there to entertain them,” whether it’s TV, YouTube, social media, mobile gaming or the toy aisle.”
“Anywhere the kids are, we want to be there to entertain them.” What a chilling thought! And is that not what’s happening? We can hardly go anywhere without the messages, inside or outside our homes, shaping the minds of everyone to want whatever is being promoted at the moment. And it’s not just Spin’s goal, but the focus of every toy, food, device, and entertainment company. With constant screens “anywhere kids are,” we are being programmed to become engines of corporate profit, without regard for our long-term welfare.
Here’s the real risk of being pulled into fads like Hatchimals: we are being led into a cycle of addiction and a form of slavery. Here’s how it works: Entertainment creates a new desire. That desire is to obtain a pleasure, something for us to consume. A cost, typically in dollars and time, is required to obtain that pleasure. Once obtained, the pleasure lasts a short time, leading us to more entertainment, and the downward cycle of self-absorbed pleasure seeking continues.
Over time, the entertain > desire > pay > pleasure cycle consumes a person’s life, becoming a form of slavery that eliminates their freedom to think clearly and become someone who can make a positive difference in the world.
Girls on this cycle become programmed with this thinking: “I want what’s popular. I want what’s on TV or Instagram or Pinterest, and I want to focus on this all the time.” At the young age of Hatchimal’s target audience, she just wants cute little toys. As that girl grows up, however, more media-driven desires will lead her to the heavily sexualized destination our entertainment-saturated culture wants all women to embrace.
Instead of staying on the media-corporate-complex’s pleasure-enslavement cycle, we need to help kids learn to think clearly so they can use their God-given abilities to help meet the world’s many desperate needs.
So, what should you do instead of buying your kids a Hatchimal this Christmas? Here are some ideas:
- Limit screen time: any more than an hour a day is allowing them to be programmed to want things they don’t need, and to think in ways that enslave them. Dr. Joshua Straub is an expert in helping kids breaking free from screens.
- Teach kids about the enslavement cycle. Let them know they are being specifically targeted. Most people, especially kids, don’t want to be tricked, deceived, or manipulated into doing anything. If kids know they are being played, they are less likely to fall prey to the cycle.
- Add new inputs that create healthy desires, which feed creativity, initiative, and a desire to help others. You can start with great books about heroes of the past like Harriett Tubman, Florence Nightingale, Isaac Newton, or Martin Luther King. Fill them with the hope that they can change the world like these people did.
- Consider alternate gifts like books from Lamplighter Publishing or Ramsey Solutions. If nothing else, go for Legos, but limit the screen-based add-ons.
The great problems of our age will not be solved by people who are stuck on the media-driven, desire creation, addiction forming, dollar and time extracting treadmill. They will be solved by free, deep thinking people who have instead engaged in a virtuous cycle fed by what is true, honorable, right, pure, lovely, and of real goodness.
I don’t want my kids to be so constantly entertained so that they think life is about pleasing themselves. I want them to be able to see the world with its needs and then foster the desire within them to invest their lives into the hard work of meeting needs all around them.
So consider: do you want your kids to be free to be their best? You’re going to have to show the way by bravely refusing to be pulled into the latest craze. Otherwise, they’ll be ensnared, temporarily pacified by the current fad–until the next one comes along.