The season of list-making has begun in our household.
Now that the excitement of Halloween costumes and trick or treat has passed, my children are engaged in the process of crafting and editing their wish lists for Christmas. My son, aided by clever marketing by the maker of one of his favorite toys, has already handed me a list of 20 kits that he would be pleased to receive under the Christmas tree. My daughter has only one item on her list, an art kit. But she adds excitement to holiday shopping by naming a must-have item at the last minute, leading my wife and me to debate whether to purchase it and then to race to the store. If you have children in your life, you're probably familiar with these patterns.
The year-end holidays — Christmas, Hanukkah and Kwanzaa — present interesting challenges and opportunities to parents, grandparents and everyone who cares about children. How many items on the wish list do we provide as gifts? What is the right balance of practical items like clothes, educational items like books, and entertainment items like toys and games? And in an entertainment world that is saturated with violent and sexual images, how do we talk to the children we love about appropriate and inappropriate gift items?
I first learned about the ethical issues related to children's toys from longtime peace activists Joanne Sheehan and Kate Donnelly. Informed by their work as nonviolent activists and their experience as parents, their campaigns against war toys were among the first in the nation to call attention to the impact that violent toys have on children. Working with teachers, parents and organizations like the War Resisters League, they conducted research on violent toys, wrote articles and pamphlets, spoke to community groups and even picketed toy stores to encourage the purchase of creative, nonviolent toys. They were motivated by the simple idea that violent toys can desensitize people to the reality that war is not fun and games, it involves terrible suffering and death.