While doing my holiday shopping, I had to make a trip to the American Girl Store. My niece had requested a backpack (equipped with a miniature, yet very factual science text book) for her doll Natalie. I’m not sure I remember a Natalie from my “American Girl” books, but I went with it. After all, the backpack encouraged my niece’s love of learning (or so I made myself think so).
When I got to the store, I was shocked to see the doll hair salon on the first floor, next to a Build-A-Bear type station for dolls. Grown women were styling dolls’ hair for young girls. What happened to little girls brushing their own dolls’ hair? But, more importantly, why wasn’t the American Girl Store teaching young girls about the history behind the “American Girl” book characters on the first floor instead of encouraging them to make their own dolls with or without freckles? For the history lesson, I had to go up the escalator and when I got to the museum-like room in the corner of the second floor, it was quite neglected. Meaning, despite the large crowd of girls in the tea room with $20-24″doll-friendly dining”, no one seemed interested in educator Pleasant Rowland’s reason behind founding the “American Girl” franchise.
I picked up the backpack and rushed out of the store, feeling ashamed I had spent more money on a doll accessory than on any item of clothing in my closet. Was this over-the-top, popular doll culture that was selling pretty successfully indicative of where younger generations were heading? Of course, I’m making a huge generalization over just one doll store, but only a day before this experience, I overheard a mother ask her daughter in the post office, “Would you cry if I got you a book for the holidays?” and the young girl replied, “Yes, for sure I would cry.” It broke my heart.
Thankfully, there are young activists, inventors and leaders out there that aren’t feeding into this superficial consumerism. For example, 10 and 11.5 year olds Carter and Olivia Ries founded the nonprofit One More Generation, which raises awareness about endangered animals. Seventeen year old Brittany Wenger invented a web app that detects breast cancer. Eight year old Kayleigh Crimmins founded Kids for K9s to donate bullet proof vests to police dogs. Twelve year old Koa Halpern founded Fast Food Free to encourage healthier eating in his community.
So, there’s hope. Not all kids are becoming superficial because of the toys that are being sold to them. Some kids are actually learning from the world and doing something with it. Parents should avoid taking their kids to the mall and instead take them out volunteer once a week so that they can see the world in a different way, and maybe realize how they can contribute to it. As for the advice I have for the American Girl Store’s CEO? Why not commodify kindness instead of superficiality?
Photo from AmericanGirl.com.