The New Snack-Like Toys: 1.35 billion* missed opportunities to connect with our kids

*Calculated from statistics provided in the article: Toys $10 and under make up 27% of the $25 billion toy business = $6.75 billion/assumed average sale price of $5 = 1.35 billion toys sold


Children are starting to play the way they eat, which means a lot of snacking.

As children play more on-the-go – in the back of a car; in the 30 minutes after dinner but before a lesson; on the sidelines of a sibling’s soccer match – manufacturers are making toys portable and compact. The bite-size games are taking a page from the growing popularity of snack foods, whether presented in crinkly foil bags, resealable zip-lock containers, or yogurt cups.

Companies are strategically placing the impulse items near candy at checkout or in front-of-store display racks and bins. They hope that food-like packaging, under-$10 prices and positioning outside the toy aisle can attract the attention of children from toddler age to tween and compete with cell phones that parents can whip out in a moment’s notice. (Wall Street Journal, May 18th 2016)


Snackable toys?  What the hell?  So many things wrong, on so many levels…

water play


We don’t have time (but we really d0)

We tell ourselves we don’t have time to connect with our kids; to do all the things we want to do with them or talk with them about the important things in life. The truth is that we do have time – the toy companies have found that time, and want to convince us that we need to fill it with entertainment. Those five minutes in the check-out line? Great for a game of peek-a-boo with your toddler. The ten minutes you spend waiting for dinner in a restaurant? Perfect time to ask how your middle schooler resolved yesterday’s playground spat. We have the time; it’s just a question of how we choose to use it.

If we’re “whipping out cell phones on a moment’s notice” then presumably we’re doing that to keep our kids occupied. Don’t get me wrong; I don’t think any parent should pay 100% attention to their child all the time. We all need a mental break, and our kids don’t benefit from 100% supervision either. But if a child is fussing or whining or doing something else that irritates you enough to give them a phone or buy them a toy to keep them quiet, then perhaps it isn’t the phone or the toy they need but simply a moment of our attention. And if we stuff the phone or the toy in their hands maybe, in the back of our minds, it’s because we’re afraid of the real conversations.  Or of trying to start a real conversation and not knowing how.

Where do our children learn this inability to pass a single moment without entertainment? From ourselves, of course. From the way we whip out our own phones to entertain ourselves whenever we have a few spare seconds. We tell ourselves we’re busy, that every moment is packed.  Because “this is the cultural pathology of our time: If we stopped doing what we do, we might not know who we are.”


stacking blocks


Boredom is not the enemy

What does it tell our children when we stuff something in their hands the moment they express boredom? Could it possibly tell them that it’s not OK to get bored? That we will always make sure they are entertained? And what’s wrong with that?

It turns out that boredom is a useful condition, because “when we’re bored, we’re searching for something to stimulate us. We might go off in our heads to try to find that stimulation by our minds wandering, daydreaming, and you start thinking a little bit beyond the conscious, a little bit in the subconscious, which allows…different connections to take place” says UK-based psychologist Sadie Mann. Boredom has value. More value than snacking on toys.

Back to the Journal: “I would happily pay $3.99 for that rather than candy or a bag of chips” says one mother who has spent $300 on snackable toys. She doesn’t want to spend money on candy because it isn’t healthy: the sugar gives us a quick energy rush followed by a crash – which is exactly what the toy is doing for her kids’ brains. The novelty of the new toy is like the sugar rush, and once the toy’s 15 minutes (literally!  That’s the length of time the manufacturers design them to be played with) are up, it’s tossed in the back of a closet and Mom has to buy a new one.

What would our kids do if we said “no”? They’d be bored. Briefly. Then they’d daydream. Or make up a story. Or draw a picture. Or run around. Or invent a game with whatever materials they have on-hand. Maybe this will help to develop their innate ability to be creative.

And what parent wouldn’t spend under $10 for that?

Do you want to understand how your child’s brain is developing?

If there's just no way you can get to all the reading on your child's development that you want to do, check out my free four-page summary of Your Child’s Growing Mind by Jane M. Healy, Ph.D.

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  • Reply
    June 2, 2016 at 3:37 am

    A great post for a soon-to-be parent and appliciable to adults too.

    • Reply
      June 2, 2016 at 6:58 am

      Thanks, Sarah – glad you found it useful.

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