Toys 'R' Us messes with Mother Nature: trees vs. toys [+video]
Toys "R" Us commercial pokes fun at nature – suggesting toys are more fun. It's a troubling ad setup for a mom who worries about the millions of American children who rarely get outside or have a chance to interact with nature.
Hey kids: Forget boring nature. Get a new plastic toy instead!Skip to next paragraph
Amanda Paulson is a staff writer based in Boulder, Colo.
Subscribe Today to the Monitor
That’s the basic message behind this new Toys "R" Us ad touting a surprise outing in which they took a busload of kids and let them each pick out any toy they wanted in a Toys "R" Us store.
Giving a free toy to kids in need is great. What’s not so great is the way Toys "R" Us chose to frame this special outing, both to the kids and to viewers of this “make all their wishes come true” promo.
The kids are told they’re going on a field trip to the forest, and get on a green bus with “Meet the Trees Foundation” painted on the side, along with a faux ranger, who tells them, “We’re not going to waste any time. Let’s play ‘Name that leaf.’ "
The camera pans to yawning kids, and we’re all invited to ridicule this totally lame field trip, until the actor rips off his fake ranger uniform and announces, “You know what I like more than trees? I like toys. We’re going to Toys "R" Us, kids!”
The kids erupt into screaming, jumping, joyful chaos.
Every kid loves toys. In critiquing this ad, I’m not trying to be a killjoy who says that toys – especially for kids who don’t have much – are a bad thing.
But as a parent who cares deeply about getting my kids outdoors, and who worries about the millions of American children who rarely get outside or have a chance to interact with nature, I find the setup of the ad troubling.
I also find it ill-informed, based on adults’ preconceived notions of what must be “fun” or “boring,” rather than on kids own sensibilities. Anyone who has spent much time with children who do get to go to the forest, and have free play with dirt, sticks, trees, and stumps, knows how much they love it.
Give them an experience in nature with a gifted educator who can show how exciting catching a water bug, or finding an earthworm, or trying to construct their own nest can be – as opposed to an actor deliberately trying to make nature “boring” – and you’ll see kids with shining eyes and an exhilarated sense of discovery.
They may not be screaming with the out-of-control abandon they exhibited at the mention of Toys "R" Us – even kids have learned when they’re supposed to be really excited. But I would argue that the joy they get from that natural experience is far deeper, more long-lasting, and will pay much greater dividends over their lifetime than any object they bring home from the toy store, which more than likely will be both broken and forgotten in a short time, another casualty of our throwaway culture.
In his landmark book, "Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children from Nature-Deficit Disorder," Richard Louv documents the degree to which we as a society – and especially our children – have become disengaged from nature, and the harm that it causes.