Kids Toys Suck

I know I sound like a 29 year-old codger, but the toys created for kids today are too glitzy. I had a big yellow Tonka dump truck made of steel that went CLANG CLANG CLANG all over the yard. The tires were big and knobby and if you weren’t careful, you could hurt yourself on the sharp edges — like a real dump truck!

When you pushed the weighty, intimidating monstrosity across the gravel it “drove” like a washboard and made all kinds of rattling, metallic sounds. You got a sense that it was something substantial, like you were in a rock quarry (in your driveway) doing grown-up work. Unfortunately, today’s Tonka dump trucks are made of soft, gentle plastic that sounds like tupperware. Boring.


Mine was nearly identical to this, rust and all.

I imagined myself as a tiny person driving up front in the cab, overlooking the earth like a God among men.


Here’s the modern version with a plastic safety handle in front of the bed.

Kids apparently sit inside of the truck bed with this version rather than playing in rocks and imagining themselves operating the real thing.

All of the realism has been replaced by exaggerated shapes and proportions. The corners are rounded so little herp-derp Timmy doesn’t bleed when he falls on his face. And where is the driver supposed sit? The cockpit is completely gone! I do have to give Tonka a bit of credit; while they’re ruined the realism, it’s still well-made and highly regarded.

And at least the Tonka dump truck is still a toy truck. Some toys that once served as analogues to adulthood have been replaced by unrealistic objects that create their own light, sound, and motion. Forget creativity — Chinese-made devices that go “BLEEP BLEEP” are doing all the acting and thinking. The child, no longer required to use his or her imagination, has been reduced to an audience member.

I realize not all toys from my era were basic metal objects. We (by “we” that I mean kids whose parents had more money than mine) had Teddy Ruxpin, the creepy animated bear that moved his mouth while telling stories, but that was cutting edge for the 80s and quite expensive. Most importantly, Ruxpin’s engaging storytelling got kids interested in books, at least in audio form, so creativity and imagination had not been replaced by mindless consumption.

Fast Tube by Casper

I can certainly understand the need for updates and modernizations. Educational software has to compete with CGI cartoons, iPods, animatronic toys, and Miley Cyrus. In my day, way back in the 1980s (I say that tongue-in-cheek), we had stickers, baseball cards, skateboards, dirt bikes, and used our voices to make “vroom” sounds with toy cars made of metal.

Video games were well-developed by the mid 80s, but moving a fat Italian plumber across the screen required hard work and hand-eye coordination. Granted, so does Call of Duty, which I’m terrible at.

I could go on about movies, music, games, and toys, but none of it matters if kids are trapped indoors.

That may be the most important difference between my time as a child and what children experience now: my generation went outside and got fresh air. We roamed the street, at least within the boundaries set by my parents, and turned our shitty little Southern Illinois neighborhood into an imagination paradise. On any given day I was a cowboy, indian, cop, robber, doctor, husband, dad, or anything else I pretended to be.

We communicated in person and wandered in and out of each other’s homes. We learned about backgrounds and cultures by occasionally having dinner with each other’s families. We could see how our neighbors lived, for better or worse, and compare and contrast our values to theirs. [It was quite a cultural experiment for me to eat peas and mashed potatoes at the homes of my white friends, while they came over and had noodles at our place.]

And of course I got hurt several times, wiping out on my bike and ending up in the hospital for stitches. To this day, I’m still missing half an eyebrow. That’s what you’re supposed to do when you’re growing up — you make real mistakes on a smaller scale and learn from them rather than being sheltered, so you don’t grow into an incompetent idiot as an adult.

And even as adults, we need to remember that there’s life to enjoy outside the gray walls of our cubicles. Put down your smartphone and go outside.

2 Responses to Kids Toys Suck

  1. says:

    compare the new tonka dump to the caterpillar 797F mine truck.

  2. John says:

    They’re made out of plastic today?!???!?
    But that’s not a Tonka Truck!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *