There is a petition circulating on the internet asking Toys R Us CEO Antonio Urcelay to pull a recent advertisement which chronicles an outing with a group of children from the Boys and Girls Club and Big Brothers/Big Sisters. The children were led to believe they were going on a field trip to the woods but instead were brought to Toys R Us. There they were allowed to pick out a toy—courtesy of the company. The children’s joy at the toy store was infectious compared to their initial reaction to the purported field trip—which was more resigned complacency if not boredom.
And therein lies the root of the petition, which accuses Toys R Us of making a mockery of environmental education and putting an unneeded if not dangerous emphasis on consumerism.
While I appreciate the passion of those who have already signed, I will not be one of them.
As a parent, bringing magic to my children’s lives is one of my greatest joys—and the element of surprise plays a big part. Just yesterday I listened to a colleague tell the story of his eight-year-old nephew whose grandparents surprised him with a trip to Disney. His suitcase was packed and in the trunk. He got in the car thinking he was going on an errand. They arrived at the airport and asked him if he wanted to go on a trip. He thought they meant to New Jersey to visit relatives. They said, “How about instead we go to Disney?”
Or what about the parent who says to his son or daughter, “Let’s go to the library,” but instead takes a detour to the local movie theater and surprises him/her with a movie date?
My colleague’s parents were not making a mockery of errand-running or visiting relatives with their ruse. The parent who went to the movies instead of the library is not dismissing literacy. In both scenarios, the adults were trying to create a little bit of magic for children—exactly the premise behind the Toys R Us event.
Now, for those who feel Toys R Us went too far in portraying the children as bored at the prospect of going to the woods, I get it. I am a teacher. I understand the discomfit we all feel when children, the greatest truth-tellers on our planet, yawn or otherwise seem disinterested in what we have planned. But we know they do. As parents, we correct and let them know it’s not appropriate; advertisers, I suspect, might capitalize on the juxtaposition.
Lastly, and perhaps most significantly, the author of the petition refers to the children who participate in this experience as “disadvantaged.” As a child who grew up “disadvantaged,” I admit I may have a heightened sensitivity to the use of this adjective to describe a child’s situation which has nothing to do with him or her and for which the child bears no responsibility; however, as much as the author feels this ad does a disservice to the efforts of environmental educators, I feel slinging adjectives onto children is equally dangerous—maybe even moreso. I remember how it felt as a young child to be termed “poor,” “disadvantaged,” or “needy.” I am forty-five years old and can still feel it.
In truth, raising children is all about balance. Children should be in nature. They should also play with toys. But no matter, they should be allowed to experience and believe in magic. And at the very least they should be safe from adults hurling discriminating labels that wreak havoc with their self-concept—because no amount of magic can make that better.
[NOTE: As of this afternoon, the word “disadvantaged” was removed from the petition. While I am certainly grateful for the removal, it remains disturbing that roughly 600 people read and signed the petition with the word included. Further, it is equally disconcerting that the content of any petition can change once people have signed it. Please think about this before you sign your next petition.]