Are Your Children’s Toys Teaching Them To Be “Naughty or Nice?”

Photo by Oleg Sergeichik.

As present-shopping is in full swing this Christmas season, a key question should be asked by Christian parents: “What is this toy teaching my child?”. Almost all of the toys available are manufactured by “the world.” They are made by people who are consumed with “the desires of the flesh, the desires of the eyes, and the pride of life,” (I John 2:16). Therefore Christian parents must determine what the world is trying to communicate to their child(ren) with its toys.

One key truth in scripture can help Christian parents as they shop for their children. The truth is mankind was made “in the image of God” (Gen. 1:26). Mankind was not made in his own image. One is neither the reference point for his own existence, nor the source for the purpose of her existence. The reference point and the reason for one’s existence is found in God.

According to theologians, the first reference point for mankind is we image God. To image God means to display who God is in character, word, and deed. God, who is spirit and hence, invisible, is predominantly made visible on earth through mankind. It is the Church’s duty and high-privilege to image their Father.

The toys our children play with should teach or affirm that mankind has been made to image God. For instance, regarding God’s character, we might ask, do the toys we gift, on the whole, communicate God’s character or the flesh’s nature? Do the toys promote, more often than not, love, patience, beauty, creativity, etc.? Granted, man is a flawed being and does not always image God. Figures within a toy series do replicate this reality. Are the flaws, however, glorified by the toy’s storyline or are they presented as negative aspects in one’s life and in need of change or being properly dealt with?

What is the overall storyline of the toy series? Does the narrative agree with biblical principles or does it present secular beliefs? A case in point would be Harry Potter. It is not wrong to buy Harry Potter toys for a child, but it would be unwise not to help the child understand the fictional nature of spells and other wizardly aspects of Harry’s world. As well, it would be wise to help your child understand how the books “are always on the side of life,” (per Baylor University professor Alan Jacobs).

One final thought about a toy series’ storyline: does good triumph in the end? Is there justice? Justice figures prominently in God’s character. Currently, God’s justice regarding Satan is being delayed according to His perfect will, but it will come in full. A toy’s storyline may or may not mirror this fact of justice delayed. Whatever the case, it is wise to note the presence or absence of it compared to God’s plan.

The next reference point is mankind was made to reflect God. Mankind is not the source of his own life or his own skills or his own features. Mankind reflects the Source. Do the toys under consideration portray man as the author and executor of his own destiny? Does a particular toy or its storyline promote people as capable of solving theirs and the world’s ills? Does the girls’ toy series promote physical beauty as the ultimate achievement? Is the perfecting of one’s appearance the main point of the toy? If so, the toy’s destructive philosophy must be exposed.

The final reference point is people were created to represent God. A representative speaks and acts on behalf of another person. This person does not create and develop one’s own talking points. The representative shares the thoughts of another, communicates the emotions of another, and clarifies the desires of another. The defining verse on speech is Colossians 4:6, “Let your speech be always with grace …”. Paul Tripp explains this verse by saying our words are to “bring health into a person’s life.”

Speech is to be used for enrichment, not as a wrecking ball or a poison. Speech with grace is what the representative of God speaks and listens to. What one listens to can pollute the mind and corrosively affect the heart. Therefore great care must be taken.

This truth is particularly applicable to the selection of books, video, and music. On a basic level, does the media being considered advocate virtue or vice? Does it present pride, lust, materialism, money, etc. in a positive light? Does it mock virtue or present a diluted version of it? Does it describe or hype sinful activities “done … in secret” that Christians should be ignorant of (Eph. 5:12)? Finally, does the media advocate humanism?  Is it filled with self-exalting words that do not lead to a God-glorifying life?

These are just a sampling of questions Christian parents can consider as they look for presents to purchase this Christmas season for their children. We must use discretion as we navigate the toy aisles brimming with eye-catching “bells and whistles.” One may wonder, “Do certain answers to one or more of these questions automatically mean that the toy, book, video, or music should not be purchased?”. Maybe, maybe not. As mentioned earlier (with the Harry Potter toys), buying some toys may not be wrong, but it would be unwise not to have a conversation with your child about the good and bad elements of the toy.

The important thing to know and communicate to children is purpose. Every toy has been created with a purpose in mind. As children play with toys, they are exposed to the philosophy that built the toy. A philosophy with views on morality, one’s origins, the purpose of life, the use of money, and self-identity. This information helps build and shape the categories into which they are placing all the information they are gobbling up. The construction of these categories is of the utmost importance for they assist greatly in forming a child’s future worldview. With intentional gift selection and proper communication, your children’s gifts can be an aid in forming a God-honoring worldview.