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

Photo by Oleg Sergeichik.

Have you heard about the gender-fluid doll from Mattel? Yes, you read that sentence correctly. Last year (2019), Mattel debuted THE CREATABLE WORLD doll collection. With the toy, children are able to select the doll’s hair style as well as its type of dress in order to “give [children] the freedom” to make the doll a boy or a girl or a boy again. The “doll line [is] designed to keep labels out and invite everyone in,” Mattel said.

What would you do if one of your relatives gifted this (or another present of a similar type) to your child on Christmas? How would you react? Would you let her or him keep it? How would you explain what is wrong with the toy? Would you instruct your child that he or she could only play with one set of accessories that corresponds to one gender?

To a certain degree, toys are never just toys. They are also teachers. Baby dolls “teach” little girls the basics of mothering. Legos teach children the basics of engineering and construction. And Mattel’s latest doll line teaches children switching genders is normal. 

As present-shopping kicks into full swing this Christmas season, Christian parents should ask themselves a key question: What is this toy teaching my child(ren), whether inadvertently or purposefully?

All toys are manufactured in a fallen world. They are all made by sinners, people who apart from Christ have thoughts and actions that are dominated by the “the desires of the flesh, the desires of the eyes, and the pride of life” (I John 2:16). This does not mean every toy manufacturer is consumed thoroughly with these desires, driving them to create toys that directly push one or more of these sin categories. Nor does it mean every toy line is corrupted by the sin of the people who create them. It does mean, though, their work is affected, to one degree or another, by sin. So Christian parents must determine to what degree the world’s brokenness may be communicated through the toys we purchase for our child(ren). 

Here are three big scriptural truths parents should consider when purchasing toys:

Mankind was Made to Image God’s Character

Mankind was made “in the image of God” (Gen.1:26–27). The implication is that we are not the reference points for our own existence nor the source for the purpose of our existence. The reference point for who we are—the reason for our existence—is found in God.

The invisible God was made fully visible in the person of his Son, Jesus Christ. As a consequence, mankind has the benefit of knowing who God is. In the Old Testament, God revealed himself as the universe’s Sovereign, the ultimate Judge, the model Father, and, through Christ, as the Creator. Mankind also knows God the Son united with human flesh. He is made manifest as the dearest Friend, the Divine Humanitarian who cares for the least of these, the Good Shepherd, and the Savior of sinners. 

Mankind was designed to show forth these dimensions of God’s life in miniature. We were made to image God, to display, without addition or modification, who God is in character, deed, and word. In light of that truth, we must ask, do the toys we purchase communicate—explicitly or implicitly—that mankind has been made to image God? Here are some great questions to ask:

  • With respect to God’s character, we might ask, do these toys communicate God’s character or the character of the sinful nature? Do they promote love, patience, beauty, creativity, justice, compassion, and sacrifice?
  • Humanity is flawed and does not always image God’s will perfectly. Minifigures in a toy line will often replicate this reality, but we must ask, are the flaws glorified by the toy company or are they presented as negative qualities that must be overcome, changed, or properly dealt with?
  • With a series of toys, it’s also helpful to know the narrative arc of that particular toy line’s “universe.” Does this narrative align with biblical virtues based on God’s character or does it promote secular beliefs? A case in point would be the Harry Potter line of toys. I don’t believe it’s wrong to buy Harry Potter toys for a child, but I do think it’s unwise for a parent not to also help the child understand that the spells and other wizardly aspects of Harry’s world are fictional. It’s also helpful to see—as Baylor University professor Alan Jacobs points out—that the books “are always on the side of life.”
  • Another question related to a series’ storyline is this, does good triumph in the end? Is there justice? Justice figures prominently in God’s character. God sometimes executes justice during a person’s life in accordance with his sovereign timing, but he also delays justice until the end of the age. Justice for Satan, for instance, has been delayed but it will one day come in full in accordance with God’s perfect will. How does a toy series’ storyline mirror God’s justice? Does justice come immediately? Is it delayed? Does it come at all? It’s wise for parents to have conversations with their kids about the presence or absence of justice in a toy’s story.

Mankind was Made to Reflect God’s Design  

Mankind is not the source of his own life or her own skills or features. Mankind’s existence reflects God the Creator’s discretion. There is a proper use of the life we have been given, and there is an improper, destructive use of it. Our skills and features reflect his beauty, intellect, and power. Just as the moon reflects light from the sun and not vice versa, so we should not act as our own originator and determining force. So, we might ask: 

  • Do the toys on our to-buy list portray mankind as the author and executor of his own destiny? This is where the Mattel toys miss the mark so severely. It is not possible to both follow God’s design and make your own “Creatable World” where, if you so desire, you can change your gender.
  • But the danger of building a “reflection” apart from God isn’t limited to gender-fluid toys. The danger of a corrupting philosophy can be equal in toys that are gender stereotyped. Does a girls’ toy series promote physical beauty as the ultimate achievement? Is the perfecting of one’s appearance the main point of the toy? Does a boys’ toy series advocate a certain form of masculinity based on occupation or physical shape?

Mankind was Created to Represent God with our Words 

A representative speaks and acts on behalf of another person. He does not create and develop his own talking points. Rather, the representative shares the thoughts, communicates the emotions, and clarifies the desires of another. A 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. To speak with grace, God’s representative must listen to gracious speech. Sin-filled speech can easily pollute the mind and corrosively impact the heart. So we must take great care—particularly when selecting books, videos, and music for our kids. 

  • On a basic level, does the media being considered advocate virtue or vice? Does it present pride, lust, and materialism in a positive light or a negative one? Does it mock virtue or present a diluted version of it? Does it describe or hype sinful activities done in secret of which Christians should be ignorant (Eph. 5:12)?
  • Finally, does the media being considered advocate a humanistic worldview? Is it filled with self-exalting words that glorify people and not God?

This is just a sampling of questions you may consider as you look for gifts for your children this Christmas season. As you consider these questions, you might ask, do concerning answers to one or more of these questions mean that a toy, book, video, or music shouldn’t be purchased? Maybe, maybe not. As mentioned before regarding the Harry Potter series, buying some toys may not be wrong, but it would be unwise not to have a conversation with your child about the toy and its universe’s good and bad elements. 

Every toy that has been created is shaped by its creator’s particular worldview. And as your children play with toys, they are exposed to the philosophy of its designer—a philosophy packed with views on the origin of life, the concept of life (self-identity), the purpose of life, and the utility of life (morality). This worldview can shape young hearts and children’s views of who people are and how they are to live in both helpful and harmful ways.

But by being intentional with the gifts you select and by having good conversations with your child, your children can both learn to identify worldviews that are contrary to God’s design and also form a more God-honoring worldview.


Originally published by ERLC.