This article was written by guest blogger Laurel Wilder. Laurel Wider is the creator of Wonder Crew — dolls inspired by boys. The company behind Wonder Crew, PlayMonster, is a member of the Ad Council’s Leadership Council. They are a toy and game company, championing the power of play by creating quality toys and games for children, adults and families. PlayMonster believes that toys and games have the ability to make a difference in people’s lives, so working with the Ad Council was a no brainer. Together, we will be bringing the important and life changing messages of the Ad Council to millions of families across America.
With Father’s Day approaching this Sunday, I’m reminded of the importance of fatherhood and the role dads play in the lives of our children. The Ad Council’s Fatherhood Involvement campaign reminds us that “it only takes a moment to make a moment.” Those moments can include everything from reading to your toddler, to braiding your daughter’s hair, to playing with dolls – yes, that’s right dads can play with dolls too.
When my preschool son told me that “boys don’t cry” three years ago, my heart sank. I remember thinking to myself: we live in a progressive town, we talk endlessly about feelings at home, I’m a therapist for goodness sake – how did this happen?
Fathers can play an important role in shaping their sons’ (and daughters’) views about what it means to be a man. But, really we all play a role and culturally speaking, boys are still largely being taught to prioritize toughness and self-reliance over vulnerability – from my work with clients I’ve seen this lead to isolation, depression and sometimes aggression. The Grant Study published in 2012, followed 268 Harvard undergraduate men for 75 years, the findings: Strong relationships and the ability to connect emotionally are key to happiness, health and even career success.
We have evidence that play impacts child development, which means toys have the power to influence the way kids see themselves and the world around them. As I surveyed toys marketed to boys, I couldn’t find anything with a human face that encouraged the kind of play that supported close relationships or friendships. Instead I saw many action figures, heavy on muscles and aggression, which doesn’t lend itself to connection, empathy or nurturing.
After interviewing over 150 parents, kids, educators, toy industry experts and psychologists, I learned that: doll play teaches a wealth of social and emotional skills; boys are interested in playing with dolls; yet for many parents and kids, there’s a stigma attached to this kind of play and the word doll itself is a barrier.
Based on this research, I came up with Wonder Crew by merging the adventure of an action figure with the emotional connection of a favorite stuffed animal. Nurturing comes in all forms — why can’t a superhero also be a nurturer? I believe this ‘hybrid’ approach sheds light on the notion that kids (and grown-ups) can be many things all at once, for example, a person can be strong or even tough AND an emotional human being; one does not cancel out the other. The Ad Council’s PSA featuring WWE Superstar Roman Reigns is a perfect example of this. Imagine if kids got this message early on?
Similar to the way STEM toys have begun to expand the way girls play and envision their potential, Wonder Crew is part of a new conversation about boys’ potential – one where feelings and connection are a valued piece of their identity. The ability to connect emotionally benefits a person throughout life; these skills are learned. It’s time to address the developmental needs of the whole child and move beyond stereotypes.