Star Wars, Holiday Toys and The Magic of How Kids Play

  
Have you finished your holiday shopping yet?  

Me neither.

Over the years, I’ve the found that the hardest – and most delightful – people to buy for are kids. The toys, games and gifts that we get them represent much more than simply a nice little trinket of affection.  

They’re symbols of our relationships with the children we love and who we want them to be. 

In recent years technology has wreaked havoc with the toy industry, vastly expanding choice and redefining the nature of play.

 “The toy industry is a 19th Century business trying very hard to break into the 21st,” says my friend, Richard Gottlieb of Global Toy Experts. Toy makers have had a devil of a time dealing with the digital aspects of play.

“The fight is no longer for space on a shelf, but time in a kid’s head.”

Video games, apps and social media present the industry with “an almost an existential crisis,” says Richard.  They’ve forced the folks at Lego, Mattel, Hasbro and countless other companies to ask themselves: “Who are we? What is a toy? How do we play?”

My podcast co-host, Jim Meigs and I interviewed Richard for “How Do We Fix It?”  We had a lot of fun and came away with a more open-minded view of what a great toy can be.  Unlike so many in the toy industry, our guest, a long-time consultant and marketing expert, is both playful and passionate.

Richard loves the challenges that tech has brought to our world and how it’s changed our thinking on so many things. He’s in the business of unwrapping new ideas.

All of us fall into one of three categories, he says. “Digital native, digital immigrant – we speak with an accent – or you never made the trip and stayed back in the analog world.”

“Many toy companies are led by people who never made the trip.”  For them and even for many parents “it’s very hard to grasp the fact that we’ve had an evolutionary change in children.” 

They don’t always play the way we did when we were kids.  That might be disturbing, but the change does need to be understood.

Has this ever happened to you? 

“You see a kid in a restaurant with his family and his head is stuck inside of a cellphone playing a game and you say ‘what a crappy kid'”.  But that child, Richard insists, “doesn’t feel like he’s in a different space.  The reality is that his family is in there with him.” 

Children “don’t see a bright line between what’s virtual, what’s digital and what’s real.”

Which brings me back to what we put under the Christmas Tree.  Perhaps it shouldn’t be a thing, but an experience.  A trip or an outing, maybe.

For two decades I produced an annual feature for ABC News Radio called “Shopping For Kids.” Richard Gottlieb was a frequent guest.  So were the independent consumer experts Joanne and Stephanie Oppenheim, who publish the excellent ToyPortfolio Guide. 

  
Every year around this time, friends and colleagues would stop by and ask me “what’s the hot toy?” 

In recent years there’s been a parade of Elmo’s, Hot Wheels and Barbies.  This month almost anything to do with “Star Wars” is flying off the shelves – and perhaps for good reason.

Many parents were kids when those first incredible “Star Wars” movies came out.  They had a love affair with the characters.  The new toys represent a chance for Moms, Dads and their children to connect over a shared passion.

In general, instead of looking at hot toy lists (that are often paid for and promoted by large toy companies), I like what the folks at the National Toy Hall of Fame in Rochester, New York have to say. 

Each year, since 1999, they’ve inducted several toys and games into the Hall, using a generous definition of the popular products and experiences that have graced our lives.  

Mr. Potato Head, Play Doh, Easy-Bake Oven, Barbie, and Etch A Sketch are all in there, but so are bubbles, the stick, the ball and the cardboard box. 

“A lot of folks in the toy industry think they just compete with a lot of other folks in the toy industry,” says Richard Gottlieb.  But the truth is “anybody who sells the tools of play competes with anybody else – whether they’re in the amusement park business, video games, apps, or whatever.”

Last year Richard organized The World Congress of Play, an event that brought together people from robotics, artificial intelligence, theme parks and the toy industry.  The emphasis was on play. Not on products.

Perhaps we could all bring a greater sense of adventure, wonder and possibilities to gift buying.

Photos:  Flier for Star Wars Toy, Richard Davies with Richard Gottlieb at ABC News Radio, ToyPortfolio.com

Are Killjoys Opposed to Backyard Trampolines?

Photo by The Indianapolis Star – via USA Today

The big debate over trampoline safety is important but often distorted. So often news accounts are written from the perspective of the dangers they may present more than the fun they provide. Many who condemn home trampolines take a very different view about bikes, which can also be dangerous… Or contact sports… Or playgrounds. When properly supervised and equipped with netting tramps can be a terrific source of fun for kids.  But yes, they do present dangers. A question worth asking is whether we value play as much as we should? Are we trying to control and even squelch the joyous, spontaneous things our children get up to?

The article below is from USA Today…  May 7, 2014

INDIANAPOLIS — Boing, boing, boing … OWW! could be the anthem of the trampoline jumper — and that’s a good reason to ban the things, said an Indiana University researcher.

A new study from an Indiana University School of Medicine researcher finds that from 2002 to 2011, accidents on backyard trampolines accounted for nearly 289,000 visits to emergency rooms for broken bones. Factor in all accidents, not just fractures, and the tally rises to more than 1 million ER visits, according to the study which published online in the Journal of Pediatric Orthopaedics.

“We are inundated with injuries,” said Dr. Randall T. Loder, chair of orthopaedic surgery at the Indiana University School of Medicine and the study’s lead author. “Kids need to be healthy and active, but this is not the way to do it.”

STORY: Pediatricians: Backyard trampolines too dangerous

His study, the first to look at fractures related to trampoline use nationwide, found that over 10 years, trampolines caused an estimated 288,876 fractures, at a cost of more than $400 million. Trampoline injuries overall led to more than $1 billion in emergency room visits.

Loder, a surgeon at Riley Hospital for Children at IU Health, decided to do the study after seeing an increase in the number of patients with fractures suffered in backyard trampoline accidents.

The American Academy of Pediatrics has recommended against backyard trampolines since 1999, and many homeowner insurance policies either prohibit them or have a clear exclusion for trampoline injuries.

Still, that doesn’t stop parents from purchasing them.

Kids need to be healthy and active, but this is not the way to do it.
Dr. Randall T. Loder, chair of orthopaedic surgery at the Indiana University School of Medicine
And some, such as Mark Publicover, dispute how dangerous trampolines are. Publicover invented the trampoline safety enclosure about 15 years ago and founded JumpSport Inc., a San Jose-based trampoline company.

If you compare the number of hours children spend jumping on trampolines compared with the time they spend in other activities such as biking or swimming in backyard pools or playing on swing sets, trampolines cause much fewer injuries, Publicover said.

“If you look at all of the high energy activities kids can play in, trampolines end up being pretty much the safest things that they can do,” said Publicover, who broke his leg on an earlier generation trampoline.

Eight years ago Jason Reese, a personal injury lawyer in Carmel, Ind., purchased a trampoline for his three kids, now 14, 11 and 9; two years ago he replaced it with a large one he considers safer. He also hires an inspector to check the net once a year.

Strict rules govern the use of the Reese family’s trampoline. No more than four kids at a time. A parent must be home. Don’t bounce against the safety net. And no one is to go airborne.

The only injuries from their trampoline? A few bloody noses.

“For the most part, like any other parenting thing, it comes down to supervision,” said Reese. “You can do it safely.”

Still, he’s amazed at what he sees in other people’s backyards, from trampolines that have no nets, to those that sit on uneven surfaces to trampolines with decaying mats that provide iffy support.

Little surprise that stories about trampoline-related injuries are rife in the suburbs.

According to Loder’s study, which included data from 100 hospitals nationwide, the number of injuries peaked in 2004 with about 110,000. Since then, the number has slowly dropped to an estimated 80,000 injuries in 2011.

If you look at all of the high energy activities kids can play in, trampolines end up being pretty much the safest things that they can do.
Mark Publicover, founder of JumpSport Inc. and inventor of trampoline safety enclosure
Safety enclosures like the one Publicover invented, now standard on trampolines, no doubt have had much to do with the reduction in injuries, he said.

By 2004, 75% of trampolines had safety enclosures. At the same time, sales had gone from 600,000 a year just a few years ago to 1.2 million, Publicover said.

Doctors, however, would prefer to see much fewer injuries.

“Whether it’s 80,000 or 100,000, that’s still a huge number of totally preventable injuries,” Loder said. “The way to prevent it is not to go on it at all. There are lots of other ways to get exercise.”

The most common trampoline-related injury that Loder sees at Riley is an elbow fracture, which in some cases requires immediate surgery. Knee fractures that threaten growth plates and require surgery also are common, he said.

On average, patients were 9 years old; though those who have injuries of the spine, head, ribs and sternum — accounting for 4% of the injuries seen — had an average age of nearly 17, perhaps because they are bigger and can jump harder.

The study looked only at backyard trampolines and did not include trampoline parks. Almost all of the fractures, 95%, happened at the injured person’s home.

Loder does not question the appeal of trampolines, just whether they’re worth the risk.

“I’m sure they’re fun,” he said. “There’s no doubt about it that they’re fun. They’re fun up until the time they get the injury.”