Barbie Dolls and Choosing Careers

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I came across these research findings the other day.

ExchangeEveryDay: Barbie Dolls and Your Career (3/21/14)

“An Oregon State researcher has found that girls who play with Barbie dolls see fewer career options for themselves than for boys,” according to the college’s website. One of the researchers involved in the study, Aurora Sherman, observed, “Playing with the Barbie has an effect on girls’ ideas about their place in the world.  It creates a limit on the sense of what’s possible in the future.  While it’s not a massive effect, it is a measurable and statistically significant effect….”

“Childhood development is complex, and playing with one toy isn’t likely to alter a child’s career aspirations,” Sherman noted.  “But toys such as dolls or action figures can influence a child’s ideas about their future….  For parents, the most important thing is to look at the child’s toy box and make sure there is a wide variety of toys to play with.”

Experience teaches only the teachable.
-Aldous Huxley

I found the results to be very interesting. Girls and boys between the ages of 4-7 years of age were given traditional Barbie dolls, Barbie dolls with career accessories, and Mr. Potato Head dolls with career accessories to play with. When they were asked whether or not career options where something they could do as a grown-up, girls who played with the traditional Barbies limited themselves to the fewest options.

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This made me think back to when I was a young girl who enjoyed playing with Barbie dolls. I remember having the most fun and playing the longest with them once I received the Barbie camper, complete with sleeping bags. Barbie and her pals could then have adventures and the stories would flow. Otherwise I would dress and undress the dolls, or comb their silky hair, eventually getting bored because I didn’t know what to do with them. They didn’t do much except look pretty. That became dull pretty quickly. I would find adventure elsewhere.

I much preferred baby dolls, who I could feed, bath, take places, and teach. Hmmm, and I became an early childhood teacher. Is it true that we become what we know and experience?

A normally-proportioned Barbie is coming soon to stores, one that has ankles that bend so she can run or wear heels. This sounds like a doll that will enrich the minds of young children in a more positive way. These are dolls that are active and do more than look good on the sidelines or for that perfect photo opportunity. I wonder how this will change the future outlook for girls who play with her.

Either way, it is a good reminder to take a look in the toy box for a variety of toys that encourage critical thinking, creative play, a chance to unwind, and an opportunity to get active.

What’s in your child’s toy box? What could you add to it to make it more well-rounded?

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