Girls abandon dolls for Web-based toysPaige Gabriele loved her dolls -- once.
By: Lini S. Kadaba , The Philadelphia Inquirer
Paige Gabriele loved her dolls -- once.
At age 8, however, the Swarthmore, Pa., girl has largely abandoned them. Even Barbie gets slim face time, and the single American Girl doll, a gift from her grandmother, sits pretty on her bureau -- untouched.
Playing with dolls "gets boring after a while," said Paige as she passed by the well-stocked aisles full of Barbie, Moxie Girlz, Liv, and other fashion dolls at a nearby Target. She was more interested in a basketball, and gushed about social Web sites such as moshimonsters.com, where she nurtures pet monsters.
It used to be that dolls held girls' interest at least through elementary school. But these days, girls are dropping such playthings at ever younger ages, largely replacing the childhood mainstay with technology-driven activities, even as the toy industry battles to attract the coveted market with new products.
According to the NPD Group, U.S. doll sales have declined by nearly 20 percent since 2005, and older girls are the least likely to have such toys. In 2009, 18 percent of dolls sold went to girls 9 and older, but 37 percent landed in the hands of 3- to 5-year-olds, the "sweet spot" ages, said Anita Frazier, NPD toys and video games industry analyst.
Jeff Holtzman, third-generation head of dollmaker Goldberger Co., based in Manhattan, said his business used to make dolls for children from birth to 12. Nowadays, Goldberger focuses on children younger than 3.
"By the time they hit 4 or 5, they want a cell phone," Holtzman said. "We're replacing dolls sooner."
One reason is that older children have more options, said Frazier. "With more choice comes time fragmentation," she said.
But ditching doll play says just as much about the erosion of childhood, as well as imagination and attention spans, argue some -- as it does about the multitude of gadgets and activities that vie for children's spare time.
Lindsey Peppel, 12, of Phoenixville, Pa., hasn't played with the fashionable figures for a while, instead favoring online sites, including Barbie.com, and Barbie video games (when she's not reading books).
"I don't think I'm good at making up imaginary things," she said. "I didn't know what to do with dolls."
Consumer psychologist Kit Yarrow, who chairs the psychology department at Golden Gate University and wrote the book Gen BuY, agrees that children nowadays need lots of stimulation to keep their interest.
But she said, that's not necessarily a negative. "Maybe," she argued, "this is preparation for exactly what they need when they grow up. The world these kids are going to be adults in is more souped up."
Others, though, say loss of doll play is a sign of the Microsoft speed at which children mature.
"Girls don't play with dolls as much or for as long anymore because they are being socialized by media culture to grow up faster," said Patricia Leavy, an associate professor of sociology at Stonehill College in Easton, Mass., who has witnessed a lack of interest in dolls in her own 9-year-old daughter.
After all, 5 is the new 10, and 10 is the new 15.
Often, young girls, called tweens by marketers, are pushed to act and look like teens, whether that message comes from the latest "Hannah Montana" TV shows, outfits at the Limited Too, or virtual playlands. Playing with dollies has little place in this world.
Tween culture "is transforming the lives of girls," Leavy said, and often to the detriment of self-esteem, she argued, with its emphasis on idealized images of beauty.
To understand why this matters, consider the role of traditional doll play in socialization.
"When little girls play with dolls, they're practicing being a mommy, practicing tending and nurturing," said psychologist Yarrow.
Although some say an avatar fills the role just fine, Leavy disagrees, calling online diversions "a different level of intimacy and connection. It doesn't have to be dolls, but I don't think it's going to come from a Web site."