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First Person/Susan Linn

Susan Linn on saying ‘no’ to sexualized toys, violent games

Anti-commercialism activist explains how to steal Christmas back without being a Grinch

Suzanne Kreiter/Globe staff

> As director of the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood, your group just chose its third annual Worst Toy of the Year. What new toys seem particularly egregious? This year we have the first-ever tablet for babies. It’s an escalation of the push to get children in front of screens ever earlier. And the Monster High dolls are skinnier than Barbie and more sexualized than the Bratz. We pass our values onto kids with the toys we give them.

> At Christmastime, do you ever feel like the Grinch? And I’m really such a nice, fun person! [Laughs.] The immersion of children in commercialism is not good for them. Some group of people needs to say, “Wait a minute.” We’re not taking anything away from kids. We’re just trying to provide the childhood they deserve, where their creativity is nurtured and they’re valued for who they are, not what they might buy. Marketing to children is really out of control. In 1983, companies were spending about $100 million annually [targeting children], and now they’re spending about $17 billion. Commercials are just the tip of the iceberg. They want to surround your 7-year-old with brands.

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> Can I raise a defense for one of your recent targets: SpongeBob? We’re not concerned that SpongeBob makes you laugh. It’s because the program’s being marketed to preschoolers, when Nickelodeon says it’s not a show for preschoolers. It’s a tool for selling a huge amount of junk.

> You must have been happy when the Toy Hall of Fame inducted “the stick.” And they just inducted the blanket. I’m looking for mud!

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> Your most recent book is The Case for Make Believe. Where do you stand on toy guns? Children play as a way of expressing themselves and conquering fears. [As a psychologist], I worked with kids who had difficult lives, and they did horribly violent things to my puppets. And they needed to. The problem is when the anger is imposed on them, like playing video games somebody else made up. That’s not helping children to work things through. It just glamorizes violence.

> Did your daughter ask why she couldn’t have a Barbie? My daughter did have Barbies [as gifts]. We didn’t unplug and move to the woods. I did tell her I wasn’t going to buy toys advertised on TV, and she still loves me. Her Barbies tended to get eaten by the dog.

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