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Violent toys more than child's play, say volunteer toy inspectors

   

Winnipeg, Man.-A group of volunteer toy inspectors has called for the removal of violent toys from store shelves by launching the national 500 Churches for Change Campaign in Winnipeg.

Approximately 30 volunteers of all ages representing Mennonite and United Church congregations performed a violent toy assessment on 12 local stores in early November.

Wal-Mart, Toys R Us and Zellers received the lowest scores. "They have large computer and video game displays. And these games are by far the most violent," said Esther Epp-Tiessen, peace ministries coordinator for Mennonite Central Committee (MCC) Canada and spokesperson for the group.

Certificates of commendation were awarded to a number of stores, mostly small independent toy sellers. "It was interesting that the locally owned stores rated much higher than the chain stores," commented Ryan Siemens, a third-year theology student at Canadian Mennonite University (CMU). He helped recruit eight other CMU students to participate in the assessment.

Volunteers rated stores according to an inspection sheet prepared by Christian Peacemaker Teams, determining, for instance:

  • Whether display windows promoted violent toys
  • Whether violent toys were displayed at a child's eye level
  • Whether toy guns were sold and how realistic they were
  • Whether violent computer and video games were sold, and whether there was any policy guiding their sale.

The campaign, called "Violence is not Child's Play," was sponsored by Christian Peacemaker Teams, Mennonite Church Canada, MCC, and Project Peacemakers.

Wendy Kroeker, who attends Fort Garry Mennonite Fellowship in Winnipeg, was part of a team that assessed Toad Hall, a local, family-owned store, and was impressed with the management's receptiveness to the concerns of local consumers.

It was a different story at Wal-Mart where the manager wouldn't meet with the inspectors, stating that all toy decisions were made from head office elsewhere.

Kroeker brought her two children to participate in the inspection. "As a parent, I have two young kids--ages five and eight--and I'm concerned about the kind of world they live in," she said, adding they face a constant onslaught of advertising that promotes violent toys.

Kroeker said her children contributed good insights during the inspection. And in the days following the inspection, her children prayed daily that violent toys would be removed from stores. "There's no coaching on this," she said.

"As a citizen of the world if I don't speak out about the things I see as harmful...change isn't going to happen. It's the power of one, sort of thing," Kroeker continued.

Epp-Tiessen said a growing body of evidence points to increased aggression, de-sensitization to violence and an exaggerated fear of the world as the main effects of violent toys and media.

She said she's especially concerned about video and computer games, because of the nature of play. "The person is interacting with the game. They're not just sitting and watching things happen."

At minimum, the campaigners asked that violent toys be removed from prominent displays and from the easy view of children. They are also asking stores to honour the voluntary ESRB (Entertainment Software Review Board) rating system for the sale of computer and video games, and are urging various levels of government to follow the lead of British Columbia in creating a compulsory system for regulating the sale and rental of violent games.

Siemens said he believes public inspections can impact store practices and public opinion. "That's the hope. And we'll keep working towards it."

The Ratings:

Certificate of Encouragement

Commendable

Need Improvement

Toxicity Level Extreme

Certificate of Toxicity

Elements of Nature, 45 Forks Market Rd.

204-957-0636

Sears, Polo Park, Garden City, and St. Vital shopping centres

The Bay

Toys R Us

Zellers

Wal-Mart

Explore Store

Eaton Place Shopping Centre, 204-942-4189;16-1128 Henderson Hwy., 204-633-9251; Polo Park Shopping Centre, 204-788-0121

Toy Traders, 29-845 Dakota St., 204-255-8858; 1428 McPhillips St., 204-632-8697;

     

Laughing Giraffe, 402 Academy Rd., 204-488-1096

       

Kite and Kaboodle, Johnston Terminal, The Forks, 204-942-2800

       

Knowledge Tree, 31-845 Dakota St., 204-255-5272

       

Toad Hall, 54 Arthur St. 204-956-2195

       

How You Can Help
Organize a volunteer Inspection Team in your church and perform a Toxic Toys Assessment in your community. Contact Mennonite Church Canada (1-866-888-6785) and ask for the Christian Peacemaker Teams resource packet called Violence is not Child's Play. Then plan your assessment and join the 500 Churches for Change Campaign!

Talk about it

So what do the ratings in this table mean? Can they apply to the toy retailing situation in your community?

The stores receiving certificates of encouragement are largely local, independent toy sellers. The ratings of Winnipeg stores suggest that local retailers may have more "family" interests at heart than large chain stores. These local retailers generally live and work in the community, suggesting they may be more responsible and accountable to their communities than the large chains. Do you think this is true? What do you think the situation is in your community? Do independent toy sellers in your area serve consumers in a different way than large chain stores?

On the other hand, a business perspective might suggest that these local retailers are simply filling a niche left open by the large retailers, and that the small enterprise cannot compete with the large ones on pricing of the most popular toys. Meanwhile the large stores have no interest in low volume product sales. What does this say about our culture? About the society we live in?

Why not conduct a toxic toy assessment in your community? Encourage children to participate. Discuss the findings with them and other adults in Sunday school, adult education, venture clubs, or youth settings.

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--Joint Mennonite Church Canada and MCC Canada Release by Carol Thiessen with Dan Dyck