Monday, February 22, 2010

Suggested Age

Still in its box, I happened to notice a toy my oldest son hadn’t gotten around to from his birthday.

How long it has sat unopened isn’t the issue here. The issue is the age labeled on the box.

My sons have generally been allowed by yours truly to play with toys that the powers that be have technically labeled for older children. At ages 5 and 7, they are trusted to play with toys labeled 8 and up on a regular basis.

It wasn’t the minimum suggested age that I happened to notice on this particular box. What I noticed was a suggested maximum age.

“8 – 12.” That’s what the box said: “8 - 12.”

You have a window of four years to enjoy this toy. Your parents are putting you at a certain risk by letting you play with this before you are eight years old. What you might not know is you are also at some sort of risk or in violation of a secret code that dates back generations if you are over the age of twelve. Just trust us, kid, you wouldn’t understand, but you’re going to want to leave that toy where it is.

I get the minimum age. I do. In a society where we need to be told that our hot coffee is hot, I can see that there would be parents out there who might give a newborn a pellet gun if not forewarned. This is someone else’s fault in that parent’s mind. The toy company is both covering its butt and being responsible by labeling the toy with a minimum age. But a maximum age? Really?

I picture somebody sitting in an office somewhere, evaluating toys and saying, “Oh, if a thirteen year old is seen playing with this, he’s going to get his ass kicked.”

Is there a concern that an older child will die of boredom if they play with this toy?

How is this maximum age to be enforced? When buying video games labeled a certain way, you need an adult present. Does a 13 year old kid buying a toy need to have a kid 12 or under with him. Is the clerk at the store going to give him a hard time if he doesn’t?

“Who exactly is going to play with this toy? You are definitely older than 12. Is there a younger child here with you? If not, I’m sorry, but I can’t allow you to purchase this.”

And what does this mean for me? I love building Lego sets to this day. I help the boys transform their Transformers and fight with their super hero figures. When a toy has a maximum suggested age, do I need to assemble it and then drop it immediately? Maybe there’s a fifteen minute grace period like in a parking garage.

Perhaps we will begin seeing only the maximum age labeled on the boxes. Most just have the minimum age and the plus sign: 2+, 6+, 8+. Maybe we need to start seeing labels like this: <13. We could begin incorporating algebraic inequalities and make it a learning experience as well. Maybe that eight to twelve span could be expressed, 7 < X < 13, where X is the child’s age. Or, if there is a certain age at which the children can’t play with the toy: 8 > X > 12, meaning, when you’re less than eight, you’ll love this toy, then go through a few years when you shouldn’t play with it. By age thirteen, however, you can legitimately begin playing with it again without any concern. Like a retro statute.

I think the ever confusing greater than or equal to sign needs to be used here. I would have used it myself but for the fact I could not find it for the life of me on my keyboard.

I appreciate the concern of those who make these decisions, but, honestly, if my kids like the toy, I’m going to let them keep playing with it. I don’t see maximum age restrictions on pacifiers or baby blankets and they could be way more damaging to a kid’s street cred.

How about just leaving it open ended, okay? No kid needs to look at a toy and be told he’s too old for it if he doesn’t think so on his own. Kids are being forced to grow up too fast as it is.

Don’t be in such a hurry to grow up. I’m still fighting it.

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