The Way Kids Are: Give childhood back to the children

Who are these kids of the `90s? How do they differ from children of other generations? 'The Way Kids Are' is a regular series of columns in which we invite readers to help us understand kids. Each column will begin by...
November 1, 1997

Who are these kids of the `90s? How do they differ from children of other generations? ‘The Way Kids Are’ is a regular series of columns in which we invite readers to help us understand kids. Each column will begin by describing a recent experience with a child, followed by an analysis that will examine what this teaches us about children today. Submissions can be made by contacting editor Mark Smyka by phone: 416-408-2300, fax: 416-408-0870 or e-mail:

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My nine-year-old daughter wants a husky.

Actually, Caroline wants a specific husky: Nanook, the Beanie Baby. Parents of toddlers or preteens know that I have a problem.

Nanook is nowhere to be found, nor are his stuffed animal sisters, cousins or aunts. At our neighborhood toy store, a veritable zoo used to cascade down the display rack. Now, Beanies are eligible for a spot on the endangered species list.

What happened?

Kids love to collect, and Ty Inc. successfully tapped into that passion when it introduced its dozens of different, little stuffed animals. The company fiercely protected its suggested retail price of US$5, making Beanies inexpensive enough for an impulse purchase or child’s allowance. Parents appreciated that no television program or even commercials hawked Beanies.

Kids did what they’ve done with stuffed animals for centuries: cuddle them, juggle them, play with them. In our house, the well-known parable took a radical turn, as Garcia the tie-dyed bear laid down with Fleece the lamb!

But grown-ups turned Beanies into serious collectibles (like Precious Moments figurines), and the Beanie Price Index took off.

It’s a bull market for the original Tabasco the bull, and Baldy the eagle has soared out of kids’ reach, financially and literally.

Beanies that have been retired from circulation are in particular demand, as they sell for many times their original price. Caroline was devastated when she missed, by minutes, the chance to buy Chops the lamb: it had just been retired and the last half-dozen were sold, as a flock, to an adult collector. Now, even current Beanies are snapped up. After all, they’ll be retired some day.

Playing with Beanie Babies, or even cutting the tags off, spoils their resale value. Recently, Caroline received a Beanie that seemed to have been mislabeled, a flaw that increases its collector value. She didn’t hesitate to cut off the tags. My pride in her lack of avarice was tinged only by the knowledge that we’d have to find another way to pay for college.

The nadir came earlier this year, when McDonald’s restaurants gave out Teenie Beanies Babies. The promotion, intended to last four weeks, ended in eight days with McDonald’s stripped clean and employees feeling like they’d been through the mosh pit at a Raffi concert. To complete their collections, many parents bought Happy Meals and threw away the meals (but did they truly keep the Happy?).

Adults are forever treading on kids’ fun. In Chicago, a lawyer father recently sued the local Little League to get his son traded to another baseball team. You can produce a television program for toddlers’ sensibilities, but some computer hack will launch an Internet newsgroup like alt.barney.die.die.die. In England, some adults are in a rage over the BBC preschool series Teletubbies; the kids, meanwhile, are entranced.

With Beanies, at least, it’s not too late to change course. Go home tonight and cut the tags off the whole menagerie. Get down on the floor with them and hold a picnic. Send everyone to bed with a different critter to cuddle.

Alternatively, what if everyone hoarding Beanies put them up for sale, tomorrow? The market value would tumble; the play value would skyrocket. Call it ‘Noah’s Revenge’-this time, the animals are the flood.

It’s time for an Orwellian rebellion on the Beanie Farm. ‘Two feet: good! Four feet ten and over: bad!’

Let’s return childhood to the children, instead of to the childish.

David Kleeman is executive director of the American Center for Children’s Television in Des Plaines, Illinois.

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