I am always struck by how critical adults can be when appraising the motives behind or the consequences of a toy. Case in point: How adults seem to like to pick on Barbie as a bad influence on little girls.
What I notice about this type of adult sourced criticism is that it fails to look at a toy through a child's eyes. Who tend to be judgemental, freighting their opinions with a set of values with which not all may agree or are yet applicable to a child.
So, how should we appraise toys? Here are some thoughts:
1. Mentally shrink yourself down to the size of a child and see how big the toy looks in proportion to how it looks to your adult self. When seen that way, the toy is about three times bigger. That means every detail is much bigger and more important. It also means that the toy feels more substantial and life-like.
2. Recall how you saw things when you were four, five or six. When you are that age, reality has not fully set in and the membrane between what is real and what is fantasy is extremely thin. I can recall, as a child, putting a wooden chair on my bed and throwing a blanket over it and pretending I was in a space ship. I would spend a substantial amount of time in outer space because it didn't fully feel like pretend. It felt almost real.
3. Leave your adult values behind and view the toy with a clean slate. When you do that you will realize that a little girl or boy does not invest the toy with the kind of sexuality or violence that you do. They see it in the same way they watch cartoons where characters can die and come back to life, can get knocked out and look fine in the next scene. They know it's not real but they like pretending it is.
4. Appreciate toys as a means for children to learn about adulthood. A fashion doll allows a child to act out themes of tween and teen socialization before he or she really has to engage them in real life. An action figure allows a boy to act out themes of violence and death before he has to face them on the schoolyard or eventually on the battlefield.
I find it very unlikely that a toy will warp a child into a misfit adult. It is very likely, however, to prepare a child to lead a far more healthy life in an adult world just over the horizon.