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Advocacy group unveils 'Dirty Dozen' toys

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- A child advocacy group Monday unveiled its annual "dirty dozen" -- 12 toys the group says promote violence and should be avoided by parents this holiday season.

The Lion & Lamb Project, an advocacy group that describes itself as "an initiative to stop the merchandising of violence to children," also listed 20 toys it said are good for children.

A toy industry spokeswoman dismissed the project's "dirty dozen" list, calling it "absurd," but the executive director of the Bethesda, Maryland-based organization insisted the toys are harmful.

"(Children) still cannot tell the difference between fantasy and reality until about 8," said Daphne White, who heads the association, which has released similar lists for six years. "That is why they believe in Santa Claus, the Tooth Fairy and monsters under the bed."

White said 40 years of research and more than 1,000 studies have pointed "overwhelmingly to a causal connection between media violence and aggressive behavior in some children."

The group's dozen includes Mattel's "Rock 'Em Sock 'Em Robots," recommended for children 6 and older. "Customize and pulverize!" a caption on the box reads.

The toy's Website says, "This neck-wrenching head collector says winning is as easy as taking candy from a baby's intestines."

Also on the list: "Mobile Suit Gundam" by Think Way Toys, described as "a motorized 'fighting action figure' with sound effects and a 'recoil action, light-up machine gun!'"

Other toys are linked to other media products, such as television shows and video games, and sell violence to children, White said.

"We call toys like this 'Joe Camel toys,''' said White, referring to a cartoon figure once used to market cigarettes. "They introduce young children to another adult product -- adult-rated video games."

She singled out another game on the list, "Street Fighter," and noted the message on the back of the game's box: "Wreak havoc on your opponent and become the best street fighter in the world."

"Do we really want 6-year-olds to become street fighters?" White asked.

Recommended toys

The group also unveiled a list of 20 games it recommends for youngsters. They include puppets depicting firemen, policemen and astronauts.

Such toys allow children to play-act their concerns and fears, said White, noting that her own son "would tell puppets things he would never tell me, or the puppet would ask me things he (the son) would never, never ask."

A child psychiatrist said the toy industry is to blame for a coarsening of language among children.

In 20 years in the field, "I've seen the play of children and the language of children change," said Dr. Susan Villani, assistant professor of psychiatry at Johns Hopkins University. "They'll say, 'I'm gonna smash you.'"

Such behavior during play can lead to poor behavior in other settings, she said. "Play prepares children for life."

Villani blamed the toy industry. "They don't care," she said. "It is a bottom-line, profit-driven industry."

TIA: Don't blame toys

A spokeswoman for the industry challenged the group's assertions.

"To say that toys make someone violent, I think, is absurd," said Terri Bartlett, vice president of communications for the Toy Industry Association (TIA), a trade group based in New York.

"We've seen research and talked to experts that say just the opposite," she said. "What I think you can see here is that many times people can take research and make it say what they want it to say. I say that, knowing that we can probably do the same thing.

"Parents and adults just need to use common sense," Bartlett continued. "A child doesn't become violent because of the toy they play with, but because of the homes and the environment they live in."

If a child uses toys to demonstrate violent behavior, "that could be a warning to recognize that the child could have some problems" that need attention, Bartlett said.

In a statement posted on its Website, the association stated it has "worked together for more than 70 years to ensure safe and healthy play for millions of children."


• The Dirty Dozen, 2001-2002

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