As more and more children emerge from the pandemic dealing with mental health issues, their parents are looking for ways to build emotional resilience. And toy companies are paying close attention.
While in its infancy, more and more toy marketers have adopted MESH (or mental, emotional, and social health) as a name for toys that teach skills such as how to adapt to new challenges, solve conflicts, practice self-advocacy, or solve problems.
The acronym was first used in child development circles and the American Camp Association 10 years ago and gained new resonance after the pandemic. Rachele Harmuth, director of ThinkFun, a division of the toy company Ravensburger, and fitness expert and family physician Deborah Gilboa formed a MESH working group earlier this year with the goal of getting the manufacturers to design toys with emotional stability in the account and for market retailers. they.
“We just need to educate parents and teachers a little bit so they know we can use their play time a little more intentionally,” Gilboa said.
The plan is to certify MESH toys in the middle of 2024 in the same way that the Toy Association does with STEAM toys, which emphasize science, technology, engineering, arts, and mathematics. Adrienne Appell, spokeswoman for the Toy Association, says MESH is an area to watch as it develops.
Many toys that can be considered MESH are already children’s toys, such as memory games, puppets, some types of Lego, Pokémon trading games, and Dungeons and Dragons. The concept was highlighted at the recent four-day annual toy industry show in New York, which featured a range of toys from the likes of hand2mind and Open the Joy that encourage children to express their feelings. using mirrors or puppets.
James Zahn, editor-in-chief of the trade publication Toy Book, noted that most of the new toys made with MESH in mind will be sold starting next year.
But some worry that MESH’s approach could end up giving parents something it can’t deliver. There is also the risk that companies are exploiting parents’ concerns about their children’s mental health.
“My fear is that MESH will be used as the next marketing gimmick,” said Chris Byrne, an independent toy analyst. “This creates a culture of fear that your children will not develop socially and emotionally. And that’s not really the job of the toy industry. ”
Experts say childhood depression and anxiety have been on the rise for years, but the relentless stress and pain of the pandemic are exacerbating the problems, especially for those already struggling with mental health issues and who are deprived of counselors and other school resources. In response, many educators are beginning to emphasize social-emotional learning, which teaches children social skills such as helping them manage their emotions and form positive relationships with others.
Dave Anderson, vice president of school and community programs and senior psychologist at the Child Mind Institute’s ADHD and Behavioral Disorders Center, praised the toy industry’s efforts to also address emotional stability. But he said parents should be careful about the claims companies make. While there is evidence that the skills promoted by the MESH task force build resilience, there is no evidence that the toys themselves do so, he said. “The concepts are evidence-based; the toys themselves, no,” he said.
Bryne says the skills the MESH working group emphasizes are the basics of play, whether it’s riding a skateboard to develop endurance or learning to share toys to help resolve conflict.
“In my opinion, if you live in a healthy home, play healthy, and your parents are involved, MESH things will happen automatically,” he said.
The US toy industry itself needs a shake-up after a weak year, especially a lackluster 2022 holiday season, when retailers were left with a surplus of toys after parents enjoyed a toy because of the pandemic.