Bullying is often written off as a normal part of childhood—growing up as a boy with a girl’s name, I was an easy target for schoolyard taunts. But it might be fair to say that this current generation of kids has it harder than ever. Consider Lee Hirsch’s recent documentary Bully, the countless news stories about youth being victimized by their peers through social media, and the It Gets Better Project aimed at ending the alarming trend of kids senselessly taking their own lives.

myfriendhugglesAt Toy Fair, I was pulled aside by a man holding up a child-sized doll with an adorable face and yarn hair. I later learned the doll was part of the My Friend Huggles line, which is among a growing number of toys that have a larger message. My Friend Huggles seeks to teach kids virtues such as kindness, fairness, and generosity. Each doll features a satin ribbon with a poem about the doll’s virtue. In addition to the regular doll collection, the My Friend Huggles line also includes a brother-sister duo dressed as anti-bullying superheroes.

Toy lines with a message are growing. The Stinky Kids line of books, plush, and toys teach kids to “always be a leader of good.” The line includes characters such as Billy, who enjoys donating his used toys and dreams of becoming a volunteer fireman, and Julie, who likes making new friends and aspires to design stuffed animals. Similar lines include Stuffies, huggable plush characters with secret pockets for kids to store their treasures. Stuffies teaches kids values and nurtures a positive self-image. The Hearts for Hearts Girls line of dolls, from Playmates Toys, are designed in the image of girls from around the world with the intention of inspiring kids to make a difference. A portion of the purchase of each doll is donated, via the charity World Vision, to programs that support children from each doll’s country.

Bullying and other social ills can’t be solved with toys, but I have no doubt that play can make a difference in the way kids interact with one another and the world. With toys like My Friend Huggles or Stinky Kids, playtime can become an opportunity for kids to use their imaginations to develop a deeper understanding of how their actions affect those around them and the world they live in.

For more commentary from Loren, check back each Wednesday afternoon. Views expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Toy Book as a whole. We hope that you will share your comments and feedback below. Until next time!