“Woke” Grandparents Buying Guide 2018

A toy-shopping primer for our complicated times.

this could all go horribly wrong

We are so honored and lucky that you [grandparent, auntie, friend, co-worker] care enough to regale our little gal/guy with love, affection and… presents! We appreciate the sentiment! But we also need to let you know that it’s not just the thought that counts.

Purchasing gifts for a kiddo is not what it used to be. Those halcyon days of tops and tiddlywinks are long past.

long past

Perusing the extensive wares of Amazon, Toys R Us, boutiques, Etsy, today’s consumer has a dazzling array of options at their fingertips. So many choices! So many opinions from the parents! So many wrong choices that will surely turn our sweetie darling angel to a life of crime, sociopathy, or perhaps worst of all — politics. As such, we must proceed with the utmost of caution. Navigating the many pitfalls of generosity in the year 2018 can be downright overwhelming!

Lucky for you, we want to take the stress out the process and make it easy. There are many wrong choices, but also, soooo many right choices! By following this simple buying guide, you can shop with confidence knowing that each and every gift you purchase will be adored by child AND parents, and that you will be contributing in only the most positive ways to his/her fortitudinous upbringing.

Navigating the many pitfalls of generosity in the year 2018 can be downright overwhelming!

Too Much Crap

Rest assured, the kid already has too much crap. Keeping that in mind, there should never be any expectation that you always have something for him/her every time you see them.

Spending time together is the most valuable thing, always.

“hugs are fine… but I prefer gift cards”

There should never be an object of material value inherently associated with spending time together. We want to do everything we can to avoid cultivating this sort of expectation. Those aren’t the values we want to instill in our kid.

“Quality” time and presence is the most valuable thing you can ever give to another person. Nothing that can be bought in a store can ever be as precious.

Nice and Simple

If and when you feel compelled to buy something, PLEASE limit gifts to nicer/special things. Nicer things, less often.

98% of the time, if you follow these three basic rules, it will be a fine gift:

  1. Less is more.
  2. Wood not plastic.
  3. No digital sounds/batteries.


Experience gifts are awesome. Lessons, concert tickets, tea parties, walks in the woods… sometimes experiences don’t even have to cost anything!

yes please!

Experiences are almost always better than material things. As previously noted, the kid has too much stuff, but they can never have too many experiences.


Perhaps most importantly: don’t let the toy do the imagining for the kid. A child can spend all day playing with a cardboard box or a stick.

The box doesn’t need to have flashing lights or play Bach when you press a button. It doesn’t need special instructions to show the kid what to do with the box. There’s no need for the box to do anything on its own. A child, left to their own devices, can endlessly fill in the blanks. Toys that do the imagining for the kid turn them into passive consumers.

The saddest example of this is LEGOs of yesterday and today. In the old days, you used to get a pile of nondescript blocks…

… and then make awesome things with them. Anything your imagination could dream up…

so many possibilities!

But now..


… the humble LEGO set has become one more node in a multibillion-dollar marketing campaign. The kid sees the movie, already knows the characters and the story. They follow the directions and build the ship that they already know from the movie. Yeah, it’s a cool ship, for sure. But the LEGO pieces here are specifically pre-fabbed to make this ship from Star Wars. This is great if you want to teach a kid how to follow directions. Not so great if you’re trying to instill creativity and cultivate an ability to imagine a world on their own terms.

Nowadays, when kids play, sometimes it seems impossible to have an imagination game without their being a Disney character in there. That’s because of toys like this Millennium Falcon LEGO set (Disney owns Star Wars), which from an early age colonize children’s minds with these pre-fabricated images and ideas. Children aren’t savvy enough to resist these marketing campaigns, so it’s up to us grownups to protect them from a barrage of consumerism.

Let’s give space for kids to fully express the power and genius of their imaginations!

Screen Time

Screen time is bad, even if the stuff on the screen is good.

It may seem innocuous to sit a kid down in front of a screen, especially when we limit screens to a seemingly reasonable time limit. Us new parents watched a lot of TV when we were kids, and we turned out mostly okay. But the images on TV today, and especially the interactive content on an iPad — the images, pacing, the marketing — everything is integrated and supercharged beyond what it used to be. Nowadays, the greatest minds of brain science work in the field of media to optimize the addictiveness of the images on the screen. Just like cigarettes, once a kid is hooked, they are hooked for life. The imperative is to get them when they are young. There are very few people working in tech who aren’t at this moment in some way (directly or indirectly) working towards this goal.

Even if a show is “educational,” it’s still forging lifelong neuropathways that reward the child for sitting passively in front of a screen while consuming content and advertising. This is time they could otherwise be playing, exploring, and creating. It’s on us to find the time to educate them without the helping hand of a media conglomerate which might not really have your kid’s best interests at heart.

Not that we can guard our children against screens, live-streamed holograms, or other such captivating technologies forever. However, while they are infants, this is the most crucial time for brain development and we do have control over what we expose them to during this period. What happens later on, that’s a different challenge. But what we do now know is that these early months and years will profoundly effect how things play out when they are older.

Made in China

It should go without saying, but it is disgraceful to buy a toy that was made by an enslaved child in another country. Even if they are Bangladeshi or some other such abstract locale we know nothing about, that doesn’t make it any less okay. We pretend not to know. But we do know! The world economy is a complicated thing and there’s no simple answer as to how to deal with this issue. But, at least if you buy something from USA or Europe, the workers won’t be children and will be relatively unexploited. In the very least, that’s a good start!

Toys That Spy

Please do not buy toys that spy on us! That should be obvious, but I know from experience it is not obvious. If a device has a camera and/or microphone and a wifi connection, any barely-competent hacker can use this to monitor and record a kid or whomever is in the house.


Virtual Reality is coming and we should probably just give up hope. Our kids and the future of mankind are totally fucked.

“Eye contact was sooooo 2014”

But at least for as long as we can avoid it, PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE do not buy them any of this stuff.

Kids used to not need an immersive headset to experience “virtual” or “augmented” reality. They had their imaginations. They didn’t need to have a device sold to them to access these vast worlds within their heads and dreams.

Thank you for Caring

We really truly deeply appreciate everything you do to share in the joys of our sweet little baby. She/he is such a blessing! Unfortunately, many corporations see her/him as nothing more than someone new to sell things to. Let’s not be naive about the sophistication of the tools that are being utilized to achieve these goals and how much more powerful these tools will be in 5 years. For whatever it’s worth, let’s work together to make our blessed little baby feel loved and valued by people (his family and friends) and not by material things. Let’s do everything we can to cultivate and deepen the human connection. We need to do this because, as far as I can tell, it’s just about the only thing that’s going to help once they are old enough, when they have their own phone, when we can no longer protect them, when they’re empowered to make their own decisions about how to interact within this crazy world that we created for them.

Jason Ditzian

Written by

Words & Music – Oakland, CA

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