“Oh, look at the baby dolls,” my friend commented through pursed lips as she raised her eyebrows.
“Actually, they’re American Girl dolls,” I replied, glancing at the 18-inch dolls scattered around my thirteen-year-old’s bedroom. One doll was posed riding a scooter while another groomed a horse in the doll-sized barn. A few more were resting in their doll-sized bunk beds.
My friend had come upstairs to check out the new comforter I purchased for my daughter. I never expected her to also pass judgment on my daughter’s doll collection which, up until that point, I hadn’t given a second thought.
Later, while we were eating dinner, I told my husband about my friend’s visit and her surprising comment.“Why did she say it like THAT?” my daughter asked.
Because she’s a stupidhead, I wanted to reply. However, I kept my irritation in check and reminded my daughter how some people thought dolls were just for little kids.
“I just really enjoy them, that’s all,” she said. “It shouldn’t matter how old you are if you really like something.”
Yes, my daughter is a middle schooler who still plays with her American Girl dolls. Dolls have been a huge part of her life, ever since she started playing with baby dolls as a toddler. When she got her first American Girl doll when she was 5, she spent hours brushing its hair and changing its clothes. Now that she’s older and her collection has expanded, her dolls do everything from curing cancer to playing in an orchestra to dreaming about going to the Olympics. This passion is just one among many—she also plays hockey and volleyball and takes ukulele lessons. But I agree with her. I don’t think she’s too old to play with dolls either.
Think of what else should could be doing. Playing with dolls is better than smoking, vaping or doing drugs. Seriously! OK, so maybe she only knows a few kids who vape (her friends aren’t into that other stuff yet), but playing with dolls seems like a clean choice considering the less desirable activities that are out there. I’m glad she has a safe place to retreat to as she faces algebra tests, fickle social groups, and a changing body in middle school.
Plus, American Girl dolls kick butt and represent. Most come with an amazing back story. For instance, Luciana, the 2018 Girl of the Year doll, is a Latina interested in science and technology who wants to become an astronaut. How cool is that?
Playing with dolls also gets my teen away from looking at her phone all the time, waiting for likes on the Instagram page she begged me to have, or being tempted to add yet another app. That said, there are teenagers running engaging social media accounts focused on American Girl dolls that my daughter follows for inspiration. One shares charming Instagram posts of her dolls in all sorts of adventures. Another teen makes stop-motion videos. Still one more showcases the fabulous outfits she sews her dolls. Guess who wants to learn how to sew now?
Not that she isn’t already being creative with her collection. Recently my daughter constructed an entire kitchen for her dolls with leftover shoe boxes. She painted the kitchen teal and included a handmade sink, refrigerator and open shelves stacked with tiny plates.
“When I play with them,” my daughter told me, “it makes me feel like I can express problems going on in my life and it’s like I’m not the only one who has those problems. It’s in their lives, too, and they have to live with them.” I’ve always noticed she’s processed things through pretend play, and it’s still a safe way for her to work through emotional situations. When our cat got diagnosed with a terminal illness last year, she role-played losing a pet with her dolls in a miniature veterinarian office.
I also see that this hobby teaches her responsibility. American Girl dolls are not cheap. She has purchased some on her own, while others have been gifts. No matter the source, my daughter appreciates them and acts responsibly to take care of them.
Oh, and did I mention that playing with dolls is better than smoking, vaping or doing drugs? It’s also better than sexting.
So the next time someone tries to judge my young teen for playing with her dolls I’ll remember all the ways she benefits from them.
And when she outgrows them? I hope they are replaced by strong friendships or even more time spent pursuing the sports and music she loves. Then I hope she saves her dolls and brings them out one day in the future so that her own kids can reap the benefits of playing with them, even into the teen years.