Black Friday and Cyber Monday have passed, and still, you have not bought any holiday gifts yet for your children. Don’t worry: You still have plenty of time to find the right toy.
However, even though you may be pressed for time, don’t forget that you need to look carefully at what you are buying and make sure it is safe for your child. In your last-minute shopping rush, you don’t want to buy a defective or potentially dangerous product. Unfortunately, there are many of those items on the shelves.
As the U.S. Public Interest Research Group (PIRG) noted in its most recent Trouble in Toyland report, millions of toys are recalled in the U.S. each year. In fact, in 2007, there were as many as 231 recalls issued, including recalls that impacted 46 million toys, according to the PIRG.
We hope the following tips on picking safe toys can be helpful to you as you get through the rest of the holiday shopping season. We have compiled these eight tips after turning to several sources, including the PIRG and:
- S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC)
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)
- Make sure the toy is appropriate for your child’s age.
- Pay attention to when and where the toy was manufactured.
- Make sure the directions are clear – to you and your child.
- Beware of noisy toys.
- Double check electric toys.
- Use caution with magnets and batteries.
- Only choose child-safe projectiles.
- Give a second gift that allows for safe use of the first one.
Some toys may be safely used by older, more mature children. However, they can be dangerous when in the hands of younger children. Pay attention to the toy’s label. If it contains a note such as, “not recommended for children under age 3,” pay serious attention to this warning. Even if the label does not contain an age recommendation, do not buy toys for younger children that contain small, removable parts and parts made from glass or that have long strings or cords, heating elements or metal edges. You do not want to expose your child to the risk of suffering a cut, burn or choking incident.
As the CDC notes, the use of lead in paint in children’s products has been banned in the U.S. since 1978. However, there may be antique toys circulating (i.e. through Craigslist) that still contain this toxic substance and toys imported from other countries that do not have a lead paint ban in place. Be wary of purchasing these toys. You cannot see or smell lead in paint. A child can be exposed to it through “normal hand-to-mouth activity,” according to the CDC. Lead exposure can impact a child’s brain and possibly lead to mental impairment. Some toys contain dangerous amount of lead in their plastic parts and are recalled. Check the CPSC website to ensure the toy you bought was not recalled for this reason.
A manufacturer has a legal duty to provide toys that are safe when used as intended. A problem arises when the manufacturer’s directions do not make it clear how the product should be used. Make sure that toy’s directions can be understood by not only you but your child as well.
Citing the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, the PIRG notes that around 20 percent of the nation’s children suffer from some degree of hearing loss by the time they reach age 12. A potential contributing factor: Noisy toys. If you buy a toy that makes loud noises (cap guns are an example), consider investing in a pair of ear plugs as well or at least make sure your child uses the toy according to directions (such as only using it outdoors).
If you buy an electric toy – a toy train, for instance, or a remote control car – check first for frayed cords or wires. You should also make sure that it contains a prominent warning about heating elements and surface temperatures. These toys typically should only be purchased for older children and used only with adult guidance and supervision.
When buying toys for children, a major safety concern is the presence of magnets and batteries that could be swallowed by young children. In fact, the CPSC reports that there were nearly 1,200 emergency room cases in the U.S. between 2009 and 2011 involving children between the ages of 4 and 12 who had ingested magnets. Simply avoid purchasing toys with easily removable magnets and batteries for young children. If you buy such toys for older children, make sure they understand the risks and supervise the changing of any batteries.
Bow-and-arrows, dart sets and similar toys are popular items during the holidays. However, make sure that any toy you purchase with projectile parts does not have sharp points. Look for items with soft, foam points or suction cups instead.
The most exciting gift a child may find by the tree is a skateboard, scooter or bicycle. The child’s urge may be to head out to the driveway or sidewalk and test it out. If you buy such a gift for your child, add a second gift that allows for safe use such as a helmet, knee pads or elbow pads. (And make sure your child wears this safety gear before that first test run!)