We all want to give our kids fun, cool, trendy toys that will enrich them emotionally and intellectually. That’s in an ideal world. But let’s be honest, that world does not seem to exist for most of us around the holidays. Frantic gift-buying, long checkout lines and full social calendars limit the amount of time we spend thinking about what we are buying. It is bad for your wallet and might be bad for your child as well.
I have to admit, I decided to write this after reading an article highlighting common areas of toy danger and then reflecting on injuries I have seen personally in the pediatric emergency room. I think this topic is important and includes problems you may not be thinking about while shopping for holiday gifts.
1) Choking Hazards: This is one thing that most parents and family members will think about when purchasing toys. Some toys are marked with recommended ages or at least indicate safe for 3+years old. This is not a fool-proof guide, though.
a. We all hope that our 3+ year old kids won’t put things in their mouths and choke, but that 3rd birthday does not cause some immediate fundamental change in your child’s decision-making. Anyone with a toddler will tell you this.
b. Younger children often find access to older siblings’ toys.
c. Some toys are not marked well.
d. The toy itself might by fine but if pieces are easy to break off, you could still have issues.
2) Toxins: Lead, cadmium and other toxins are still found in some toys can cause serious illness or injury. Less worrisome chemicals like phthalates (BPA, etc.) are no longer in infant bottles but they may be in other plastics that your young child may gum, suck, and chew.
a. The government tries to screen for many of these and there are laws in place, but there is often inconsistency in manufacturing processes – especially in mass-produced, imported goods, and levels may vary batch to batch.
b. Young children are at highest risk of harm from these chemicals due to small body size.
c. Just because they are sold by a well-known store or are from a large toy maker does not mean that they are guaranteed safe.
d. Toys with these toxins should never make it into the store in the first place. However, just to be safe – and if you have kids who are particularly oral – you’d be safer buying things produced in countries likely to have regulations similar to the US, like Canada and Europe.
e. Look at the country of origin, especially if you are shopping for any child who is likely to be putting the toy in their mouth. Be aware that infants and toddlers will put anything and everything in their mouth.
3) Magnets: There have been a lot of stories in the news about the dangers of magnets and magnetic toys over the past few years.
a. Toys where high-powered magnetic beads are used to make sculptures or other entertaining projects are fun to manipulate, but if two or more are swallowed they will attract to each other inside the intestines and can cause very serious damage such as holes.
b. Toys were magnets can be removed or may become unglued may also pose a risk. Be careful.
4) Batteries: These useful items make toys even more fun, but can cause serious damage to the esophagus, stomach and intestines. When fragile tissues of the digestive track fold around the battery, the tissue actually gets electrocuted resulting in burns, ulcers, and even holes.
a. Flat disk or button batteries found in watches, small toys, remotes, etc. are the most dangerous and easiest to swallow.
b. For quite a few years most toys have been made with battery covers that require a screw driver for removal. That is great but you have to use them appropriately and not leave the covers off
c. Be wary of older toys that were made before screws were mandatory.
d. Keep new batteries out of reach like you would medications and dispose of used batteries safely and immediately as they can still do damage.
e. Look around your home for non-toy items that may use batteries but do not have secured battery covers and keep them out of reach.
5) Noise: This one applies to infants through teens. Toys that are too loud can cause permanent hearing loss.
a. Toys of all types make noise. Infants tend to hold things very close to their face. If you think a toy is too loud (not just annoying but actually loud) it is likely to be a problem for your child as well, especially when close to their face. Keep toys on the low volume setting when possible and remove the batteries from those which you think are truly too loud.
b. Headphones are a serious issue for children and teens. Talk with your older child about risks of having that iPod or MP3 player too loud in their ear. Check in periodically to see if they have the volume on the screen set at more then 50% or just check to see if you think that the music is too loud. When buying headphones for younger children look for headphones that offer a maximum volume function that you can set before your child puts them on.
There are many safe, enriching or just plan fun toys available and most are made with good intentions by people who, I assume, must enjoy their jobs. Toy maker? Yes, please. I just don’t actually want to live at the North Pole.