This is the time of the year when children who’ve been good get to ask Santa to bring them the toys on their wish lists. Millions of parents and family members flock to malls and stores, sometimes lining up outside the night before or during the early morning hours of Black Friday. News stations show viewers the large crowds camped out, waiting for the stores to open their doors so shoppers can snag this year’s “hot” toy.
Toy sales in the United States exceeded $21 billion last year, according to the Toy Industry Association, and a huge percentage of those sales were made around the holidays. Consumers expect toys available in stores today to be safe, but not all toys are made with children’s safety in mind. The Consumer Product Safety Commission reports that in the United States last year, there were 17 toy-related deaths, and 250,000 children under the age of 15 were treated in emergency rooms as a result of toy-related injuries.
Sometimes, that popular “hot” toy has countless small parts that must be assembled before the toy can be played with. Other times, toys turn out to be poorly constructed, so serious injury is more of a probability than a possibility.
Admittedly, it is very easy to get caught up in buying the “hot” toy for children (especially when adults constantly are exposed to children’s begging or pleading), but some toys really are inappropriate for the ability and age of certain children. Children 4 and younger account for 60 percent of the injuries and 75 percent of the deaths that occur as a result of toys, according to www.wwgh.com. The most common toy-related injuries in children include falls from riding toys such as wagons, tricycles and scooters; choking on small objects or latex balloons; strangulation from cords; and burns from electrical toys.
While injury statistics still may appear high, toy safety actually has greatly improved since the passage of the Child Safety Protection Act in 1995. This act required manufacturers to put warning labels on toys with small parts (on which young children could choke), and it bans objects below a certain size (1.75 inches in diameter) from being included in toys for kids ages 3 and younger. The federally supported Consumer Product Safety Commission monitors the manufacture and sale of toys in the United States to enforce these safety regulations. The CPSC also issues public warnings and recalls for toys that violate safety standards.
Be sure to read all warnings and instructions when purchasing a toy. Look for the letters ASTM on the toy. This indicates the product has met the national standards set by the American Society for Testing and Materials. Other guidelines to keep in mind while buying toys:
• Buy toys suited to the child’s age, ability, skill and interest level. Toys intended for older or more skilled children may pose safety hazards to younger children.
• Avoid toys with small parts for infants, toddlers and all children who still put objects in their mouths. To be sure the toy parts aren’t too small, follow the age limits listed on the package.
• Avoid toys with sharp edges and points — as well as electric toys with heating elements — for all children ages 8 and younger. Inspect toys for safe, sturdy construction.
• Buy mylar balloons instead of latex to reduce the risk of choking.
• Avoid toys with strings, cords or straps longer than seven inches. These pose a risk of strangulation for young children.
• Teach children to put toys away after playing with them. Safe storage prevents falls and keeps toys designed for older kids out of the reach of younger ones.
• Use gifts of bicycles, inline skates, scooters and skateboards as opportunities to teach your children about safe riding. Make the appropriate safety gear, such as a helmet, reflective clothing and elbow and knee pads, part of your gift.
• Make sure any fake foods given to children are made using nontoxic materials. Fake food gifts are very dangerous because children often mistake them for real food and try to consume them. Glass candies are enticing because they’re pretty but they’re dangerous if a child bites one.
• Check labels and avoid any items such as crayons, bath products, markers, paints, face paint, etc., that should be nontoxic but are not marked as such.
• Pay close attention to toy recalls and follow instructions immediately for any recalled item. Check the CPSC website, www.recalls.gov/cpsc.html, frequently and sign up for email alerts from the CPSC about recalls. Fill out and return any registration cards that come with the toy.
Toys to avoid include those that shoot or have parts that fly off. Slingshots and water guns are dangerous because they invite children to target other youngsters. BB guns are not toys and should not be given to children who are too young to handle them safely.
For more information, go to www.health.gov/nhic.
Ratcliffe is a consultant to the Coastal Health District. You can call her at 876-6399.