Article at a Glance
- Toys should serve child development—without putting them at risk.
- Verify toys are appropriate for your child’s age and abilities.
- Supervised play is the best way to protect children from harm.
Piles of gleefully ripped wrapping paper are part of what make giving children new toys so much fun. But parents of toddlers aren’t the only ones that should be concerned about the hidden dangers some toys contain. Besides the physical hazards of small parts or potentially harmful materials, today’s connected, electronic toys include their own set of social dangers for children and teens. Luckily, a few common-sense measures are all it takes to help keep your children from harm. With the right precautions, toys can serve as an important part of your child’s development—without putting them at risk.
1. Supervise Play
The best way to protect a child from any kind of harm is to supervise play. In the case of new toys and small children, it’s a good idea to closely observe the first few times they play with a new toy. If they can engage in safe play when you’re there, they’ll be safer if out of view, too.
2. Take Special Precautions for Internet-Connected Devices
For children of all ages, internet-connected toys can be a source of constant worry for parents. Take advantage of parental control options on smart televisions, tablets, voice-activated systems, and other smart devices to keep an eye on user behavior and “rope off” what you don’t want children to access. Most voice-activated systems now have verbal password functionality or voice recognition that let you set up restrictions. Toys that are connected but have no screen interface can be hard to control. If you buy a Wi-Fi enabled animal or doll, check how the toy gathers and uses information. Be aware that most connected devices do mine data from your usage patterns, and devices with cameras and internet connectivity are vulnerable to breaches from unsavory parties.
Be proactive. Make a rule that restricts use of connected devices to your home’s common areas, create limited child-exclusive user profiles that you also have access to, and keep an egg-timer around to enforce breaks after 30 minutes of screen time. Your internet service provider, network router, or phone service provider may also have their own parental controls or content filtering options. These are often included in the price of your plan.
3. Choose Age Appropriate Toys
Always check labels to make sure toys are age appropriate. Children under the age of three shouldn’t play with toys that have small or loose parts, or pose a choking hazard. Children at that age are at an increased choking risk because they tend to put objects in their mouths. You can test the size of toys by using a choke tube (or in a pinch, the inside of a toilet paper roll). Choke tubes are the same size as a young child’s windpipe. If the object fits in the tube, it can potentially choke a child. For pliable materials, compress them to see if they’ll fit.
For older children, pay attention to age ratings and ranges on video games and board games, as these will help you understand both their difficulty level and the appropriateness of their content for your child.
4. Do Your Reading
For craft kits, complicated mechanical or electronic toys, or internet-connected devices, read manuals that come in the product packaging. You can’t be sure of the full extent of a toy’s functionality otherwise. After all, you might miss something your child catches through trial and error—whether it’s a way to take a large toy apart and make it dangerous, or a setting on a tablet that leads to content you haven’t approved. Packaging materials might have their own useful safety information, as well.
Also check toys for the UL label. If you read those two letters, you know that the toy you’re holding has been tested for electrical safety by Underwriters Laboratories.
5. Avoid Older Toys
Modern consumer protections are in place to keep kids safe. Toys made after 2008 must comply with standards set by the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC), but older toys may not. From restrictions on lead in paint to minimum durability standards, new toys are simply safer. Plus, older toys are more likely to break from wear. And while heirloom toys may have sentimental value, they’re best kept out of small hands and saved until children are older and able to better appreciate them (and their history). To see whether an old toy has been recalled for safety concerns, visit SaferProducts.gov to access a list of product recalls and consumer reports.
6. Mind the Materials
Toys for young children should be made of fire resistant, washable, and nontoxic materials. Fabric toys should be flame resistant or flame retardant and stuffed toys should be washable. Toys should only be painted with lead-free paint as per the latest CPSC standards. Be sure to verify that art materials are non-toxic by checking crayons, paints, and other items for the ASTM D-4236 label. The label means that the toy has been tested by the American Society for Testing and Materials. Because so many toddlers seem to think of crayons as a colorful snack, you can’t afford not to check.
Also pay close attention the integrity of materials on toys you currently own. For example, deteriorating nets on basketball hoops are a strangulation hazard, and splinters on wood toys can cut and injure a child. If an object is broken and can’t be repaired, it’s safer to discard it. And if an item is delicate or breakable, it shouldn’t be in toddler hands.
7. Be Wary of Toy Weapons
Toy weapons pose their own set of dangers. For younger children, make sure to choose toys with soft projectiles (preferably foam) and no hard, pointed ends. Toy guns should not look realistic, as they might be mistaken for a real weapon. Look for brightly colored guns that clearly convey “toy.” It’s best to teach children early on that it’s not ok to point a weapon at another person.
For children over the age of 16 who want bb guns, archery sets, or survival gear, take this opportunity to teach strict weapons safety. Teach them to be conscientious of their environment when they’re playing with their new toys, as younger siblings might run in the path of a projectile, and to handle sharp objects responsibly. Outdoorsmanship can be a great interest to foster, especially if you want to hike or hunt in any of Utah’s beautiful wild areas, but safety should come first.
8. Don’t Allow Moving Violations
Children enjoy receiving scooters, skateboards, skates, tricycles and bicycles, but they should always wear proper protective gear and practice safe riding habits on the street and sidewalk. A good rule of thumb of is to expect children to always wear helmets on any moving toy. Knee pads and elbow pads are also a good idea with skateboards, scooters, or skates. You can tell if helmets and other necessary safety gear meet current safety standards by checking for the CPSC or Snell certification on labels.
For more information about toy safety, visit the Consumer Product Safety Commission’s website:
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