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The dangers (?) of holiday toys

This is the time of year for lists: "Best of 2009" lists, Christmas lists, holiday card lists. And, as of Friday, the annual "10 Most Dangerous Toys" list came out, giving parents 10 more things to worry during the holidays. Among the items you should be chucking: a Batman toy with rigid, pointed ears; a Curious George rattling infant book that is a choking hazard; a stuffed dog with a leash that is a strangulation risk.

I was fully prepared to attack the "10 Most Dangerous" list with snarky abandon, but the reality is that the hazards that are outlined aren't some sort of made-up danger. I've caught my kids with cords wrapped around their heads more than once, and we've certainly gone through the break-everything-you-can-into-small-pieces phase and the related put-small-pieces-in-your-mouth phase. It makes perfect sense to think twice about the toys on the list (which -- according to the lawyers who compile the list -- don't have adequate warnings) and to read the warnings on the other toys that made end up in your shopping cart.

On the flip side, everyone who has ever watched "A Christmas Story" feels a certain bond with Ralphie, whose dream of having an Official Red Ryder Carbine-Action Two-Hundred-Shot Range Model Air Rifle is constantly dashed by adults warning that "you'll shoot your eye out." The "10 Most Dangerous" list includes two different gun-type items that can shoot projectiles fast enough to -- you guessed it -- shoot an eye out. There is a certain risk to nearly every product. Back in 1976, Dan Aykroyd and Candice Bergen did a fantastic sketch in which Aykroyd played a shady toy marketer who sold plainly dangerous toys ("Bag O'Glass," "Johnny Switchblade"). His argument was that any toy could be considered dangerous, and he played for laughs by wrapping the cord from a toy phone ("safe enough for a baby") around his neck. Of course, that was a prescient sketch: you'd be hard pressed to find that kind of choking hazard on the market today.

So every parent has to set a limit to their vigilance. For some, that means no Red Ryder Air Rifles. For others that means no Wall-E foam rocket launcher (on this year's "Most Dangerous" list). And some may set the bar even higher. Now that we're past the choking-hazard stage (the Polly Pockets are safe to come out again), there isn't much that worries me. I'm still concerned about putting an eye out, but I figure it'll be a stick, not something off the Toys "R" Us shelf. Please weigh in: Does that make me cavalier, or just normal?

By Brian Reid |  November 30, 2009; 8:02 AM ET  | Category:  Entertainment , Preschoolers
Previous: Keeping my holiday food battles to myself | Next: Dads in the delivery room: a bad idea?


I am more worried about lead paint on toys.

Posted by: ishgebibble | November 30, 2009 10:22 AM | Report abuse

We usually place a large styrofoam ball on the end of each bough on the Christmas tree, lest the children impale themselves with a mistep. While not great for the environment, occurances of x-mas tree impalements are way down in our household.

Posted by: 06902 | November 30, 2009 11:09 AM | Report abuse

I worry about lead in products too, and I feel guilty when we've gotten gifts from other well meaning family members that I don't feel are safe. A few years ago I met an Attorney who worked for the Consumer Product Safety Comission, and he was very uncomfortable with the lack of effective oversight from that agency. So, caveat emptor; It pays to be a vigilant parent, but not let paranoia get in the way of healthy play.

I'm not comfortable with 99% of the stuff sold in the Dollar Store, but it's hard to tell the grandparents not to buy anything there when they just enjoy giving. I've found it helpful to educate my two kids about toy safety and responsible playtime without lecturing. Unfortunately, with food safety issues from imported goods, we've already had a few discussions on the importance of eating healthy non-processed foods, not candy or cookies mande in China. Luckily they don't seem to want anything that's potentially hazardous. And there's nothing wrong with a firm 'NO' if they do!

Posted by: HuckleberryFriend | November 30, 2009 11:13 AM | Report abuse

Oh, 06902, don't you know that it's much easier just to wrap your entire kid in bubble wrap?!?

I have tied extra cord to pull toys so that they can actually be pulled from a standing position - I am such a rebel...

Posted by: VaLGaL | November 30, 2009 11:15 AM | Report abuse

As a parent, one can never be too safe, but keeping a child in a plastic bubble has its risks too. Every year kids choke to death on stuff like grapes, hotdogs and popcorn. Are there warnings on the packages? If not, why not? My point being that parents will either drive themselves nuts, or their children, if they consider and avoid everything that can be potentially damaging to their kids.

I was on my 3rd kid, 3 years old before we had to go get one of them patched up. He shuffled right between my wife and I, slipped and bashed his head right in the corner of the wall. What can a parent do about that?

Then there was that time when my son sat in a bucket and got stuck. It was sorta funny at first, but after 20 minutes with a friend and me trying to get him unstuck with out success, we became quite concerned...

And I have another few dozen stories to tell along these lines, but enough already for now.

Posted by: WhackyWeasel | November 30, 2009 11:26 AM | Report abuse

"but keeping a child in a plastic bubble has its risks too."

The most obvious one being lack of oxygen.

Posted by: 06902 | November 30, 2009 11:30 AM | Report abuse

"Oh, 06902, don't you know that it's much easier just to wrap your entire kid in bubble wrap?!?"

Well, ValGal, as any Brewster Rockit aficionado can tell you, that just results in suffocation! :-)

Posted by: ArmyBrat1 | November 30, 2009 11:30 AM | Report abuse

I agree with being vigilant about toy safety with your children. One way is to use respected lists from groups that test toys and recommend them for their safety and educational value. Parents' Choice Foundation publishes lists throughout the year by category--books, toys and games, etc. as well as Parents Magazine and others.

I am a speech language pathologist and review toys and games for their value in building language. Here is my list of best language toys for 2009:

Sherry Artemenko

Posted by: playonwordscom | November 30, 2009 12:33 PM | Report abuse

"but keeping a child in a plastic bubble has its risks too."

hehe - I would like to nominate this as comment of the day!

And that's the crux, isn't it? If you take away every toy, or experience that could hurt your kid, then they would have to only play with their toes and never leave their rooms.

Posted by: VaLGaL | November 30, 2009 12:38 PM | Report abuse

Grotesque plug, Sherry. What do you recommend for building mastery of coordinating conjuctions and ensuring predicate alignment in compound sentences?

In my opinion one should take extra care in writing a plug when one's business is language.

Posted by: 06902 | November 30, 2009 1:33 PM | Report abuse

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