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6 tips for buying safe toys

12/10/2010, 6 a.m.

Tis the season when millions of parents swarm toy stores, looking for the latest game or gizmo to give to the little ones they love. Entertaining and educational often top a parent's wish list, but safe should be No. 1. About 230,000 toy-related injuries are treated in hospital emergency rooms every year, according to the Consumer Products Safety Commission (CPSC). Here are some shopping tips:

Pay attention to the age on the box. There's a reason Barbie accessories, some Lego sets and Hungry, Hungry Hippos are not recommended for children under 3. They contain small parts that kids like to stick in their mouths, putting them at high risk for choking. Watch out for toys with button-size batteries and small magnets as well.

Test out noisemakers. Some musical instruments, toy sirens or squeaky playthings emit 90 decibels of sound -- that's as loud as a lawn mower. Hold it close to your ear (as many kids do), and it's more like 120 dB, enough to hurt your hearing. Listen to the toy in the store; if it's too loud for you, find something quieter.

Pass on "weapons." Toy guns, slingshots or anything that flies or shoots can lead to serious eye injuries, even blindness. Skip these types of toys for younger kids; for older ones, make sure arrows or darts, for example, have soft cork tips, rubber suction cups or other protective points.

Measure strings and straps. Cords longer than 7 inches can be a strangulation hazard.

Be sure to get ride-on protection. Scooters, skateboards and other riding toys are associated with more injuries than any other toy category. Proper-fitting helmets and pads are a must.

Skip the antiques. Though recent federal safety rules impose stricter regulations on lead content in toys, collectibles and older hand-me-downs, as well as some imported toys, can put kids at risk for lead exposure.

Check for recalls. The CPSC keeps an updated list of toy recalls; visit cpsc.gov.

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