Thursday, December 13, 2012

Health Care and Holiday Toy Safety

During the weeks leading up to Christmas and the Holidays, the malls, stores, and most all retail locations are packed with shoppers. And, the closer you get to December 25th, the more robust are the crowds. Even online shopping is setting new records for monies being spent for gifts. For children, this time of year presents a huge opportunity for their parents and other family and friends to spend money, especially for all kinds of toys. And there are thousands to choose from both the stores and online.

According to the American Research Group which has been tracking spending habits since 1985, Shoppers around the country say they are planning to spend an average of $854 for gifts this holiday season, up from $646 last year according to the twenty-seventh annual survey on holiday spending from the American Research Group, Inc. In telephone interviews with a random sample of 1,100 adults nationwide conducted November 11 through 14, 2012, the average planned spending of $854 for 2012 is up over 32% from average planned spending in the 2011 survey and the planned spending matches planned spending of $859 in 2007. More details can be found at this site: http://americanresearchgroup.com/holiday/ .

Costs can rise for families, especially for parents with underage children, as reported by Yahoo Finance this month. According to an article released by MSN in December 2011, American parents planned to spend an average of $271 per child in Christmas gifts. One in 10 parents said the plan was to spend over $500 per child. While this is just an average, American families can definitely spend an astronomical amount of money on Christmas gifts. Larger families with several children may have to work even harder to avoid the holiday spending hangover. While this excess would be better placed elsewhere, such as parents creating strong financial futures for their families, these warnings often fall on deaf ears. Christmas spending has taken a dramatic increase in recent years and shows no signs of slowing down. More details about average spending during this Season can be found at this site: http://finance.yahoo.com/news/average-cost-american-christmas-222932405.html .

According to eDocAmerica, the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood (CCFC) is a consumer-advocacy group whose stated mission is to "support parents' efforts to raise healthy families by limiting commercial access to children and ending the exploitive practice of child-targeted marketing." Each year, they announce their worst toy of the year, which has the dubious distinction of being given the TOADY (Toys Oppressive And Destructive to Young children) award. While in the past toys with potential for injury headed the list of worst toys, this year's TOADY award finalists were toys that involved cell phone technology, unhealthy foods, and what they consider to be inappropriate gender-marketing.

This year's worst toy was the Laugh & Learn Apptivity Monkey from Fisher-Price. This toy, a stuffed monkey that holds an Apple digital device, is marketed for children 6 to 36 months of age. Fisher-Price promotes the Apptivity Monkey as the "best of both worlds for baby—a soft, cuddly friend to hold and hug, plus fun interactive learning with your iPhone or iPod touch!" This is counter to a policy issued by the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) that discourages TV and other media use by children younger than 2 years.

Two other contenders for the TOADY award, TheO Ball and Put Me in the Story app also utilized cell phones or cell phone apps. With the questionable goal of promoting physical activity, TheO Ball was designed to "hold your phone within its cushioned grasp, allowing you to literally throw your phone around to play games without fear of damage." Put Me in the Story app, allows popular children's stories to become e-books starring their own child. Many voters felt that this placed too much emphasis on the "me" and was a poor substitute for interactive book reading involving parent and child.

Other top five contenders included LEGO's Butterfly Beauty Shop and the 7-11 Slurpee Machine. The Beauty Shop encourages girls to "get primped and pretty and have some serious salon fun". CCFC felt that this toy promoted condescending stereotypes. Concerns regarding the 7-11 Slurpee Machine centered on children creating sugary treats that could lead to obesity or diabetes.

On the other side of the coin were Good Housekeeping's Best Toy Awards 2012 and Parenting Magazine's Best New Toys of 2012. In selecting their toys, Good Housekeeping considered those that incorporated "creativity, skill-building, problem-solving, and strategy". One hundred thirty-five different toys were "tested" by 140 children in laboratory and home settings to determine the 24 toys that made their best list. Editors from Parenting Magazine selected their best toys after attending the American International Toy Fair in New York. Twenty-five toys made the cut as the "Best in Play" for 2012.

Toy safety is paramount, especially when you are spending hundreds of dollars during the Holidays. According to www.Gifts.com, this holiday season, don't grant your kids' wishes for the newest, coolest toys until you know they're safe. With new product recalls almost daily, choosing safe and healthy toys can be a daunting task. Before you buy, double check that the toy you're considering meets safe shopping guidelines. Here are some tips:

Is the toy age-appropriate? It's essential to adhere to the age guidelines indicated on toy packaging—because even a toy for a 3-year-old could have parts too small for a 2-year-old to handle properly.

Are there any small, loose parts that your child can swallow? If you're not sure, consider the toilet paper tube test—anything that can pass through the tube is too small to be given to a child under 3 years old. Marbles, coins and balls are common culprits. Also, make sure that any buttons, eyes and noses are tightly secured.

Could any part of the toy be bitten off and swallowed? Little kids love to chew their toys, so avoid any toys that have small pieces that can be easily gnawed off.

Does the toy have a string, ribbon, straps or cord longer than 7 inches? For young children, avoid these toys or remove the strings to prevent strangulation.

Is your toy non-toxic? Check to make sure the toy has a non-toxic, durable finish and check art supplies for the ACMI (Art and Creative Material Institute, Inc.) seal—this means its non-toxic.

Could any part cut small hands or fingers? Look for points, edges or breakable parts that could be sharp and avoid those toys for kids under eight. If you're considering a ride-on, is it sturdy and stable, and does the recipient have all the proper safety equipment (helmet, kneepads, etc.) required to use it?

Does the toy include magnets? Building sets, action figures, puzzles or dolls containing small, powerful magnets can be fatal is swallowed by children.

Could the toy be a fire hazard? Fabric toys should be labeled as flame retardant or flame resistant. And electrical toys with batteries or electric plugs pose a burn hazard so they should be avoided for kids under eight.

If you're considering a ride-on, is it sturdy and stable? And, does the recipient have all the proper safety equipment (helmet, kneepads, etc.) required to use it?

Does the toy include any throwing or shooting projectiles? It's best to avoid these toys because they can cause injuries, especially to the eyes.

Could the toy contain questionable chemicals? Phthalates have been banned in children's toys and children's care articles since February 2009, and stricter standards are in place for lead and other potentially toxic chemicals, too. But if you want to know about any trace amounts of these types of chemicals, look up levels for specific toys on www.HealthyStuff.org .

Has the product been recalled? Toys have been some of the largest category of recalled children's products. Always double check product recalls online at the U.S. Consumer Products Safety Commission before you wrap, especially if you purchased a toy months before the holiday.

More informational tips about this subject can be found at this site: http://www.gifts.com/christmas/holiday-toys-safety-guide.html .

Check your merchandise before you purchase, and make sure the store has a good return policy if you feel that the toy has some safety issues. If you find out that certain toys are hazardous, then by all means get your money back. Safety is critical to the health and wellbeing of your child. Use good resources such as internet sites that provide safety tips and health hazard warnings before you buy. Talk to store managers to see if they have had any problems with any toys. They want to make a sale, but they also are very keen on your repeat business. The last thing any business or store wants is a lawsuit over a toy, and they sure are keenly sensitive to bad media attention and disgruntled parents.

Shop safely, and have fun. Try to avoid stressful times if you can when you are looking for that perfect gift. Do your research before you go, and try to avoid impulse buys. Make a shopping game plan. Above all, use your common sense to spend money on toys that help kids, and not hurt them. The Holidays are a great time to experience the Joy of the Season. Don't ruin the fun by making bad choices, including your toys. Enjoy your family time by seeing the smiles and hearing the giggles of your children when they unwrap those perfect toys. Your kids will be excited, and you'll have peace of mind.

Until next time.

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