AUSTIN, Texas - The TexPIRG Education Fund has released its annual "Trouble in Toyland" report, which, this year, not only takes a look at toy hazards for gift-giving, but also for COVID-19 quarantines.
Due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, many parents are working remotely while also trying to keep their kids busy with safe activities that can be done without supervision. However, the fund says that its researchers found that many toys have hidden dangers or missing warning labels and playthings such as magnets, balloons and smaller toys can be deadly if they fall into younger children’s hands.
“This has been an incredibly difficult year, and parents and caregivers are overwhelmed. They might do a quick search online for a toy to entertain their kids and trust that manufacturers and online vendors are guaranteeing their safety," said the fund's director Bay Scoggin. "This isn’t always the case, so parents need to be on guard."
The fund highlights the top nine safety hazards for toys and activities for kids:
- Noisy toys: Excessively noisy toys can cause permanent damage to children’s hearing over time and should be avoided when possible. Parents are advised to lower the volume, take out the batteries, switch modes, or place tape over the speaker to muffle the sound.
- Toys with small parts: Most toys that contain small parts are labeled as choking hazards, but that’s not guaranteed. Parents with young children should thoroughly inspect toys and make decisions based on how they believe their child will interact with the toy.
- Balloons: Parents are advised to never let a child under 3 play with balloons, and monitor any child under 8.
- Flocked animal figures: Parents with kids of any age should strongly consider avoiding Calico Critters and similar flocked figures, especially if there is a younger child also in the house.
- Recalled toys available online: When shopping for toys, especially at garage sales and second-hand stores or sites, parents are advised to check saferproducts.gov to confirm the toy hasn’t already been recalled.
- Magnets and other items not advisable for children: Parents are advised to never allow young children to play with high-powered magnets, and talk with older children about the dangers of being careless and leaving them within reach of their siblings.
- In-app purchases: Parents are advised to withhold the account password to avoid their child racking up a huge in-game purchase bill. Any account with a credit card should not be connected to a child’s fingerprint, so a parent has to approve of any purchase before it goes through.
- Bluetooth-connected toys: Parents should confirm that any toy with Bluetooth has some type of two-step connection system to avoid security breaches
- Gaming console accessibility: Parents are advised to use parental controls on family accounts and to not save payment card numbers on the console or computer when buying games, so children will need you to authorize any purchases. Parents should also consider not buying a headset for your child to use with a gaming system or prohibit its use unless an adult is in the room.
The Toy Association released a statement in response to the annual report, saying that "toys continue to be one of the safest consumer product categories found in the home, based on data from the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC)."
"U.S. toy safety requirements include more than 100 rigorous standards and tests to ensure that toys are safe. All toys, regardless of where they are made, must comply with these standards, which go above and beyond those for other consumer products. There are strict limits for lead and other chemicals in toys, internationally emulated limits on sound level output, a highly effective small parts regulation that was developed with the help of pediatricians, and strict standards prohibiting the use of strong magnets in any toy part that is small enough to be swallowed," the statement reads .
The Toy Association says that some of the items in the list are recalled products not available for purchase from verified, legitimate toy sellers and that it works year-round to educate parents and caregivers to always shop at reputable stores and verified online retailers, and to avoid buying toys from unverified sellers on online marketplaces, as they "likely do not monitor for recalled products or might be selling counterfeit/imitation toys that do not comply with strict U.S. laws."
The Toy Association also asserts that there is "no such thing as a 'near small part'."
"There is a highly effective small parts regulation and a federally approved small parts tester (available online), developed by doctors, that can be used to test small objects found around the home. Families are encouraged to always check and follow the age-grading on toy packaging," says the association. "Toys labeled 3+ may contain small parts that can be a choking hazard for children under three (or kids who still mouth toys)."
The Toy Association also addressed items in the group's list that they say are not toys, including adult magnets, balloons, and in-app purchases.
"These products are not subject to the same rigorous standards as toys and including them under a “toy” safety headline deliberately misleads parents and undermines the toy industry’s deep and ongoing commitment to safety," says the association. "In addition, some of PIRG’s allegations have nothing to do with safety, such as the complaint about in-app purchases."
To visit the Toy Association's safety resource for parents and caregivers, click here.