What to look out for (and what to avoid)

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Giving Christmas gifts can be magical, especially when you’re giving a loved one the perfect gift. But it can also be dangerous.

In 2021, emergency Rooms in the US treated more than 152,000 children under the age of 15 for toy-related injuries, according to the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC). To protect the children in your life, you should be aware of these common toy-related dangers and ways to choose safe toys.

Watch out for button batteries

Button batteries are dime-sized, flat, round batteries that power all kinds of household electronics, including many toys.

It’s an increasing risk. Every 75 minutes in the United States, a child under the age of 18 visits an emergency room for a battery-related injury, according to a new study using data from 2010-2019, published by Safe Kids and Nationwide Children’s Hospital. That’s more than double the frequency reported in a previous study based on data from 1990 to 2009. Most of these injuries – 85% – involved button batteries. And most of it happened in children ages 5 and younger, the age group when children are likely to put everything in their mouths.

“These batteries are small, flat, shiny, smooth, easy to ingest, and they literally burn through the tissues of your throat and stomach. They can be deadly,” says Amy Watkins, MPH, director of Safe Kids Connecticut, a program at the Connecticut Children’s Injury Prevention Center. “If you’re buying a battery-operated toy, make sure the compartment is secure and can only be opened with a tool like a screwdriver.”

Watch out for wheels

Scooters, which are non-motorized, account for the largest proportion of toy-related injuries, according to the CPSC.

“These scooters are often given to young children and they aren’t treated with the same care as bicycles or skateboards, maybe because people think they can’t go that fast, so kids don’t necessarily wear helmets,” says Stacey Pecenka, MPH, Director of the Child Trauma Injury Prevention Program at Vanderbilt University Medical Center in Tennessee. “More than two-thirds of toy-related injuries result from non-motorized scooters.”

Scooters and e-bikes can also be risky, especially when ridden by children who are too young. “Although they’re usually labeled as 16 or 18 and older, e-bikes are often used by much younger kids,” says Pecenka. The number of children hospitalized for electric scooter injuries rose from 4.2% in 2011 to 12.9% in 2020, with 27% involving broken arms and one in ten cases involving head injuries such as concussions.

Almost any wheeled toy or other ride-on toy that can reach some speed can be dangerous, says Watkins. “Everyone thinks he’s not going to fall, but we see so many kids in the ER with injuries from falling off bikes, skateboards, or hoverboards. If you give a child a bicycle, skateboard, scooter, snowboard or ice skates, you should also give them a helmet. And make sure it is appropriate for the child’s age.”

magnetic chaos

Many toys contain powerful magnets, sometimes called rare earth magnets, which can be extremely dangerous if swallowed. Several of these brands, including Zen Magnets and Neoballs, have had their products recently recalled due to the dangers of ingestion.

Tiny magnets are also commonly found in fidget toys, and teens often use these magnets to mimic body piercings, placing one on either side of the tongue, lips, or cheeks where they can accidentally be swallowed.

The risks go beyond suffocation. “If these magnets are swallowed, they can bind through the tissues in the gut and intestines and cause blockages,” says Watkins. “These bonds are really strong and often require emergency surgery to remove them.”

The CPSC found these magnetic toys so dangerous that in 2012 they ordered all of them to be recalled from the market, but a court ruling overturned that decision in 2016 and they’re still on store shelves. Although they are intended for use from the age of 14, a recent study found that the average age of the injured children was 7.6 years and more than half required hospitalization.

Toys Buyer’s Guide

Follow these simple toy selection principles, shared by the CPSC and other toy safety experts:

  • Read the label. What age is the product suitable for? Follow the age ratings and other safety information on the toy packaging and choose toys that suit each child’s interests and abilities. “If a toy says it’s suitable for ages 4 and up, don’t say, ‘My 2-year-old nephew has really progressed and he’ll be playing with it in no time,'” says Pecenka. “Toys are age-targeted for a reason.”
  • Get safety gear, including helmets, for scooters and other ride toys. Children have to use them every time. “And make sure you have the right helmet,” says Pecenka. Helmets designed for cycling are different from those designed for skiing or snowboarding or ATV riding. Note the safety equipment that should be standard with these gifts.
  • Keep small balls and toys with small parts away from children under 3 years old. “A good rule of thumb is that if something would fit in the tube of a toilet paper roll, a child under the age of 3-5 shouldn’t have it,” says Watkins.
  • Examine the toy with a critical eye. “Are there any parts that could easily break off that a child could put in their mouth, or create a sharp point that could prick or cut a child?” asks Watkins. “If it’s an electronic toy, is the battery compartment safe?”
  • Check online for recalls before buying a toy, especially if you’re buying it second-hand. “Just enter the toy name and the word ‘recall’ into a search engine or use the CPSC recall search tool at cpsc.gov/Recall,” says Watkins.

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What to look out for (and what to avoid)
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