Welcome to Good Parenting, our weekly online series on parenting advice with Annapolis, Maryland, expert Dr. Deborah Wood.
Toy safety — Good Parenting
Dear Dr. Debbie,
Being a relatively new parent – of a 3-year-old and an 8-month-old – I worry about the safety of some of the toys we get as gifts or find at yard sales. Should I be concerned about lead paint? Toxins in plastic? Or anything else?
Enough to Worry About
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Yes, all parents should be concerned. We want our children to feel free to explore their world, so obvious dangers for crawlers and toddlers — stairs, streets, bleach — are kept inaccessible. As children grow into and out of the preschool years they get much better at assessing danger, less interested in putting everything in their mouths, and more capable of making good decisions that they used to rely on grown-ups for. Growing up is a gradual transformation from being protected to becoming the protectors.
Alas, there have been toys and other products made specifically for children — pajamas, for example — that turned out to be deadly. Also, young children sometimes use toys in ways unforeseen by the manufacturer — for example pulling off small parts, such as glued-on eyes, then putting them in their mouths, or stepping on a toy which breaks into sharp pieces. Age recommendations are often determined by a manufacturer with safety in mind, so pay attention to what the package says.
While the relationship between lead-based paint exposure and brain damage has long been known here in the United States, other countries may not have the same stringent restrictions that U.S. products must conform to for keeping our children safe. While it makes good money sense to take advantage of yard sale finds and hand-me-downs, beware of wooden toys, cribs, etc. that may have been manufactured before the lead paint ban was in place. And it may be a good idea to limit exposure to plastic and related chemicals, such as phthalates which have been used in making plastic toys, cosmetics (including baby lotions), hospital equipment, and other products since the 1950’s. The current standard, since 2009, is 1,000 parts per million due to the chemical’s interference with normal hormone production which has been associated with male fertility problems, genitalia abnormalities in males, and breast cancer. The older the plastic, it is cautioned, the more likely that phthalates are leeching out into the air your child breathes. The Campaign for Safe Cosmetics urges more research and restrictions on phthalates, specifically.
Young children also jeopardize themselves with products not intended for children at all, such as cords from window blinds. (If this is news to you, see what the Window Covering Safety Council recommends for making cords more safe.)
Luckily there is a watch group keeping an eye out for dangers in toys, other children’s products, and those household items that inadvertently turn into toys or tragedies. The United States Public Interest Research Group, a federation of state groups, makes it their business to find and report hazards so that parents and others can make informed choices. For almost 30 years, the U.S. PIRG has brought attention to items that could cause harm with small parts, loose cords, sharp edges, and toxic chemicals. Would you believe a hairspray with glitter, marketed to young girls, was found to exceed the flammability allowed for adult hairspray due to its propane content? U.S.PIRG reports have helped to educate the public and policy makers and have led to over 150 recalls and regulatory actions.
Be informed. Common hazards for young children are listed on the U.S.PIRG website.
They have just released a report on this year’s crop of toys for young children, Trouble in Toyland, the 28th Annual Survey of Toy Safety. Use their informed recommendations for specific toys to avoid and reduce your worrying.
Deborah Wood is a child development specialist in Annapolis. She holds a doctorate in Human Development from the University of Maryland at College Park and is founding director of the Chesapeake Children’s Museum. Long time fans and new readers can find many of her “Understanding Children” columns archived on the Chesapeake Family Magazine website. You can find her online at drdebbiewood.com.
What do you think? Leave your thoughts in the comments or submit a question to Dr. Debbie at [email protected]