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Choosing Safe Toys for School-Age Kids

Each year, scores of kids are treated in hospital emergency departments for toy-related injuries. With so many toys on the market and new ones arriving every day, it's important to make sure the toys your child plays with are safe.

Manufacturers follow certain guidelines and label most new toys for specific age groups. But perhaps the most important thing a parent can do — especially when it comes to younger school-age children — is to supervise play.

What to Look for

The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) closely monitors and regulates toys. Any toys made in, or imported into, the United States after 1995 must comply with CPSC standards.

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Here are some general guidelines to keep in mind when shopping for toys:

  • Toys made of fabric should be labeled as flame resistant or flame retardant.
  • Stuffed toys should be washable.
  • Painted toys should be covered with lead-free paint.
  • Art materials should say nontoxic.
  • Crayons and paints should say ASTM D-4236 on the package, which means that they've been evaluated by the American Society for Testing and Materials.

Steer clear of older toys, even hand-me-downs from friends and family. Those toys might have sentimental value and are certainly cost-effective, but they may not meet current safety standards and may be so worn from play that they can break and become hazardous.

And make sure a toy isn't too loud for your child. The noise of some electronic toys can be as loud as a car horn — even louder if a child holds it directly to the ears — and can contribute to hearing damage.

Guidelines

Always read labels to make sure a toy is appropriate for a child's age. Guidelines published by the CPSC and other groups can help you make those buying decisions. Still, use your own best judgment — and consider your child's temperament, habits, and behavior whenever you buy a new toy.

You may think that a child who's advanced in comparison to peers can handle toys meant for older kids. But the age levels for toys are determined by safety factors, not intelligence or maturity.

Here are some guidelines to keep in mind when selecting toys for school-age children:

  • Bicycles, scooters, skateboards, and inline skates should never be used without helmets that meet current safety standards and other recommended safety gear, like hand, wrist and shin guards. Look for CPSC or Snell certification on the labels.
  • Nets should be well constructed and firmly attached to the rim so that they don't become strangulation hazards.
  • Toy darts or arrows should have soft tips or suction cups at the end, not hard points.
  • Toy guns should be brightly colored so they cannot be mistaken for real weapons, and kids should be taught to never point darts, arrows, or guns at anyone.
  • BB guns or pellet rifles should not be given to kids under the age of 16.
  • Electric toys should be labeled UL, meaning they meet safety standards set by Underwriters Laboratories.

Keeping Toys Safe at Home

After you've bought safe toys, it's also important to make sure kids know how to use them. Parents should:

  • Teach kids to take care of their things and put toys away.
  • Check toys regularly to make sure that they aren't broken or unusable (for example, look for rust or sharp edges on bikes and outdoor toys, and frayed wires on electronics).
  • Throw away broken toys or repair them right away.
  • Store outdoor toys when they're not in use so they're not exposed to rain or snow.
  • Read manufacturer's directions to find out the best way to clean your child's toys and keep them in good shape.
  • Be aware that kids this age are often tempted by non-toys, such as fireworks, matches, tools, and knives. Keep these things out of reach.

Reporting Unsafe Toys

Check the CPSC website for the latest information about toy recalls or call their hotline at (800) 638-CPSC to report a toy you think is unsafe.

If you have any doubt about a toy's safety, err on the side of caution and do not allow your child to play with it.

Reviewed by: Steven Dowshen, MD
Date reviewed: March 2014