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“Worst Toys of 2016” – Fact or Fiction

And so today it starts – whether you are a parent that starts planning for the holidays before you put a pumpkin out or you wait until the last minute to run to the Northshore Mall in Peabody or Square One in Saugus, like it or not – the holidays are coming.  One sure sign that the holidays are around the corner is the local news station’s annual report on the worst toys for the year.  Each year, the non-profit watch-dog group from Massachusetts, World Against Toys Causing Harm Inc. (or W.A.T.C.H.) releases its “10 Worst Toys of 2016”.  While some think the edict from W.A.T.C.H. can be alarmist, parents and anyone in Massachusetts looking for toys to buy children should be aware of the list.

commerce-acts-books-477966-mAccording to W.A.T.C.H.’s website http://toysafety.org/, its primary goals are to advocate child safety and correct abuses in the manufacturing and marketing of children’s toys and products.   It seeks to raise awareness about hazards prevalent in the marketplace, creates educational programs, and allows childcare givers and children to make more informed decisions with regard to toys and recreational products.

There is no substitute for parental guidance and common sense, but it is helpful to be mindful of safety concerns that W.A.T.C.H. has with certain toys.  This year, a sampling of those products that made the list are: an inflatable suit that children wear while crashing into each other; hammer inspired by weapons in the movie “Warcraft”; “slimeball launcher” is similar to a slingshot, and is sold with bright green “slimeballs” as ammunition, which can be fired “over 30 feet!” Projectiles launched with such force have the potential to cause serious eye injuries and rank among the 10 most hazardous toys on an annual list released on Tuesday by U.S. child safety advocates.  A puppy with a string pull where the string is 31 inches long is suggested for children “2+”.   The package also contains no warnings.  These are just some of the many toys on the list to be mindful of.

W.A.T.C.H.’s list is not without its critics.  According to the national Insurance Journal, the makers of the products on the list did not respond to requests for comment.  However, the Toy Industry Association released a statement dismissing the group’s concerns, stating:

“Year after year these lists have repeatedly shown to be full of false claims that needlessly frighten parents and caregivers,” the group said.

Other critics of the list, prepared by a child-safety advocate and a trial attorney, dismiss it as describing dangers that are either overblown or obvious.

“There’s nothing that has zero risk,” said Lenore Skenazy, founder of the free-range kids movement and a contributor to the online commentary site Reason.com. “If you are a plaintiffs’ attorney you want to make it seem like anything that ever happens to a child is someone else’s fault. If there are no accidents, the world is your courtroom.”

W.A.T.C.H. says that despite safeguards in place toys are readily available for purchase today that have the potential to lead to “serious injury and even death”.

There are a number of websites and blogs that provide practical advice, guidelines and suggestions to child caregivers when it comes to determining what children’s products may be appropriate and what may be unsafe.  See for example https://www.dcu.org/streetwise/kids/toy.html; and from Massachusetts state website: http://www.mass.gov/edu/docs/eec/licensing/technical-assistance/choking-prevention-brochure.pdf.

Whether you think the list is helpful or whether you think it is overkill, accidents happen.  Accidents are particularly troubling when they involve children and when they could have been avoided with some reasonable research and guidance.  So, while everyone gears up for the holiday season and starts searching for children’s items, do some research.  Isn’t it better to be overly prepared than to ignore warnings because they seem overblown?  Particularly when it comes to children, one cannot be too careful.