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5 tips for buying safe toys for Christmas

According to the Toy Industry Association, toys generated nearly $21 billion in sales in 2010. Many of those purchases came during the Christmas holiday season. The Consumer Product Safety Commission reports that, during that same year, 181,500 children under the age of 15 were treated in emergency rooms across the nation as a result of toy-related injuries. There were also 17 toy-related deaths in 2010. "Placing an emphasis on safety has to be a top priority," says Dr. Pamela McCullough, a pediatric nurse practitioner and the director of the nursing program at Stratford University's Woodbridge campus. It is important for anyone purchasing toys to take the time to minimize risks." Here are five tips for choosing safe toys, this holiday or any time of the year:

Be a label reader: It is important to see past the toy and read the packaging. Look for "nontoxic" on anything that has art supplies, such as crayons, paints, clay, etc. Also, make sure paints are lead-free. Any children's jewelry should have ASTM F2923 on the label, which means it has been tested and has met the guidelines set forth by the ASTM International (formerly American Society for Testing and Materials).

Keep age in mind: While it may be tempting to purchase toys outside the child's recommended age, it may be dangerous. The age recommendations are there because of potential harm that may exist. Stick with buying toys within the child's age group to help minimize risks.

Get the gear: Purchasing a new skateboard, bike or other such device may be exciting, but unless a child has the gear that goes with it, there may be a safety hazard. Always purchase the safety gear that is needed to go with such an item, such as helmets, knee pads and goggles.

Evaluate electronics: It is advised that children under 8 not have electronic toys, because they could pose burn hazards. Also, all electronics should have the "UL" symbol on the package, which means they have been safety tested by Underwriters Laboratories.

Thrift with care: Many parents who are cash-strapped this holiday may head to thrift stores to find toy gifts for their kids. There may be great bargains in the bin, but there could also be potential safety hazards. It is difficult to know which toys may have been recalled, which are not working properly, or the recommended ages for each toy. Always minimize risks by thoroughly checking the product over and by doing a quick online search regarding the item, which should help provide info about recommended ages and past recalls.

"The last thing anyone wants is to give a child a gift that ends up sending them to the emergency room or worse," adds McCullough. "While there is no sure-fire way to avoid injuries, following these safety tips will help you minimize the risks, and help make it a better experience."

Things to watch for when evaluating toys

The toilet paper roll test: If the toy can fit through the tube, it's a choking hazard. Balloons, small balls and toys with small parts are also a danger.

Plastic dangers: Plastic toys may also contain phthalates, a chemical that softens plastic and poses a danger to small children.

Protect hearing: Avoid toys that produce sustained noise above 85 decibels. For close-to-the-ear toys, such as toy phones and music players, that's 65 decibels.

U.S. Public Interest Research Group

5 tips for buying safe toys for Christmas 12/07/11 [Last modified: Wednesday, December 7, 2011 3:30am]
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