Each year, since 1973, a Massachusetts-based organization has published a list of "toys with the potential to cause childhood injuries, and even death."
It's hard for me to think of a toy that, in the wrong little hands, in the wrong set of circumstances, couldn't cause injury or even death. Let's face it, if you straightened out a Slinky, you could no doubt poke somebody's eye out with it. And I wonder, if you made a thick PlayDoh death mask with no nose holes, I bet you could asphyxiate yourself - or your kid sister.
However, there are absolutely toys that a kid wouldn't have to go very far out of his or her way to do grievous harm with, and World Against Toys Causing Harm (WATCH) provides an annual service, just before prime toy-shopping season, by alerting us to some of the worst toys out there.
What's on the list this year?
Well, there's this little shop of horrors entry. The ANIMAL ALLEY PURSE PET, from Toys 'R Us, is aimed at everyone (age 0+) - and that means newborns, who could easily breathe in or swallow that easily falling out, hideously-colored hair. Because this is a very inexpensive toy - just $4.98 - you can see someone (someone whose taste radically differs from mine, I must say) picking it up and, seeing that age 0+ marking, throwing this into baby's first stocking. Just ghastly!
For a slightly older kid, there's NINJA BATTLE GEAR - MICHELANGELO, which includes a set of nunchaks - the "kick butt signature weapon" for 4 year olds. Now, without being vilely sexist here, I've yet to meet the 4 year old boy who wasn't capable of turning pretty much anything into his own "kick butt signature weapon" (c.f., "stick"). So who in their right mind would give a 4 year old an official set of nunchaks? Just ghastly - possibly even ghastlier than the Purse Pet.
Several of the toys are almost OK - the pull-toy dog has a pull string that may be a bit to long for a real little one; the Winnie-the-Pooh 'thing' that should probably be aimed at slightly older kids, given a removable part; etc. For many of these, the biggest problem is the age limit warnings may just be too loose. And have little parts that are too loose, especially given the oral-nature of really little kids, and the real attraction of popping a teeny-tiny little piece of plastic into your mouth. (Hey, when I was a kid, I loved chewing on those little red rubber thing-ies that were on the tips of blouse hangers. I was a little older than the babies many of these suspect toys are aimed at, but I'm sure if, at the age of 2, if I could have reached the blouse hanger and maneuvered the little rubber thing-y off, I would have been quite blissfully in danger of choking on on.) In any case, most people buying toys very likely do look at the age advisories, and make the assumption that they've been tested and are safe for kids in those age groups. Apparently not so! So good for WATCH for putting out their warnings.
Here's the toy that makes me channel Keith Olbermann's "worst person in the world" voice, only it's screaming "worst toy in the world."
The SPORTSMAN SHOTGUN offers some quite confusing "guidance." There's “Not recommended for children under 3 years of age” and “AGE 14+”. Well , that "not recommended for children under 3" is pretty clear. But what about kids from 4 - 13? Someone might look at the one warning, and think it was safe for kids under 14, as long as they're over the age of 3. Of course, any realistic looking gun just screams DANGER, given the incidents that have occurred where a police officer, making an instantaneous choice, has killed a kid who was aiming a realistic looking gun at them.
The gun comes with warnings about shooting at an animal (I'm assuming that includes two-legged ones), and about not "aiming at eyes or face", but this baby shoots rubber bullets. Real rubber bullets. According to WATCH, "This weapon is not a toy and should not be sold for use by children."
Not that I think it's all that great for kids to have real guns, but I really can't imagine why anyone would want to give a kid a toy gun that looks like a real gun and actually shoots something (I.e., a rubber bullet). If something is assumed to be a toy, I'm sure that parents wouldn't take the same precautions that they would if they were NRA-types giving their kid a real gun. I'm sure they'd be thinking, hell, it's just a toy.
WATCH has a reasonably good track record in getting dangerous toys withdrawn from the market.
But what's shocking to me is that, with 30+ years of pointing out the worst toys in the world, manufacturers are still making the same mistakes: choking hazards, confusing warnings, and misleading - or just plain WRONG - age recommendations.