Has this year's relentless news about dangerous toys put a damper on your holiday merriment? The fear of lead paint, toxic chemicals, or choking hazards can make toy shopping as enticing as a slice of last year's fruitcake.
But, in a kind of ironic twist, all the bad news means you have a lot of information about toy manufacturing and safety this year to help you select gifts for all the girls and boys on your list.
Made in anywhere-but-China
If you're like the average shopper, you're probably inspecting every toy in the store to find out where it's made. A recent survey by Harris Interactive showed that 45% of shoppers surveyed plan to avoid buying toys made in China, where quality-control problems have caused toy recalls for lead paint and other safety violations.
Steering clear of Chinese goods may or may not help you avoid future safety problems, but it will certainly shrink your toy selection considerably. Chinese manufacturers spit out some 80% of toys sold in the United States.
Even so, retailers have started helping consumers size up the alternatives. FAO Schwarz lets online shoppers filter their toy selection by country of origin. A number of websites have cropped up to help you find American-made toys, such as nmctoys.com ("NMC" stands for Not Made in China) and toysmadeinamerica.com.
Since so many toy manufacturers make their goods in China, the toy industry has stepped up efforts to prevent you, the worried shopper, from fleeing the toy aisle entirely. The Toy Industry Association has assembled a website to publicize safety and recall information, and to tell the public what the industry has been doing to make toys safer.
Companies are stepping up their own diligence as well. Mattel (NYSE: MAT ) , which makes the popular Barbie, Fisher-Price, and Hot Wheels brands, established new testing procedures after getting battered by repeated recalls. Disney (NYSE: DIS ) , Wal-Mart (NYSE: WMT ) , and Target (NYSE: TGT ) have even instituted some independent testing of toys on their shelves.
Meanwhile, Hasbro (NYSE: HAS ) plans to advertise its recently clean bill of health in newspapers. But there's nary a toymaker, including Hasbro, that hasn't had its fair share of recalls. If you have questions about a manufacturer's quality controls, check the manufacturer's website or call its hotline for more information.
Shop with perspective
Before you skip the toys altogether and hand out sweaters and socks this Christmas, consider that all the bad news means the Consumer Product Safety Commission's recall system has effectively gotten the word out about unsafe toys. Many recalls get issued before any reports of safety incidents or injuries have been reported.
Also, keep in mind that children will do their darnedest to cause themselves harm with anything they can get into their hands. They will put any object, from a wooden block to a knife or even the cat, into their mouths. They'll eat, stomp on, and shred their toys, then try to eat them again.
Do your part to protect the children on your gift list by thinking about safety when selecting toys. Choose something age-appropriate. Check for choking hazards if you're selecting a present for the littlest ones. If a toy looks cheaply assembled, pass it up. Don't choose toys that look like they will quickly fall apart into smaller pieces that can then pose choking hazards. And stay away from sharp points and edges. You'll help keep smaller kids safe -- along with their parents, who will inevitably trip over and step on the toys.
Keep reading to find out more about toys, safety, and holiday shopping: