✦ Given the sheer volume of gift giving and present sharing during the festive period, it makes sense to denote the month of December as 'Safe Toys and Gifts Month'.
Millions of gifts will be exchanged, given and donated this Christmas, especially to young children, as the magic of the festive season and Santa Claus weaves its enchanting tale. However, in amongst all the joy and excitement, it pays to do your due diligence and ensure that any gifts you are giving to friends, family and loved ones are safe and do not pose any kind of health threat, particularly to young ones. Now we don’t want for one second to diminish the joy of Christmas, appearing like a damp squib to quash all the festive joy! However, it is equally important to pay heed to ensure safety for all is adhered to.
According to data from a November 2023 report by the United States Consumer Product Safety Commission, there were an estimated 209,500 toy-related injuries treated in American hospital emergency departments in 2022; “76 percent were sustained by children 14 years of age or younger; 69 percent were sustained by children 12 years of age or younger; and 38 percent were sustained by children 4 years of age or younger,” the report states.
Tragically, there were 11 toy-related deaths occurring in the same calendar year among children 14 years of age or younger. The reports explains how “two fatalities involved choking on bouncy balls and three fatalities involved other types of balls. One fatality was due to a motor vehicle collision with an unpowered scooter. The remaining five fatalities in 2022 involved various other types of toys, including a powered riding toy, stuffed animal, balloon, tricycle, and toy magnets. The children ranged in age from seven months to ten years.”
Of course, safety is paramount in every industry, but the toy industry has to be arguably more stringent due to the customer base being so young and therefore more exposed and susceptible to mishaps, be they genuinely innocent or otherwise. The United States leads the way with a raft of strict compliance guidelines, including consumer safety specification standards and product certificates. The national American Toy Association “leads the multi-stakeholder committee that continually reviews the standard to ensure that it keeps pace with child development research, medical and toy-related incident data, risk assessment techniques, science, and manufacturing innovations.”
Elsewhere, the European Toy Safety Directive is one of the strictest toy safety legislations around, rigid in defining the essential safety requirements that toys must meet before being placed on the market.
Down Under, the Australian Toy Association (ATA) represents “more than 280 manufacturers, importers and retailers of toys, accounting for about 90% of all toys distributed in Australia” with a simple yet effective directive: to help keep children safe during play.
Exercising caution is no bad thing
Knowing there are rigid safety regulations in place is one thing, although can you do more to safeguard your little one’s safety? The answer, quite simply, is absolutely, and exercising additional caution is encouraged.
One of the most fundamental rules, even if seemingly obvious, is often overlooked – that of age restrictions. There are age restrictions clearly stipulated on pretty much every toy you will ever encounter, and they are there for a reason. If the packaging states the product is not suitable for children of a certain age then ensure you comply. Simple.
Another point that may sound like common sense but is often overlooked is around discarded packaging and the clearing and disposal of such. Let’s be honest, most kids just cannot wait to get their new gift out of the box so they can play with it, and the packaging is dismissed almost as quickly as the gift is unwrapped! But check that discarded boxes, etc do not have any rough edges or sharp protrusions that could cause injury, regardless of how seemingly innocuous. Similarly, ensure you clear all wrapping paper and boxes away once discarded as they can make for dangerous situations when left lying around (excited kids running around and slipping on forgotten wrapping paper is a much more perilously common scenario than you would think!)
Again, sounds simple, but just run a quick check on the toy once opened to check all is in order – you can even mask your safety check drill by appearing to share your child’s joy on opening the gift, asking to see it yourself with a “wow, how cool, look at that” comment or something similar is sure to do the trick! Making sure that small accompanying parts to the toy are safe within your child’s possession, ensuring batteries are deployed correctly and also changed regularly where needed, setting up outdoor toys in safe places such as over grass or sand and never concrete, making sure any string-based toys are taken out of your babies' cot when they sleep, are all prudent measures to minimise the likelihood of accidents. Likewise, if the toy is something your child can ride, such as a bicycle, scooter or similar ‘vehicle’, then provide protective gear such as a helmet and knee pads and keep your eyes peeled for the first few days at least until they are more comfotable – the U.S. Consumer Product Safety report previously alluded to explain that “nonmotorized scooters were associated with the largest number of estimated toy-related injuries” last year.
Take care of your eyes
In today's digital age, it's common to gift children digital devices. However, it's crucial to educate them on maintaining a safe screen distance. Research highlights that holding books or screens too close for extended periods can increase the risk of myopia (short-sightedness). Additionally, prolonged screen use can reduce blinking rates, leading to dry, uncomfortable, or red eyes. Blinking is vital for maintaining healthy eye surfaces and clear vision.
Both children and adults often hold screens closer than books, putting extra strain on the eyes' focusing system. Digital eye strain, affecting up to 50% of screen users, can result in symptoms like soreness, fatigue, dry eyes, and headaches.
To promote safe viewing, eye doctors and optometrists recommend the Elbow Rule for children, advising that books or digital devices should be held at a distance no closer than the child’s elbow-to-hand length.
The last thing we want to be doing is becoming overly cautious and taking the joy out of, what is for most children, the happiest time of the year. Santa comes but once a year and the joy and fun associated with this should be celebrated, among children and the whole family. Just exercising a lick of common sense and being prudent with safety measures at the same time can ensure that everyone enjoys the occasion and stays safe not only during the festive period itself but throughout the rest of the year.
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