Safe toy gift guide – from toddler to teen

Rearview shot of a baby girl sitting at home with her teddybear

It’s December, which is prime time to buy holiday gifts for the younger members of family or friend groups. December is also Safe Toys and Gifts Awareness Month, which is a reminder to be mindful about the kinds of gifts we buy.

Dr. Felicia Baxter, a medical director for BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee, urges people to consider age and abilities of those we’re buying for. This will ensure it’s a memorable and safe holiday season for everyone.

Why safety matters

Dr. Baxter: We must be mindful of safety when it comes to toys and gifts for children. The last thing that we want to do is put a child at risk for an injury.

Before we had safety standards, it was a free-for-all in the toy market. Lead paint is one example of a hazard that was common in toys many years ago. We still have to watch out for lead paint when it comes to antique toys and collectibles. After all, small children have an incurable tendency to put things in their mouths.

Not long ago, many toys and games for younger children contained very small pieces that were swallowing hazards. While those have been largely eliminated from many toys, there remains a related hazard: small lithium batteries. Those batteries post a danger to children who might put them in their mouths and swallow them. They are especially dangerous because they can burn through a child’s airway and cause serious damage.

What not to buy

Dr. Baxter: The most common mistake in gift giving is ignoring the concept of age appropriateness. We might find a toy appealing, but that doesn’t mean it’s appropriate for a five-year-old or a three-year-old. We may also fondly remember toys from our own childhood, but safety standards have changed since then, too. That beloved pellet gun from a few decades ago might not be the best choice today.

So, be sure to carefully read the age recommendations and safety warnings on the toy’s package. Abide by the age limits so you don’t unintentionally put the recipient in harm’s way. If you’re really that tempted by a toy intended for an older child than the one you are shopping for, take heart. You can still buy it—but just put it away until the child is ready for it.

Other gift-giving tips for young children

Consider these additional recommendations for gift giving:

  1. Skip the toys that contain button batteries and magnets. They’re just too risky. Even if the recipient is old enough to know better, those tiny parts could still wind up in the hands and mouths of their younger siblings.
  2. Buy protective gear. If you buy sports equipment for a child, make sure they have the correct protective gear to allow them to use that equipment safely. Think: helmets, knee pads, and elbow pads.
  3. Forego the items with heating elements. Ropes, cords, and heating elements are a trifecta of potential hazards. The ropes and cords can become strangulation hazards, and the heating elements can lead to painful burns. It’s better not to take the risk.
  4. Inspect the toys or gifts before you give them. Even if you’ve followed all the safety advice and the age recommendations, a toy might be defective, which could still pose a safety hazard. Check the item closely before you wrap it up.

Something else to consider: allergies. For example, some people are allergic to dust mites. Stuffed animals are notorious for collecting dust. You can wash a stuffed animal in hot water to get rid of the dust mites, but if the child does have an allergy (or asthma), you might not want to risk it. Steer clear of the stuffed animals and choose another gift instead.

Gift-giving tips for tweens and teens

Dr. Baxter: One of the biggest safety concerns for parents and guardians of tweens and teens is cybersafety. If you’re contemplating a big technology purchase for a beloved young friend or relative, you can’t dismiss the very real concern of keeping kids safe online. Kids can get bullied online, or they can unintentionally reveal too much personal information online.

Here are a few guidelines to help you:

  1. Talk to the parent. If you’re contemplating a technology purchase for a tween or teen, talk to their parent before you make a purchase. Find out what they’re comfortable with first. You might also want to make sure it’s possible to set up parental controls or limits on the device, too.
  2. Follow the instructions. If you do invest in a device that requires a charger or adapter, read and follow the charging instructions to the letter. And of course, keep the chargers away from small children.
  3. Consider a gaming gift card. Rather than guess their gaming preferences, you could always opt for a gaming gift card. Again, run this by their parents first to make sure they’re okay with this kind of purchase—and that it would be useful and appropriate.
  4. Go analog. Don’t be afraid to skip the technology altogether. Books never go out of style. Or consider trendy jewelry, handbags, hoodies, or gift certificates to their favorite stores or coffee shops.

“As the gift-giving saying goes, ‘it’s the thought that counts,’” says Dr. Baxter. “If you put a little more thought into the safety element, everyone will have a happier and safer holiday.”

Jennifer Larson

Jennifer Larson is Nashville-based writer and editor with nearly 20 years of experience. She specializes in health care and family issues.

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