PLAYING IT SAFE: Toys and Children's Eye Safety

It's all fun and games until... You probably know the old familiar saying.

Playing It Safe: Toys and Children

But can this funny little cliché actually be trying to send us a message about toys and eye safety? While choking hazards and toxic chemical recalls associated with toys can cause anxiety for parents, eye injuries seem to receive slightly less attention. However, according to Prevent Blindness America, children sustain approximately 11,000 toy-related eye injuries each year. That's scary stuff. But don't panic! The vast majorities of toy-related eye injuries are treated and have no long-term adverse effects. But more importantly, they are easily preventable.

Keeping an Eye on the Dangers

Like kids in a candy shop, kids in a toy store are in their glory. Not only are toys wildly entertaining and captivating for kids, they also play a tremendous role in childhood development. But fun does not always equal safe. It's up to you to make the distinction. While common sense is always your best defense, there are some definite toy no-no's, especially for children under 15 since this age group accounted for nearly three quarters (74%) of all toy related injuries in 2009.

The toys below should be avoided completely or only permitted with close parental supervision for children of the appropriate age. Check toy packaging for age guidelines:

  • Guns are the worst offenders of eye safety. Year after year, BB guns, paintball and pellet guns as well as missile firing toys continue to top the danger list, and are actually considered firearms in some states.
  • Toy Weapons in general, are an invitation to eye injury. Watch out specifically for projectile toys with parts that shoot out or fly off as they can be extremely dangerous. Toys with sharp points, including darts and bows & arrows are all hazards to children's eyes.
  • Children should never use or come in contact with fireworks. They are massive accidents waiting to happen (and illegal for consumer use in five states, including New York, New Jersey and Massachusetts).
  • Laser Pointers can cause retinal damage in certain situations and should be used with extreme caution.

A new toy can rush onto the scene at any time and is not guaranteed to be safe. Arm yourself with safety information and stay in the know on toy dangers. Need some good resources? You may want to consult the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) for a list of toy recalls by visiting www.cpsc.gov or calling (800) 638-2772. You can also view World Against Toys Causing Harm, Inc.'s (W.A.T.C.H.) annual "10 Worst Toys" list by logging onto www.toysafety.org. Remember: do your safety research before hitting the toy aisle, not after.

Set your Sights on the Right Toys

The decline in toy recalls last year indicates that toy companies are stepping up to the safety plate. However, incidents of toy-related injuries actually rose in 2009. Since there's no magic comprehensive list of safe toys, it's smart to establish your own safety checks to help you make the right toy decisions for your little one.

Here are some steps to follow:

  • Prepare: Educate yourself on the right toys for your child's age group and research the toys that interest them. The internet is a great place to browse safety reviews and toy reviews by other parents like you.
  • Read Labels: Look for the letters "ASTM" on the label. This means that the toy conforms to certain national safety standards and that you can have confidence in its soundness. Read all safety messages on toy packaging so you can judge its appropriateness for your tot.
  • Play Inspector: Are there sharp pointed edges on the toy? (A CPSC regulation prohibits sharp points in new toys and other articles intended for use by children under eight years of age.) Examine for sturdy construction. You don't want a toy that could break and shatter into sharp pieces.
  • Keep Safety Going At Home: Once a toy has passed your safety checks, demonstrate proper use of the toy to your child since misuse of the toy is also another cause of injury. Put toys away after playtime is over and keep toys designed for older children away from little ones. Helmets and safety gear should always be worn with all riding toys, including bikes, tricycles and scooter. Throw broken toys away immediately. Trust your gut. If you feel uncomfortable with a certain toy, it's probably not safe for your child.

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