WATCH List 2009 - The Land of the Misfit Toys
This is the anniversary of my 2008 post on the list of worst toys - in terms of danger, not of taste and aesthetics - of the year.
Well, the new list of the most perilous toys for 2009 from WATCH - that's World Against Toys Causing Harm - is out. WATCH, a Massachusetts non-profit, has been speaking out on rotten toys since 1973, which means they're now into their third generation. You'd think by now that toy manufacturers would have figured choking hazards out, wouldn't you?
I was most disappointed to see a book on the list - and a Curious George book, at that. But, as anyone who's been to a Borders or a Barnes and Noble looking for kids books lately can tell you, for every book-book there's some sort of book+ merchandise thing - plush this, whirling that, lunch box whatever - to accompany it. It's almost as though if a book doesn't come with a TV show or add-ons - think Dora the Explorer - it's not worth carrying on the shelves. Thus, the last set of baby books I purchased came from one of the last indie bookstores in the area, the Harvard Bookstore, which doesn't sell book avec crap. There, I found some very nice books - one, in fact, was a counting book - that I haven't seen going and coming.
This Curious George counting book comes with an embedded abacus. That's a 6 1/2" metal rod, you got there. Man in the Yellow Hat beware! You could poke your eye out with that! And it's easy enough to see a kid wanting to pry those colored beads out and pop 'em in his mouth.
If you want to buy a counting book, there are plenty of them out there that don't include a built in attractive nuisance. Besides, a lot of families will already have some sort of abacus toy - not to mention that, before you bring your baby home from the hospital, you must be able to demonstrate that you have the rainbow-colored Fisher Price stack o' rings you can count on. This must be the case. Certainly, I don't recall ever being in a home with a baby that didn't have this classic.
And weren't we just talking about poking an eye out?
Could happen with this Disney Pixar Wall-E Rocket Launcher which is, apparently, jet propelled enough to shoot the rocket 20 feet.
I'm sure I'd feel different about this if I actually knew a kid who lost an eye because of this toy, and maybe this should be for kids much older than three, which is the stated over-under, but kids really love launching something and seeing it take off. Pea shooter, sling shot, baseball bat, in-person/on-person throwing arm... Who doesn't love a 'thar she blows' toy. (One of my brothers had a toy tank that shot big, red, soft plastic shells. We thought it was incredibly cool for the twenty minutes it worked before we broke it. Nobody lost an eye or a tooth during those twenty minutes.)
In fact, WATCH is not being a purse-lipped kill-joy here. The problem with this toy is its labeling. It states in bold that the toy is FOR ALL AGES, but makes a smaller mention that it's not recommended for kids under the age of three.
Inconsistent labeling is a recurring theme with WATCH. People do tend to trust what's on the label, figuring that the toy has been vetted. But they may not look at all the fine print, or notice that fun for all ages really comes with a qualifier.
What else is on the list?
There's something called the Moon Board Pogo Board - which looks to combine a wheel-less skateboard with the bounce of a pogo stick - used to perform tricks. It comes with so many warnings about wearing protective gear, that it's certainly easy to see that kids would like it and parents would hate it.
Then there's the caveat “Do not attempt ‘tricks’ beyond your skill level.” Name me one child in the history of the world - other than child-me, who would have decided immediately that I had no skill level and would have avoided this one to begin with - who would read and heed that warning.
Then there's the Batman with the sharp, pointy ears. (You can poke your eye out!) The xylophone for the 18 month old with the easily removable drumstick to plunk on it with - that could be sucked on and "occlude a child's airway." (Note to parents: Remove drumstick tethered to xylophone. Press on xylophone to demonstrate to child that fingers work.) The stuffed Maltese puppy with the strangulation hazard leash....
Frankly, while the toys on the list all have problems, the problems seem solvable if a parent observes a couple of rules:
- Read the front and back of packaging, including the small print, and trust the highest age recommendation. I.e., if the front says 3 and over, and the back says "not for children under 5", go with the "not for children under 5" warning.
- Don't give a baby/toddler a toy with any small, easily removable pieces. Tug on everything first.
- If you give your child anything that shoots a projectile object, make sure they're wearing goggles - which the kids would probably like, anyway.
And then there's Rogers' rule: for every plastic piece of crap you buy, buy a book, preferably one without an embedded abacus in it. You could poke an eye out with that!
Anyway, if you're buying toys this Christmas, as always, you'd better watch out.