Parents cope with season of suspect toys
With 80 percent of children's toys manufactured in China, recent recalls have parents looking for safer alternatives.
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Ms. Johnson peruses the CPSC recall lists in an effort to avoid any recalled toys, but she also tries to fight paranoia.Skip to next paragraph
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"I don't want anything bad to happen to [my daughter], but I also feel like it's important for the parent to not get too focused on all these potential dangers," she says, noting that ultimately she relies on the recalls to remove hazardous toys from shelves. "It provokes this fear I have that I don't know enough about how to protect my daughter, but I certainly don't want to take every toy away from her."
Oppenheim says she doesn't expect parents to stop buying toys, and notes that even decisions such as buying only plush toys or avoiding those made in China doesn't solve the issue. US-made toys often have components made in China, and several fabric toys – including a set of blocks that had won an award from her organization in the past – were recently recalled. Instead, she urges parents to sign up for the CPSC recall alerts and to avoid particularly dangerous items like jewelry for children. Toyportfolio.com has also published a list of its favorite lead-free toys online. Others are suggesting alternative solutions. Parents as Teachers, an early childhood parent education program, is using the recall issue to promote the idea of homemade toys, which can often stimulate creativity better than flashy battery-operated items. And a coalition of consumer organizations, including Consumers Union, Kids in Danger, and several state PIRG groups, is offering tips at NotInMyCart.org and promoting a "12 Days of Safe Shopping" campaign that will kick off Friday. Consumers will hand out coupons at popular shopping areas urging retailers and manufacturers to pay more attention to what they're selling.
Some parents are taking extra steps of their own. Stav Birnbaum, a new mother and freelance Web producer in New York, has decided to avoid all toys made in China. When she went to the drugstore to look for teething toys for her six-month old, every one was made in China. So she came up with alternate teething solutions, such as frozen carrots, and went all over the city to find a "Sophie the Giraffe" toy that is made in France and uses food-quality paint.
Ms. Birnbaum doesn't plan to buy any toys for Christmas herself, but she worries about relatives eager to shower gifts on her daughter. She recently came up with a wishlist of largely European-made wooden toys at Oompa.com, which she's passing on to relatives, along with a message that if they feel they have to get a gift, she'd prefer nonplastic. Birnbaum also bought a home lead test (imperfect but still considered helpful) to check the few plastic toys she already had in the house. The recalls, she says, "made me realize that I have to be more aware of what's being bought versus just trusting in an industry that obviously is not trustworthy."
Implementing such strict buying measures can be easier with an infant than with an older child who wants the latest must-have toy his friends all own.
Hollowed, the Chicago mother, says she bought Aqua Dots earlier this year.
"That's a toy I probably wouldn't have gotten, but it was advertised on Saturday morning cartoons and he desperately wanted it," says Hollowed. The recall, she adds, "was really scary." She explained to her son why she took away both Aqua Dots and the Thomas engines, and she thinks he understands. Now he's taken to asking about everything: "Does that have lead in it? Is this made in China?"