Recalls scare parents away from hot toys
Parents are trying to avoid trendy toys by considering alternatives like books and music.
NEW YORK (CNNMoney.com) -- Millions of parents are nervous about buying their kids toys for Christmas as recalls become more frequent and increasingly bizarre.
"I don't trust that our government is doing enough to take care of our kids," said Tara Cummins, 38, of Wilton, Conn.
Over the last 12 months, toy recalls have come fast and furious, from lead paint hazards to toys tainted with chemicals found in a date-rape drug.
The Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) has recalled more than 70 toy brands totaling more than 25 million products, including some popular toys like Thomas & Friends wooden toys, Elmo, Barbie and Dora the Explorer playsets.
A mother of two, Cummins said her son played with the recalled Thomas & Friends toys.
Just this week, the CPSC recalled more than four million China-made Aqua Dots toys after tests found they contained beads with a chemical that converts into a powerful date rape drug when ingested.
These lists are now meaningless to parents like Cummins. Although she hasn't yet started her holiday shopping, the recalls have convinced Cummins to shop differently for toys this year.
"I used to shop on the Internet and by catalog. Now I'll go to local toy stores where I can ask plenty of questions about where the toy was manufactured and if the brand has had any other recalls," Cummins said.
She's also taking a page from her own childhood to encourage her kids to play the way she did. "The toys I played with were more simple. Kids back then played dress up and had fun with books and other things," Cummins said.
Many parents will likely follow Cummins example. However, toy safety advocates say parents shouldn't fear that all toys that are on store shelves could potentially be dangerous.
"A majority of the toys in the market are safe," said Alison Rhodes, a child safety expert and founder of Safetymom.com.
Still, she recognizes that parents will hesitate to buy toys in the weeks ahead.
"When the toy recalls are because of lead paint, parents understand that problem and avoid buying those toys," Rhodes said. "With the Aqua Dots recalls, it's such an unexpected hazard for a toy. Parents are really at a loss for what to buy their kids."
Rhodes said some simple tips can help inform parents how to buy safer toys.
Do your own research. Rhodes suggests parents read independent publications such as Toy Tips and Parenting Hints that offer toy safety tips and rate toys according to quality and learning value.
"Toy Tips offers great advice like make sure a toy doesn't have a chord or pull string that can wrap around a child's neck. It's useful information for parents," Rhodes said.
Pragmatic parenting. "Don't buy the hot toys because they are on some list," Rhodes said. "Know your child's own vulnerability. If your child likes to put things in the mouth, don't buy toys with small parts or if it contains a lot of chemicals, such as a science kit."
But dangerous toys also have shades of gray. "Throw out the toy if it is clearly recalled. But if the toy comes with a warning label, then use your judgment," she said.
Back to basics. Consider other forms of entertainment like music, books, or computer games.
Get smart about safety. Regularly check the Consumer Product Safety Commission's web site to stay on top of recalls, Rhodes said, adding that her Web site also features all the latest toy recalls.
"Parents are overwhelmed with a lot of information already out there about toy safety. Pick one or two resources to keep yourself informed during the holidays," Rhodes said.
Michele Bennett, a 37-year-old mom with two small children, said Rhodes advice made sense.
Bennett actually bought the Aqua Dots toy for her 5 year old son a month ago. "I threw it out but it was scary. My son has a habit of absentmindedly putting pens in his mouth," Bennett said.
"I'm not angry with toy companies but something has to be done to make safety a top priority," she said.
After her Aqua Dots scare, Bennett said she's not getting her kids any trendy toys.