Don't Believe the Hype About "Dangerous" Christmas Toys

Welcome to the season of bogus scare stories.


Oh my God, what is that terrifying toy doing anywhere near your child? Don't you read the warnings this time of year? Run! Hide! Douse it with gasoline, light a match, and duck! Otherwise your child might be tempted to play with the darn thing: a pull toy.

According to "World Against Toys Causing Harm (W.A.T.C.H.)," a website run by trial lawyers, every year there are exactly 10 terribly dangerous toys out there. And every year, this self-styled watchdog group puts out a press release. And every year the media dutifully report that we are living in a world brimming with peril and it's amazing there are any kids still alive, much less with two working eyes, come December 26.

So this year I've decided to offer a public service of my own and highlight the most ridiculous non-threat on the annual list of supposedly threatening toys.

This year that honor goes to the Vtech Baby Explore & Learn Helicopter. What landed this seemingly innocuous object on W.A.T.C.H.'s un-safe toy list? The fact that it can be pulled by a string measuring approximately 24-inches in length.

"Despite the industry's standard requiring strings on playpen and crib toys to be less than 12 inches in length," the W.A.T.C.H. site declares, "manufacturers are still permitted to market pull toys such as this." W.A.T.C.H. also fulminates that the manufacturer goes so far as to encourage "little ones to discover and learn with a cute puppy friend."

A puppy friend! What could be more nefarious than that? Well, maybe my runner-up for most ridiculous non-threat on the list, a little xylophone. This one comes with a 5-inch wooden dowel rod drumstick to bang on the keys. But, as W.A.T.C.H. warns, "It could be mouthed and occlude a child's airway."

As opposed to say, I don't know, any pen or pencil in the house? Or world?

Of course, if it was just a few trial lawyers practicing the sky-is-falling business, the whole idea of super-dangerous toys wouldn't have gone so viral. But the U.S. Public Interest Research Group also publishes an annual "Trouble in Toyland" survey—this year in its 27th iteration—making it seem like anyone who thinks toys are pretty safe is a soon-to-be-sorry sap.

Just like W.A.T.C.H., the survey warns about string: "Drawstrings on children's clothing lead to deaths and injuries when they catch on playground equipment, bus doors or cribs." How big a threat do drawstrings pose? "From January 1985 through June 1997, the CSPC [Consumer Product Safety Commission] received reports of 21 deaths," says the report. That's 21 deaths over the course of 12 years. Still, "CSPC recommends parents remove drawstrings from all children's upper outerwear sized 2T to 12 and buy clothing with alternative closures, like snaps, buttons and Velcro."

Let me repeat that recommendation: Remove the drawstrings on all children's clothes up to age 12.

While the death of any child is horrifying and tragic, let's review the numbers. Drawstrings have been implicated in roughly two deaths per year over the course of 12 years. That's out of approximately 48,000,000 children age 12 and under in the United States. So we're talking about something that is safe 23,999,999 times out of 24,000,000. If that constitutes a risk, we have entered some kind of altered state where we believe every single thing that has ever hurt anyone anywhere, even once, is out to get us.

This used to be called paranoia.

The "Trouble in Toyland" report goes on to list other ostensibly dangerous toys, including balloons, which it says should never be used by anyone under age 8; and some little toy cars whose hubcaps could fall off and "pose a choking hazard." The same could be said about any thumbtack, screw, dime, eraser, earring, or pea, though perhaps it's only a matter of time before we ban those for anyone under age 12, too.

Come to think of it, maybe we do live in very dangerous times: Fear is frying our brains.