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How to put safety first when buying gifts

The winter holidays bring fun-filled gift exchanges and delight for children. But friends, parents and family members may not have safety at the top of the mind when there is a mile-long checkout line at the toy store and a mountain of things to do.

In November, The Washington Public Interest Research Group published its annual "Trouble in Toyland" report, which provides a list of unsafe toys. Although the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission has rules to protect children from hazardous and toxic toys, there are still potentially dangerous toys available on store shelves according to the group.

So how do we prevent dangerous gifts from getting into the hands of our little loved ones?

The best way is to simply use common sense and select age-appropriate items when purchasing gifts, says childhood injury prevention expert, Dr. Frederick P. Rivara, a UW professor of pediatrics and the founding director of the Harborview Injury Prevention & Research Center. "Read toy labels and follow the age recommendations," says Rivara. "Don't buy toys that are too old for young children because you think 'they'll grow into it,' such as a bike that is too large."

Three items to avoid

While common sense is a great guideline, not everyone realizes that some items manufactured for fun can cause serious harm. Avoid buying these three items.

  • Trampolines - Trampolines look like a great way for kids to get exercise, but they are actually very dangerous, injuring thousands of people each year. Common injuries include broken bones, concussions, sprains and strains, head and neck injuries and bruises, scrapes and cuts, and even spinal cord injuries and paralysis.
  • Motorized vehicles - All-terrain vehicles (ATVs) and the increasingly popular motorized mini-bikes are very hazardous products, warns Rivara. "Realize that if you buy these motorcycles for your children, they'll drive fast and this will increase their chance of getting hurt," he says.
  • Violent video games - Violent video games are harmful for children of any age. According to the Academy of Pediatrics, research shows media violence, including video games, can contribute to aggressive behavior, desensitization to violence, nightmares and fear of being harmed.

Give the Gift of Safety

Instead of worrying about buying a dangerous toy, think about giving the gift of safety and peace of mind. Rivara says the holidays are a great time to buy helmets. "If you're going to buy a bike for your child, be sure to purchase a helmet to go along with it," he says. He also recommends car seats as a good gift for parents and grandparents to consider and life jackets for families who enjoy water sports.

Most importantly, if you choose to have guns in your home, the best gift is a gun safe. Hiding guns from children isn't enough, and Rivara urges families to keep their guns safely stored. "It's difficult for children to resist picking up and playing with a gun," says Rivara. "The only way to make a house with a gun safe for children is to have it safely stored in a gun safe or lock box."

Sidebar: Choosing Toys with Care:


When choosing a gift for small children, remember these safety tips from CPSC:

  • Keep in mind the child's age, interests and skill level.
  • Look for quality design and construction in all toys for all ages.
  • Make sure that all directions or instructions are clear to you and, when appropriate, to the child.
  • Plastic wrappings on toys should be discarded at once before they become deadly playthings.
  • Be a label reader. Look for and heed age recommendations, such as "Not recommended for children under three." Look for other safety labels including: "Flame retardant/Flame resistant" on fabric products and "Washable/hygienic materials" on stuffed toys and dolls.

Sidebar: Where to Buy a Gun Safe:

Firearm locking and storage devices can be purchased wherever guns or firearm accessories are sold:

  • Gun stores
  • Sporting goods stores
  • Firing ranges
  • Locksmiths
  • Discount stores

More information about purchasing a safe can be found at www.lokitup.org.

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