New York This holiday season, after various large-scale recalls, parents may understandably be jittery about buying toys. But a little research and a large dose of common sense - rather than a boycott of toys from China - can help shoppers make wise decisions, experts say.
Current worries about lead paint shouldn't obscure more perennial safety concerns, such as choking hazards, shoddy workmanship and the like, no matter where a toy is made.
"There are a number of safety issues to look out for this season," said Stephanie Oppenheim, publisher of Oppenheim Toy Portfolio, an independent guide. "Parents need to be their own consumer advocate for children."
Some tips for toy shoppers:
¢ Be informed.
News about toy recalls can be found at www.cpsc.org, the Web site of the Consumer Product Safety Commission, a federal watchdog agency. Retailers' and toy makers' sites, including www.mattel.com/safety/, also provide information. And Oppenheim publishes a list of toys they have tested and determined to be lead-free, at www.toyportfolio.com.
This year, more than 21 million toys made in China were recalled for lead paint, tiny magnets that could be swallowed, or other potentially serious problems. Toy makers ranged from giant Mattel Inc. to smaller companies such as Kids II Inc., which recalled Baby Einstein Discover & Play Color Blocks.
Yet keep in mind that recalls have been done "continuously, forever," many having nothing to do with China, noted Marianne Szymanski, publisher of Toy Tips, a quarterly magazine and online guide, www.Toytips.com. Avoiding toys made in China would be difficult anyhow, she said.
"A billion toys in the country are from China. A lot of toys made in China are fine," she said.
In recent months, toy makers and retailers have stepped up safety measures. Mattel is testing every production run for lead paint, among other measures. Moves by Wal-Mart Stores Inc. include testing more toys in independent labs.
¢ Pay attention to brands.
"Find products made by companies you can trust, and make sure you've checked the recall list," said San Francisco-based Stevanne Auerbach, author of "Dr. Toy's Smart Play/Smart Toys" (new paperback edition 2006, Educational Insights).
Rather than looking for a toy's country of origin, make sure it carries a manufacturer's name, added Jim Silver, editor of Toy Wishes, a trade magazine.
"Some products you often see, you can't find manufacturers' names," he said. "Those I would be concerned about."
Then make sure the manufacturer is a member of the Toy Industry Association, which adheres to industry standards, Silver said.
¢ Shop at familiar toy stores.
"Most retailers are well-informed and can be your best advocate for appropriately aged products," Auerbach said. "Knowledge of your toy store also helps in cases like recalls because they can be your best information on exactly what product or products can have a problem."
¢ Be skeptical of "hot toy" lists.
"Now is not the time to buy something on the sale rack or because your child says she has to have it," said Szymanski. Parents should trust their own judgment.